MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – Relatives of both Jay Cook and Tanya van Cuylenborg attended Friday’s press conference in Everett announcing an arrest in a cold case spanning decades.
While the victim’s families championed the tireless work of law enforcement and praised the use of this new DNA technology, today’s news was still hard to take.
“How could we have known that the day instead would be so bittersweet,” said Lee Cook, mother of Jay.
It’s been more than three decades of waiting for Jay and Tanya’s families but come Friday that waiting was over.
“They were both gentle souls caring and trusting kids and they were betrayed, and hopefully this is the start of some justice for them,” said John van Cuylenborg, Tanya’s brother.
Jay and Tanya came to Seattle on business in November 1987 but they never returned to Canada. Instead their bodies were found in separate crime scenes in Skagit and Snohomish counties.
“For a year after Jay was gone I still set his place at the table and I heard his big, 6-feet, 4-inches bounding up the steps two at a time -- but he never came in the door,” said Lee Cook.
“Science and good old-fashioned police work is making it harder and harder for these disturbed individuals can live in the shadows,” said Laura Baanstra, Jay’s sister.
William Earl Talbott, II from SeaTac was arrested Thursday and faced a Skagit County judge Friday where he pleaded not guilty to various charges in connection with van Cuylenborg’s murder. Bail for Talbott was set at $2 million; his next court appearance is set for June 16.
The break in the case came from a relatively new process called genetic genealogy.
Police were able to identify their suspect Talbott using DNA his extended family shared with public databases, then building a family tree and identifying Talbott’s genetic profile.
Investigators were then able to match Talbott’s DNA taken from a discarded cup to DNA evidence left behind where Tanya’s body was discovered.
“I think it’s imperative that the public we support the use of the DNA databanks for law enforcement purposes,” said John van Cuylenborg.
Detectives are still looking to find out what happened to Tanya’s camera that was stolen during the murder and discover who may have supplied a blue blanket where Jay’s body was found wrapped inside.
Those answers could help detectives determine exactly what happened during the young couple’s murders but for now, the break is a major victory for police trying to solve a cold case decades in the making.
“He would be 51 now,” Lee said of her late son Jay. “He probably would have married and had kids. My daughters would have nieces and nephews. I would have grandchildren but we missed out on all that could have been.”
“That’s been a huge goal of our family is to find this individual and remove the possibility of him reoffending so nobody else has to endure these kind of losses,” John van Cuylenborg said.
Detectives say the case is still open and under investigation and they’re still looking for new tips from the public. Anyone can call in to their tip line anonymously at (425) 388-3845.