Trial set for U.S. man accused in cold case killing of Vancouver Island couple

Man pleads not guilty, jury selection set for June 11

  • May. 31, 2019 4:35 p.m.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island, were found slain in Washington in 1987. (Black Press file)

Caleb Hutton

Daily Herald

Over the objections of the defendant, a trial was delayed about a week for the SeaTac man accused of killing a Canadian couple in 1987.

“My life’s been on hold for greater than a year now for a crime that I did not commit,” William Talbott II said Friday, one of the few times the suspect has spoken in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Jury selection is now set to begin June 11.

Testimony is expected to last most of the month.

The defendant had expected to go on trial next week in the killings of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. The young couple from Saanich, British Columbia, vanished on a road trip from Vancouver Island to Seattle around Thanksgiving 1987.

RELATED: Arrest made in 30-year homicide cold case of Oak Bay High grads

Van Cuylenborg was found shot in the back of the head six days later, Nov. 24, 1987, off Parson Creek Road in Skagit County. She’d been restrained with zip ties, and detectives believe she was raped.

Cook’s battered body was discovered the same week, under a bridge southwest of Monroe. At the time, Talbott’s parents lived seven miles from the scene.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island, were found slain in Washington in 1987.

In spite of hundreds of leads over decades, Talbott was never identified as a suspect, until May 2018.

His arrest became international news — in part because the new forensic tool, known as genetic genealogy, that was used to identify him.

Sheriff’s detectives worked with Parabon NanoLabs and a private genealogist, CeCe Moore, to build a family tree based on male DNA found on Van Cuylenborg’s slacks. That genetic data was entered into the public database GEDmatch. The genealogist tracked down distant cousins who had uploaded their genetic data to the site, and found the blood relations came together, with a marriage, in Talbott’s family.

RELATED: DNA privacy questioned in Victoria cold case arrest

Talbott had sisters. He was the only son.

Cold case detectives put the trucker from SeaTac under police surveillance.

A cup fell from his truck in south Seattle on May 8, 2018. Police seized it, had it tested at a crime lab and confirmed it was a match, court papers say. Dozens of stories of similar arrests have unfolded nationwide in long-unsolved cases, including one other in Snohomish County.

A rift has opened among genealogists, in the debate over whether genetic data should be freely available to police, when customers of ancestry sites might not be aware their DNA could be used to solve murder, rape and assault cases.

In recent weeks, GED match changed its policy and now requires users to “opt in,” if they’re willing to let police use their genetic data to fight crime.

Other sites still allow the practice, with a notice in the terms of service.

Defense attorneys for Talbott have not filed motions arguing that the genealogy evidence is inadmissible. Prosecutors asked Friday to be notified in advance, if the technique will be challenged.

This case is expected to be the first time genetic genealogy will be put on trial.

Other defendants, like the suspected Golden State Killer, are still awaiting trial. Some suspects have pleaded guilty.

In Talbott’s trial, pretrial motions are set to be heard Friday in front of Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese. She ruled the trial could be delayed in part because prosecutors handed over 2,369 pages of new discovery papers on May 14, and the defense hasn’t been able to read through them.

The entire case has more than 16,000 pages of discovery paperwork, deputy prosecutor Matt Baldock told the judge.

Many of those pages documented leads that turned out to be dead ends.



c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca

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