EVERETT — For a year after he was gone, Jay Cook’s mother still set his place at the table at their home on Vancouver Island.
Sometimes, it was like she could hear his big, 6-foot-4 frame bounding up the back steps, she said.
Lee Cook waited 30 years for the news that police had caught the man who murdered Jay and his girlfriend, Tanya Van Cuylenborg, in 1987.
“So how could we have known today would be so bittersweet?” she said Friday at a news conference here announcing that the suspected killer was finally behind bars. On one hand, there are answers. On the other, there’s loss and sorrow that never go away.
The last place Jay and Tanya were known to be alive was the Bremerton-Seattle ferry Nov. 18, 1987.
Thirty years later, two miles south of the downtown Seattle ferry terminal, a paper cup fell from a man’s work truck when he opened a door and leaned out to check on something, according to an arrest warrant filed Thursday in Skagit County.
Police were watching the trucker, William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac. They snatched the cup from the street that day, May 8, and had it tested by a crime lab. They allege Talbott was a DNA match to evidence in the murders.
Talbott was booked into the Snohomish County Jail late Thursday for investigation of first-degree murder. He was determined to be the only potential suspect through a new forensic technology known as genetic genealogy, the same technique used to find the suspected Golden State Killer in April.
Talbott is accused of killing Cook, 20, and Van Cuylenborg, 18, while they were traveling in Washington in a bronze Ford van in November 1987.
The couple drove around Puget Sound — from Saanich, British Columbia, to Port Angeles, Allyn, Bremerton and Seattle.
Detectives believe Talbott had been living on NE Woodinville-Duvall Road in 1987. His parents’ home was less than seven miles south of where Cook’s body was found near Monroe, a straight-shot drive with only one left turn. Talbott was 24 at the time of the deaths.
Detectives recently learned crime-scene DNA can be used to gather information about a family tree. An analysis in late April led investigators to Talbott’s parents, according to court papers. They had one son. Talbott worked at a trucking company in Seattle. He has a home north of Sea-Tac Airport, according to court records. He was arrested about 6 p.m. Thursday in Seattle, as he left work. He declined to answer police questions.
Talbott has no felony record. He does have misdemeanor arrests on his record. He was charged in 1984 with misdemeanor assault in King County. He pleaded guilty, but his sentence was deferred with a requirement that he complete “anger management or batterer’s counseling,” records show. Additional warrants were issued, including in 1988, for missed hearings and unpaid fines.
A judge in Skagit County Superior Court set bail Friday at $2 million in the death of Van Cuylenborg. Talbott is expected eventually to be charged in both deaths, according to the sheriff’s office. If convicted of murder, Talbott faces life in prison.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary credited detectives Thursday for their “relentless determination.”
“It was a difficult thing for us,” the sheriff said, his voice cracking. “But candidly, this is what we do our job for.”
Before their bodies were found, the last clue pointing to the Canadian couple’s whereabouts was a Bremerton-Seattle ferry ticket stamped 10:16 p.m. Nov. 18, 1987. They had planned to spend the night in the SoDo District of Seattle outside Gensco, a company where Cook planned to pick up furnace parts in the morning for his father. He never showed up.
Six days after she was last seen, Van Cuylenborg’s body was found, on Nov. 24, 1987, about 20 yards off Parson Creek Road in Skagit County. She had been restrained with zip ties, raped and shot in the back of the head with a .380-caliber pistol.
Her wallet, her ID, the keys to the van, a pair of surgical gloves and a box of .380-caliber ammo were found Nov. 25, 1987, under the back porch of a tavern, Essie’s, in downtown Bellingham. The couple’s Ford van was parked a block east, by what was then a Greyhound bus station.
The next day, Jay Cook’s body was discovered in Snohomish County, on Thanksgiving 1987, under the High Bridge on the Snoqualmie River, southwest of Monroe.
His body was covered with a blue blanket that didn’t belong to the couple. He had been beaten with a rock and strangled with twine. Zip ties were found near Cook, too, at the site off Crescent Lake Road.
Earlier this year the sheriff’s office approached Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia to see if they could create the images of a suspect based on DNA evidence, as the company had done in about 150 other cases.
The cutting-edge genetic genealogy technique was made available to law enforcement by Parabon in just the past two weeks.
Over the decades, DNA evidence from the case awaited a match in federal databases in the U.S. and Canada. The sheriff’s office sent DNA data to Parabon for genealogical comparison in late April. Three days later, it came back with near-matches in a database of DNA from public sites where people search for unknown relatives. Authorities hired an independent genealogist, CeCe Moore, to build family trees of the killer.
“We’re looking for living people who could fit the profile of the suspect,” Moore said Thursday. “Two of the closest matches’ trees converged. They intersected into a marriage, and from that marriage, there was only one son.”