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Murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg by William Earl Talbott profiled on ID

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenbourg pose with their van
The murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenbourg was unsolved for 30 years before genealogy DNA fingered William Talbot. Pic credit: Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office

The Genetic Detective looks at a groundbreaking case for genetics and forensic science in the tragic murders of a young Canadian couple in 1987.

The deaths of Jay Cook (20) and his girlfriend, Tanya Van Cuylenborg, (18), were unsolved for thirty years before investigators used pioneering methods to identify William Earl Talbott II and bring him to justice.

Van Cuylenborg and Cook had traveled down from Saanich, British Colombia, to Washington State for an overnight trip in November 1987, when they both vanished.

A few days later, Van Cuylenborg’s half-naked body was discovered in a ditch in a rural area of Skagit County, just south of Bellingham. She had been tied up, raped, and shot in the head.

At first, Cook was considered a suspect until his remains were found two days later about 60 miles away from where his girlfriend was discovered. He had been beaten with rocks and strangled to death.

Genealogy DNA led to William Earl Talbot’s conviction

The case was groundbreaking for forensic investigation in that it was one of the first to obtain a conviction through DNA discovered on a public genealogy website.

The killer’s DNA was fed into a genealogy database and came up with a match for two people, who turned out to be cousins of Talbot. Renowned geneticist CeCe Moore researched the family trees of the two cousins to ascertain when the two families merged through marriage.

Moore learned the marriage happened between William Earl Talbott Sr. and Patricia Peters, and they only had one son, who was our killer, William Earl Talbott II.

When the cops interviewed Talbott’s family, they learned of a man with a history of cruel and disturbing violence. As a young man, he had constantly threatened and even hospitalized members of his own family.

Talbot was arrested in May 2018 and charged with murder. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms in prison.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more heinous crimes profiled on ID.

Cosmo DiNardo shot dead four young men within the space of a few days on his parent’s farm in Pennsylvania. He had lured them to the farm with the promise of selling them marijuana before killing them. When the police caught up to him, he couldn’t explain why he did what he did.

Beth Williams plied her friend Joshua Zachary with alcohol and money before persuading him to murder her ex-boyfriend Chuck Rock. Zachary doused Rock with gasoline before setting him on fire. The police subsequently arrested Zachary as he tried to flee the scene across a river.

The Genetic Detective airs Saturdays at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.


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