Tanya and Jay in front of the van they drove on the trip. Photo source.
Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg had been dating for six months when they decided to take a little vacation, just the two of them. They planned to travel from their hometown of Saanich, BC to Seattle, Washington. Jay who was twenty and Tanya who was eighteen looked forward to creating more memories together. Unfortunately, their relationship would be short-lived.
Jay and Tanya drove Jay’s father’s van to the ferries in Victoria and boarded a ferry to Port Angeles. The couple then boarded a second ferry into Seattle. It was the last time witnesses would see Jay and Tanya alive.
On the ferry to Seattle, Jay and Tanya befriended a man in his early to mid-twenties and offered him a ride to his destination. It would be a decision they would soon regret.
Jay and Tanya’s family grew worrisome when the pair did not return home a couple of days later since the trip was only supposed to be for one night. The couple was immediately reported missing. A few days later, the couple’s families received the news they had been dreading.
Tanya’s partially clothed body was found in a ditch in Skagit County. She had been bound with zip ties, raped and shot in the head. Her wallet and keys were found thrown in the garbage in the Greyhound terminal in Bellingham. She had taken a camera on the trip, but it was never located.
Jay’s body was found a week later sixty miles away from Tanya’s. He had been severely beaten with rocks and then strangled with a dog collar. Authorities found the van Jay and Tanya were driving a few blocks away. Inside were more zip ties and gloves.
The investigators believed the suspect had left the gloves on purpose, to taunt the police that they would not be able to retrieve his DNA. Unfortunately for him, the investigators were able to obtain his DNA from Tanya’s pants. Unfortunately for them, the DNA did not match anyone in the criminal database. The case went cold for the next thirty-one years.
26 years later, a woman named Chelsea Rustad realized she didn’t know much about her family tree. She couldn’t name any of her great-grandparents and wanted to know more about her relatives so she began creating her family tree as a hobby.
A couple of years later, a Halloween costume contest popped up on Chelsea’s Facebook. The best costume would win a free DNA kit from Ancestry.com, a popular family-tree building website. Chelsea posted a photo of her dressed up as a ballerina one year as a child and won the contest.
A couple of weeks later the DNA kit arrived at Chelsea’s home and she uploaded her genetic profile to GEDmatch.com to see if she could find any long-lost relatives. She was about to find out a lot more than just that.
Three years later, the authorities knocked on Rustad’s door in Tumwater, Washington. At first, she thought she was in trouble, racking her mind as to why officers would come to her home all the way from Skagit County.
The officers told Chelsea they were investigatingthe double-homicide of a Canadian couple and thanks to the DNA she had submitted, a match had been found. They believed Jay and Tanya’s murderer was none other than Chelsea’s second cousin whom she had never met, truck-driver William Earl Talbott II.
William Earl Talbott II, photo source.
However, the Investigators still needed Talbott’s own DNA. They tracked him and when they saw him discard a used coffee cup, they immediately retrieved it for testing. The DNA taken from Tanya’s pants was an exact match for the DNA taken off of the cup used by Talbott. 57-year-old Talbott was arrested.
Talbott would end up being the first person to be convicted of murder with the help of genetic genealogy. He received two life sentences.