Cold case killer caught after relatives unwittingly send their DNA to genealogy website – Mirror.co.uk

DNA

It was a chilly day in November 1987 when a young Canadian couple went on an overnight road trip.

Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and her boyfriend Jay Cook, 20, climbed into a van they’d borrowed from Jay’s dad and set off to run an errand.

Tanya and Jay would never return – and their case would change the course of history.

Tanya and Jay met at high school and had been dating just six months, so they were in the flushes of a new romance.

Tanya had just graduated and was figuring out what to do with her life, including where she wanted to travel.

She loved sailing, playing the guitar and animals, especially her Golden Retriever Tessa.

Becoming a vet was an option, but Tanya wasn’t willing to set her future in stone just yet.

That summer, Tanya started dating broad-shouldered, 6ft 4in Jay.

The couple set off in Jay’s dad’s bronze Ford van

 

He loved sailing too and worked on a fishing boat, as well as doing shifts in a pizza restaurant.

The couple were having a lot of fun together.

Jay’s dad needed something to be picked up in Seattle for his business.

Jay offered to go and invited Tanya along for the ride, so on 18 November, the pair set off in a bronze-coloured Ford van belonging to Jay’s dad.

They left their hometown of Saanich, in British Columbia, and told their families they would be back the following day.

They took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington, and drove south-east on Route 101 to Bremerton where they boarded another ferry to Seattle.

They were last seen boarding the second ferry, and they had planned to park up on the way to Seattle and sleep in the van.

But they disappeared.

A map released at the time of the murders showing the couple’s last movements

 

They didn’t make contact with their family again, and when they didn’t return home on 19 November as promised, they were reported missing.

Tanya and Jay’s families were distraught and, along with the police, they mobilised a huge search.

They even hired a plane to fly over the area where they vanished to try to spot the distinctive van.

After a week, Tanya’s body was found down an embankment in a ditch in rural Skagit County, north of Seattle.

She was naked from the waist down and had been shot in the back of the head.

Tanya had been bound with plastic zip-ties and raped.

It was a shocking blow, as many still held out hope that the young couple had simply broken down or had got lost.

At first, investigators suggested Jay had raped and killed Tanya.

It was a suggestion that both families strongly denied.

In 2018, three images of the suspect were released, created by using DNA phenotyping

Next, their van was found in Bellingham, Washington, near a bus station.

It contained Tanya’s trousers, which had semen on.

There was also a partial palm print in the van, plus the vehicle contained plastic ties that matched the one’s used to bind Tanya.

Tanya’s wallet and keys were found discarded nearby.

Her camera was missing and never found.

The following day, hunters found Jay’s body in rough ground near a bridge over the Snoqualmie River in Monroe, 60 miles away from where Tanya had been found.

Jay had been beaten to death with rocks and strangled with twine and two red dog collars. Jay wasn’t the killer – he was a victim too.

Investigators believed the gentle, trusting couple would have unwittingly offered their attacker a lift.

It was thought that such a brutal murder would have been committed by someone with a violent past, and with the DNA on Tanya’s clothes, it was assumed the killer would be found on the criminal database.

William Talbott had been 24 at the time of the murders

But there was no match.

Was he someone older who had been convicted before the database had been set up?

Or was this someone’s first kill?

A new lead

In the months after the murders, Tanya and Jay’s grieving families received taunting greetings cards that contained graphic details of the murders – all from the same person.

It wasn’t until 2010 – 23 years later – that it was announced the cards had been sent by a 78-year-old transient with mental health issues.

He had no connection to the crime.

Tragically, the case had run cold.

The families healed as best they could, but they wanted justice and so did the investigators.

After all, they had DNA.

Tanya and her boyfriend Jay had gone on an overnight roadtrip when they went missing

In April 2018, there was another attempt to find the perpetrator.

As well as a cash reward, police released three images of what the killer might have looked like aged 25, 45 and 65, based on the DNA found at the scene.

The method, called DNA phenotyping, can determine how a person might look from their DNA, including things like their eye, skin and hair colour, plus their potential background.

Leads came flooding in, but they needed to go one step further.

Investigators decided to try their luck at a new way of investigating unsolved cases – the use of DNA collected for public genealogy websites.

Saliva kits are used by members of the public to help them build family trees and trace their roots.

Police departments and the FBI have started to use this technology when they have DNA at crime scenes to find relatives, which helps them to narrow down their suspect.

The DNA belonging to the sample found on Tanya was uploaded into GEDmatch.com and was linked to two people, which enabled police to make a family tree.

Evidence in the trial against William Talbott

These two turned out to be second cousins of the killer, who was determined as the male child of a particular couple.

William Talbott ll was 24 at the time of the murders.

In 1987, William’s parents lived six miles away from where Jay’s body was found.

He was now a truck driver living in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, and those who knew him said he was a quiet man.

He’d been arrested for assault back in 1984, but had been given anger management counselling as his sentence.

There was nothing to suggest he was a rapist and double killer.

Did they have the right man?

To find out, police needed William’s DNA.

They followed him, and when a paper coffee cup fell out of his truck when he opened the door, they collected it and had it tested.

It was a match.

Three decades after Tanya and Jay were killed, William was charged with their murder and held on a $2.5 million bail.

William Talbott was sentenced to two life sentences

It was bittersweet for Tanya and Jay’s families, who were pleased for the breakthrough, but were forced to relive their grief.

At the trial this year, prosecutors told the court that William’s DNA matched the semen on Tanya’s clothes, and it was also his partial palm print in the couple’s van.

They said the families of Tanya and Jay might never know the details of what happened when they crossed paths with William, but there was no question he committed the murders.

The defence said William’s semen was at the scene because they’d had consensual sex.

His lawyer said that the investigation had cleared other suspects because they hadn’t matched the DNA, but perhaps the DNA didn’t belong to the killer at all?

They said police had ‘tunnel vision’, which had let the real killer get away.

The prosecutors said the semen was proof William had raped Tanya.

‘Under what circumstances does the defendant end up in the back of the van for a consensual sexual encounter with Tanya?

‘Where’s Jay?

The Ford van was found near a bus station in Bellingham, Washington

‘What does he think about it?’ they said.

William, who was brought in and out of court in a wheelchair, didn’t testify.

Justice for the families

In June this year, William Talbott, 56, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

He gasped and was heard saying, ‘I didn’t do it.’

Afterwards, it was revealed that in a last-minute test, a zip-tie that was found in Tanya and Jay’s van tested positive for William’s DNA.

A month later, William faced sentencing.

‘I’m convicted of a crime I didn’t commit,’ he told the court.

‘The level of violence in this is something I cannot comprehend.

‘I’ve gone all my life as a very passive person.’

Tanya loved animals, and had been thinking about becoming a vet

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In court was Tanya’s brother John, and Jay’s family, including his parents and sisters, Lauralee and Kelly.

William’s second cousin, whose DNA helped convict him, sat with the victim’s families.

Jay’s mum, Lee, said she believed her son pulled over to help a stranger in the cold, because that’s the kind of person he was.

William had taken advantage of that.

‘Jay would’ve picked anyone up on a night like that,’ she said.

Jay’s sister, Kelly, recalled how the defence had said William had ‘led an unremarkable life’.

She said her brother and Tanya had remarkable lives ahead of them.

‘It seems to me the only remarkable thing [William] ever did… was to take,’ she said.

‘And what he took was the lives of two very young people.’

William was sentenced to two life sentences without the chance of parole.

The case is a milestone for forensic criminal investigation.

It was the first trial for a person linked to a crime by genetic genealogy to end in a guilty verdict.

The murder of Tanya and Jay may have happened three decades ago, but their case has brought to light advancements that could solve other cold cases – and might even deter criminals in the future.

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