I first wrote about this case back in 2016, never dreaming that it would ever be solved. Somehow I missed the news that last year there was finally an arrest, it’s solved! How exciting!
On November 18th of 1987, 20 year old Jay Cook borrowed his daddy’s brown Ford van, grabbed his girlfriend, 18 year old Tanya Van Cuylenborg, and the couple headed off to Seattle, Washington. Jay’s father had asked his son to take the trip in order to pick up a part for the family business’s furnace, and the young lovers had decided this was the perfect opportunity for a romantic getaway! They’d been together for approximately six months at this time; they were young and in love, and as you can imagine this was exciting for them. The plan was to stay overnight in the van, pick up the much needed part first thing the the morning, tour Seattle for a bit, then head on home. Tanya even bought a new camera for the trip; photography was the teen’s passion, it was what she was planning to do for a living.
Sometime after 5 pm the couple boarded a ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles; at approximately 9:30 pm they stopped at a deli in Allyn, Washington, and a couple hours later it’s believed that they boarded a second ferry, in Bremerton. Sadly, the couple never did show up to retrieve the part for the furnace which they’d traveled all that way for. After a day or so of not hearing from them, both families began to worry; on the 20th Tanya and Jay were officially reported missing.
On November 24th Tanya’s partially nude body was found in Bellingham, Washington. The teen had been bound with zip ties, sexually assaulted, shot in the back of her head, and her remains discarded in a ditch near a wooded area. The very next day, on the 25th, Police discovered some of the couple’s belongings beneath the porch of a Bellingham tavern called Essie’s; this included Tanya’s wallet and photo ID, and the keys to the van which was found just a few blocks away from a Greyhound station. Zip ties, disposable gloves, and a box of .380 ammo had all been left in or nearby the van by the killer. Tanya’s camera has yet to be recovered, which is a shame as there’s no telling what sort of story her photos would tell.
Since the boyfriend was nowhere to be found, police originally believed him to be a suspect; they soon realized that was not the case. On the 26th Jay’s brutalized remains were discovered more than 60 miles away, near Monroe, Washington. The young man had been beaten about the head with a stone, a pack of cigarettes shoved down his throat, and he’d been strangled; some reports claim Jay was found with a dog’s choker collar around his neck, others say it was twine. A blue blanket which did not belong to either of the victims was found draped across his corpse.
It is believed that the couple’s killer first noticed them while on the ferry; he’d likely stalked them, just waiting for the right moment to strike. There’s also the possibility that the trusting young people had offered their future killer a ride; either way, they had likely been oblivious that anything was amiss until the moment their killer decided to strike. Police interviewed many suspects, but they never could positively identify their man; this heinous double murder grew cold.
As if Jay and Tanya’s families weren’t dealing with enough, both sets of grieving parents began to receive hallmark-type greeting cards in the mail; these were often sent on holidays such as father’s day, mother’s day, and Christmas. They had been mailed from various big cities throughout the US, and the victim’s names were always signed at the bottom. Police ran the DNA on the envelope of these cards and concluded that it did not match the DNA of the person who slaughtered Tanya; for the longest time they pondered the possibility that they were looking for two suspects. Eventually the person sending these cards was tracked down: it was a transient with mental health issues who is not believed to have been involved in the murders at all.
In April of 2018 investigators decided to run the killer’s DNA through a genealogy website, just as they had done with the Original Nightstalker. Police were able to come up with a composite sketch, and eventually they tracked down their killer using his extended family’s DNA. After all these years, they finally had a name and a face!
Police quietly hunted down a 55 year old SeaTac, Washington trucker named William Earl Talbott II, a man who had not been on their radar until now. He’d been 24 at the time of the murders, and living just one mile away from the spot in which Jay’s corpse was discovered! Though William was not a convicted felon, he had been in trouble with the law for assault/battery; for this William had been sentenced to some anger management courses. Investigators nonchalantly followed their suspect around until he discarded of a drinking cup; when they ran the DNA on said cup against their killer’s DNA, it was a match! On May 18th of 2018 William was arrested and charged with the first degree murder of Tanya; eventually they were able to charge him with Jay’s murder as well. Can you imagine? He’d most certainly believed he’d gotten away with it!
Last year William Talbot was found guilty of killing both Jay and Tanya, he is now serving two life sentences; this killer is finally where he belongs, and his victim’s families can hopefully find some peace. He maintains his innocence.
*While we’re here, can we discuss DNA testing for a sec? Have you paid to have your dna tested, or maybe you’ve debated having it done? Personally I’d love to do it, but after looking into it I’ve decided to pass. Of course it’s fantastic that these cold cases are being solved and the killers brought to justice with DNA; if it stopped there, it would be perfect! Sadly that’s not the case; current laws restricting the sharing of your genetic makeup are very narrow. Once you hand it over, these companies essentially own your info, and they are not typically bound by HIPAA the way your doctors are. Your DNA (which says so much about who you are, including health issues you may face in the future) may be used against not only you, but against your distant blood relatives, and we are not just talking about solving murder/sexual assault cases. And to those of you who are sending off your dna under fictitious names (that’s fairly common) it doesn’t matter – they can easily identify you. It’s all kinds of worrisome. Here’s a really good article on how your dna can be used against you, or even the great grandkids you may have fifty years from now. Again, we’re not just talking about solving violent crimes, which of course I am 100% good with.