Victims’ families, police praise landmark verdict using genetic genealogy

EVERETT, Wash. – Guilty on all counts, that’s what a jury decided Friday in a cold case that spanned more than three decades.

William Talbott, 56, was convicted Friday morning of murdering then 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook in 1987. The trial lasted about two weeks.

Prosecutors used a new technique called DNA genealogy to identify a suspect. Friday’s verdict is the first of its kind in the nation.

“It may have been justice delayed but not justice denied for Tanya and Jay,” said John Van Cuylenborg, Tanya’s brother.

In November of 1987, then 20-year-old Jay Cook and his 18-year-old girlfriend Tanya left Vancouver Island bound for Seattle on a business trip, but they never made it.

DNA collected at multiple crime scenes were finally matched to Talbott last year.

Friday’s verdict is the first of its kind in a case using DNA genealogy to pinpoint a suspect.

“Without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today without a question in this case,” said Capt. Rob Palmer from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

“This would not have been solved had it not been for the DNA evidence,” said Laura Baanstra, Jay’s sister. “The use of GED match, I hope more people will be willing to allow their DNA on websites so this world can be safer.”

“The genetic genealogy community deserves recognition,” said John. “Their advancements and analytics helped us get to this stage.”

Friday morning, the jury convicted Talbott of two counts of aggravated murder. Talbott denied any wrongdoing.

But for the victims' families, justice finally came and even law enforcement felt the gravity of the verdict.

“I was a major crimes detective and I actually helped my partner work on this case back in the day,” said an emotional Palmer.

Prosecutors say Friday’s verdict is not only a victory, but also a warning for those who have yet to face justice.

“If you’re a killer and you’re out there, then this office and other law enforcement around the country may be coming for you,” said prosecuting attorney Adam Cornell.

Talbott is expected to be sentenced to life in prison at the end of July.