Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg
A young couple’s vacation ends in rape and murder.


Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg


Tanya had been raped and murdered

CASE DETAILS


Plastic gloves and ties were found near Jay’s van

On November 18, 1987, Jay Cook and his high-school sweetheart, Tanya Van Cuylenborg, took the ferry from Victoria, Canada, to Washington State to go camping.  Jay was 20 years old. Tanya was 17. It was their first trip together and they'd planned on a romantic getaway. Leona Cook is Jay’s mother:

“Jay and Tanya had been going out for about six months, and he was either there, or she was here. I think she was quite special to him.”

Tanya’s father, William Van Cuylenborg:

“They certainly seemed to be good for each other from everything that I could gather. I certainly had no apprehension about Tanya being with Jay. I felt very comfortable with that.”

But sometime during their journey, Jay and Tanya's peaceful vacation turned into a violent nightmare. Jay was driving his father's van. Witnesses reported seeing it drive off the ferry and head south on highway 101.  It was spotted in the town of Hoodsport at about 8 P.M., and an hour later in the town of Allyn.  Authorities believe they were headed towards a second car ferry from Bremerton to Seattle.


Jay had been beaten and strangled

It was just an overnight trip; Jay and Tanya were expected home the next day. When their families didn’t hear from them the following evening, they began to worry. William Van Cuylenborg:

“If Tanya was late for anything, she would always phone. So when Tanya did not phone the next evening when they were supposed to be returning, my wife became apprehensive. So I tried to downplay it for my wife's sake and probably to reassure myself that everything would be ok. However, on the following day when she didn't call, we knew there was something wrong.”

Indeed, something was very wrong. According to Chief Deputy Ron Panzero of the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office, Tanya was found murdered:

“Tanya's body was partially clothed. She had been raped and murdered. We'd found some plastic ties that you would bundle wires together with laying alongside the road. We assumed that they were used to secure Tanya in the van.”

But Jay Cook was no where to be found. His mother recalls a conversation she had with the police:

“We didn't know what to think then, because they hadn't found Jay, and, for a while, it looked like Jay might even be a suspect. They told us to be prepared for that.”


Actual greeting card

Soon after, Jay's van was found 90 miles away in the city of Bellingham. Two blocks away, police found more plastic ties, the keys to the van, Tanya's driver's license, and a half-empty box of ammunition. They also found a pair of surgical gloves. To Det. Robert Gebo of the Seattle Police Department, the clues comprised an outright taunt:

“He leaves those behind as a sign to the police that you needn't look for fingerprints because I wore these gloves. And he has confidence that there's nothing that's going to connect him with these crimes.”

A short time later, Jay’s body was found. He had been beaten and strangled to death. Sgt. Robert Bart with Snohomish Co. Sheriff’s Office:

“His hands had been bound with some plastic tie wraps. We think the way that Jay died was indicative of things that we've seen before inside the prison walls. And the things we found on Jay certainly raised a suspicion that the person or people who did this have been in the prison system before. Without telling you anything else, that's definitely a possibility.”

Sgt. Robert Bart believes it’s most likely that Jay and Tanya met their killer on the 10:20 p.m. ferry from Bremerton to Seattle:

“We don't know the killer's intentions when he first met these two. We feel that he was out to do some harm, and certainly to assault both Jay and Tanya. And from what we have found, I think we can say that he had set his sights on Tanya, and Jay was in the way. They were friendly, young, on their first trip, and I think easily fooled. An easy mark.”

Det. Robert Gebo suspects this was not the killer’s first murder:

“I think it's safe to say that by the time they exited the ferry in downtown Seattle, they probably were in the company of the man that killed them. It would seem to me that it's logical that the person has committed crimes like this in the past and been successful at them. And having been successful, I would certainly say that it's likely that he'll continue to do them.”

Then, over the Christmas holidays, just four weeks after the murder of their children, Jay and Tanya’s families each received a series of disturbing greeting cards. They were filled with taunting descriptions of the murders. The author claimed to be the killer. Postmarked from New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle, all of the cards had been written by the same person. So far, at least six of the greeting cards have been mailed over three different holidays, and authorities still have no idea who sent them. Surprisingly, DNA recovered from the victim and DNA taken from the envelopes do not match. Chief Deputy Ron Panzero:

 “The handwriting in these letters and the cards is very distinctive. And there are some phrases that are very distinctive, also. ‘Hallelujah bloody Jesus’ is a favorite phrase of his. He just continues to make life miserable for these parents who have lost their children.  It’s important that this individual be caught.”

Police are convinced the murderer is an ex-convict, familiar with the Washington area.  They hope that he may have talked about the crime and that an Unsolved Mysteries viewer might be able to identify him. Authorities are also interested in finding out who wrote the strange greeting cards.