A young couple’s vacation ends in rape and murder.

Smiling Jay Cook and Smiling Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Police investigators stumbling across Tanya's body in the woods

Tanya had been raped and murdered


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.”

A box of plastic gloves and ties on the dirt floor

Plastic gloves and ties were found near Jay’s van

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.

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.”

A crouching investigator examins the body of Jay Cook

Jay had been beaten and strangled

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.”

The greeting card addressed to Jays father

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.

UPDATE: An arrest has been made in this case. In May of 2018, authorities took 55-year-old William Talbott II into custody and charged him in connection with the murders of Jay and Tanya. The break in the case came when forensic experts created a profile on a genealogy website based on the DNA gathered from the case. It came back with a match to a relative of Talbott’s. After about a week and half of testimony in a trial where Talbot did not testify, the jury deliberated for a day and a half. William Talbott the II was found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Then, in December of 2021, the appeals court found that one of the jurors should have been dismissed, citing court documents where she had said she didn’t know if she could be fair in a trial about violence against women. Talbott’s convictions were reversed.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season two with Robert Stack and season five with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.




  1. Ida

    My father, Detective Dean E. Miller and his partner from Skagit county sheriff’s department were assigned the murder case of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, as she was found north of the little town I grew up in called Sedro-Woolley.
    I was born a few years before the murders. My dad worked many major homicide cases and ever since I was old enough to understand he would tell me stories about how the “bad guy” got cought but the Cold case murders of Jay Cook and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg had always haunted him. He showed me the place where Tanya’s body was carelessly tossed out of the van. it was on the opposite side of a ditch on a very rural road that leads up to Alger mountain. Every time my dad spoke of the Cold case he would go out on our back deck and sit quietly for hours.
    On a beautiful sunny day in may of 2018 My dad and I were about to head out of town to visit family and as we were literally walking out the door the house phone rang. we let the machine pick it up and it was my dad’s old partner from the Cold case. She said “Deano, call me back as soon as you can. your efforts to save the DNA in the Van Cuylenborg case payed off. an exact DNA match has been found and an arrest has been made. Good work partner.”
    My dad three weeks from turning 72 years old and me, in my thirties about the age my dad was when the murders happened just stood there in the kitchen of our family home in silence staring at each other in disbelief. I saw the tears forming in my dad’s eyes so I hugged him and he said, “God, may the family’s of those kids find some form of peace”
    My father passed away a week later. I don’t think he could have left this earth until this particular case was solved. Over the week after we got the news my parents and I often sat silently staring at each other with the understanding that each of us were thinking of the same Young couple who had their lives and so many possibilities in front of them by a monster who decieved thier innocent good nature and maliciously hurt them then stole everything from young Jay and Tanya. We talked about how my dad had fought to keep the DNA samples, when sometime in the 90s the small sheriff’s department needed to make space for other, newer cases in the evidence room. My dad new even in the early 90s that research on DNA was growing and one day the case could be solved if the DNA was kept. Before he passed away He was told that the DNA swabs from Tanya, the rubber gloves and from Talbot were all a perfect match.
    The killer was finally behind bars where he belonged.


  2. Mathew

    On Dec. 8th 2021 William Earl Talbott II successfully had his murder conviction overturned because of juror bias, it is currently being appealed.


  3. DJ

    Does anyone know if Tanya’s parents are still living? I know Jay Cook’s mother is still alive to see justice served, thank God.


  4. Al H

  5. Marie

    So they have William Earl Talbott II in custody based on his DNA match but there are still so many unanswered questions. What’s the story with the letters, was it a transient bum? Since William Earl Talbott II was a truck driver it makes sense he would be able to send them from all over, are they sure it wasn’t him? The other thing is why was William Earl Talbott II sitting there fully prepared for the crime with gloves and ties when the kids were just passing through town. Was anyone in the bar ever interviewed? Are we sure he acted alone? Seems a lot to take down two people at once. Since William Earl Talbott II is pleading not guilty I guess we will never know his reasons. Apparently except for one other arrest in 1984 he hasn’t done this again.


  6. Andrew

    William Talbot 55 from Seattle arrested May 18th 2018


  7. Matt

  8. Johnny

    Great to see this was recently solved through DNA. More of these cold cases will be solved in this fashion. They just arrested the Golden State killer. A salute to Washington state police for never giving up on this cold case. Justice for Jay & Tanya.


  9. Kristina

  10. Anonymous

    The letter writer was found, a mentally ill transient, he has been cleared as a suspect


    • ivan henry

      Those plastic clothes and the letter are real evidence. The gloves have DNA in them. Years past we couldn’t use this evidence because the scientific world hadn’t been to where it is today. This crime is from two Canadian boys as they were prison and police affiliated. I have told the police who I absolutely believe but someone in Canada is not giving up these persons DNA, as plainly said they are protecting them


  11. Anonymous

    I know this an old crime, and that the person or persons responsible could be dead. But my catch on the letters mailed to the mother. Maybe there was a personal vendetta against the parents, from someone in there past. And this person is torturing the parents with these letters. What better way of getting even with someone. Kill someone dear to them, then send them reminders, years later.


  12. Derby

    Hoping to find updates on this case. Here is a 2010 link to newscast about the homeless person who is found to have written the postcards but not the crime.



  13. chanita

    was the cult involved?


  14. Gerard

    >sounds like the zodiac killer
    Really did. The writer of the letters ended up being a transient mentally ill man from the 70s who got the family’s addresses from the police. Lived in Seattle at the time.


  15. Johnny

    I think the letters might be best chance of solving this case. The distinct hand writing and the expression “Hallelujah Bloody Jesus”. They solved the serial killer case in Florida who tied down the mother and 2 daughters thanks to releasing handwriting on billboard. This could be solved with DNA matches in similar cases hopefully.


  16. Chris H

    Is it true that the sender of the cards has been ID’ed? If so, could you please post a link to any related articles or sites? Thanks.


  17. Victoria M

    I knew Jay Cook from Victoria, BC. I had a huge crush on him when I was kid. I always check to see if the crime was solved and am so sorry to see that it hasn’t been resolved yet.


  18. Anonymous

    Just saw this aired again today. With all the forensic technology available today, have the investigators had the rubber gloves tested for DNA or a fingerprint on the inside? I saw another show where they were able to pull a print like that.
    It just struck me as an option to pursue-if it hasn’t already been done in the past 20+ years. I hope this helps.


  19. unkown

    sounds like the zodiac killer


  20. Johnny

    Jay & Tanya didn’t stand a chance when the organized offender targeted them for murder. This killer shows great intelligence and organization to take 2 victims at the same time. My guess the offender targeted Tanya and Jay was in the way. The Offender shows a great knowledge of Washington state. Probably from there or moved to Wash at young age. The sophistication of the crime shows the criminal is a serial killer and probably has a string of these type of crimes. Will be a tough crime to solve.


  21. anonymous

    The person who wrote the letters most likely had grown up in Vancouver/ Victoria B.C. I recognize the handwriting.


  22. KC

    Seems the Leah Roberts Case and this case have Bellingham, Washington area in common. It may be where the killer lives.


  23. Webinvestigator

    Could the killer be Edward Wayne Edwards?


  24. K.W.

    Surely the police found some DNA evidence on Tanya’s body.


  25. Anonymous

    Could they be victims of the happy face killer? Maybe he changed his m.o.


  26. Andy S. Corona

    I was laid up with Viral meningitis and my Mother was taking care of me in her home, and I was laying on her couch, and I remember this vividly! I have followed this case for years it was so horrible, it was only a few days before Thanksgiving, and I was upset that these young kids were murdered in cold blood too!


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