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

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Tanya had been raped and murdered

CASE DETAILS

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.”

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.”

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.”

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. We will bring you  more information as this case develops.


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.

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24 Comments

  1. Andrew

    William Talbot 55 from Seattle arrested May 18th 2018

    Reply

  2. Matt

  3. 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.

    Reply

  4. Kristina

  5. Anonymous

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

    Reply

    • 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

      Reply

  6. 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.

    Reply

  7. 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.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pJvVqaaSh1w

    Reply

  8. chanita

    was the cult involved?

    Reply

  9. 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.

    Reply

  10. 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.

    Reply

  11. 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.

    Reply

  12. 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.

    Reply

  13. 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.

    Reply

  14. unkown

    sounds like the zodiac killer

    Reply

  15. 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.

    Reply

  16. anonymous

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

    Reply

  17. KC

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

    Reply

  18. Webinvestigator

    Could the killer be Edward Wayne Edwards?

    Reply

  19. K.W.

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

    Reply

  20. Anonymous

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

    Reply

  21. 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!

    Reply