A young couple’s vacation ends in rape and murder.
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:
Tanya’s father, William Van Cuylenborg:
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:
Indeed, something was very wrong. According to Chief Deputy Ron Panzero of the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office, Tanya was found murdered:
But Jay Cook was no where to be found. His mother recalls a conversation she had with the police:
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:
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:
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:
Det. Robert Gebo suspects this was not the killer’s first murder:
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:
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.
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On Dec. 8th 2021 William Earl Talbott II successfully had his murder conviction overturned because of juror bias, it is currently being appealed.
In case people were worried about this, and from the previous comment about the conviction being overturned…..
December 23, 2022
U.S. court reinstates guilty verdicts in 1987 killings of Vancouver Island couple
The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated two aggravated murder convictions for a man in the 1987 killings of a young Canadian couple.
The high court unanimously rejected the defense’s arguments that William Talbott II should be granted a new trial due to one juror’s alleged bias, concluding that defense attorneys could have dismissed the juror ahead of the trial but opted not to, The Daily Herald reported.
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.
Looks like her dad passed away in 1997 but her mom lived until 2020.
Talbott has been found guilty. Case closed!
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.
William Talbot 55 from Seattle arrested May 18th 2018
They just caught this guy using DNA evidence, the same way the Golden State Killer got nailed. Rot in hell, you monster. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/investigators-use-dna-genealogy-database-to-id-suspect-in-1987-double-homicide/?utm_source=marketingcloud&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=BNA_051818200717+BREAKING%3a+Investigators+use+DNA%2c+genealogy+to+ID+SeaTac+man+in+connection+to+1987+h_5_18_2018
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.
The letter writer was found, a mentally ill transient, he has been cleared as a suspect
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
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.
I wish to speak to The parents of Jay or Tanya…or a real detective who wants to solve case.I KNOW ITS OVER TWRNTY YEARS OLD.IM REMAINING IN HIDEING FOR 7MONTHS NOW WAITING FOR THE FBI COLDCASE TO FOLLOW UP ON MY LEADS.
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.
was the cult involved?
>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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
sounds like the zodiac killer
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.
The person who wrote the letters most likely had grown up in Vancouver/ Victoria B.C. I recognize the handwriting.
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Seems the Leah Roberts Case and this case have Bellingham, Washington area in common. It may be where the killer lives.
Could the killer be Edward Wayne Edwards?
Surely the police found some DNA evidence on Tanya’s body.
Could they be victims of the happy face killer? Maybe he changed his m.o.
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!
The update does not appear on season 2, episode 5 on YouTube.
Unsolved Mysteries Post author
Hi Kevin – the updates are being distributed by FilmRise – hopefully they will be available to stream soon.