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.