Author of letters that taunted family of 1987 slaying victims sought by detectives

EVERETT — The first letters arrived just a week after the bodies of a young Canadian couple were discovered.

The anonymous author claimed that he killed Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. He mailed the letters to the victims’ grieving parents. He wrote of his hatred for Canadians and said the opportunity to kill was “too good to pass up.” He threatened to murder again if he ever got the chance. He taunted police, bragging he’d never be caught.

The 1987 double-slaying remains unsolved.

Homicide detectives recently released new details about the decades-old letters in an effort to identify the writer. Scientists at the state crime lab in Marysville were able to get material from the letters and test for DNA. The genetic evidence shows they were written by the same person. The DNA is that of a man, but doesn’t match any profiles in state and federal offender databases.

Police aren’t convinced that the letter writer killed the couple. Tests recently showed that the DNA profile from the letters doesn’t match other forensic evidence collected at the scene where Van Cuylenborg’s body was found.

But the author remains a suspect and his DNA profile has been entered into a suspect database, Snohomish County sheriff’s cold case detective Jim Scharf said. There is a possibility that he’s an accomplice, Scharf said. More than likely he’s a crackpot, the detective said.

“If he’s not involved, we want to rule him out. Maybe he has some remorse after 23 years, maybe he wants to right his wrong,” Scharf said.

The author won’t face any criminal charges in connection with sending the letters, Scharf said. Detectives just want him to step forward and clear his name so they can focus on finding whoever is responsible for killing the Canadian couple.

Cook, 20, and Van Cuylenborg, 19, had traveled from British Columbia to run an errand for Cook’s father. The couple took a ferry on Nov. 18, 1987 from Bremerton to Seattle, that’s where police believe they crossed paths with the killer.

Investigators suspect the couple was staying in Cook’s gold van near the downtown Seattle store where they planned to pick up a furnace part. They were likely abducted there.

Van Cuylenborg’s body was discovered Nov. 24, 1987 south of Alger in Skagit County. She’d been sexually assaulted and shot to death. Her hands were bound with plastic zip ties. Cook’s body was discovered two days later under High Bridge off Crescent Lake Road in Monroe. He’d been strangled and asphyxiated. Investigators suspect that Cook was slain first.

The killer abandoned Cook’s van in a downtown Bellingham parking lot. Some additional evidence was found under the back porch of a tavern near the city’s bus station, Scharf said.

“Our belief is this guy came prepared with a kit to commit these crimes,” Skagit County sheriff’s detective Tobin Meyer said.

The kit likely contained zip ties, a gun, gloves and other tools. Detectives speculate that the killer kept the kit used in the crimes close by and was highly protective of its contents.

Investigators don’t believe the killer knew Cook or Van Cuylenborg. He probably selected them at random, Meyer said.

“The kit was ready to go and he was planning to do it and he found Tanya and Jay,” the detective said.

Detectives have long speculated that the killer may have committed other murders or rapes.

The slayings made headlines in Washington and Canada. Because so many years have passed, investigators haven’t been able to pin down exactly what details about the slayings were revealed during those initial reports.

A week after the killings the letters began showing up.

The first two were dated Dec. 3, 1987 and postmarked in Seattle. A dozen others followed about once a month for a year. They were postmarked from Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Canada. The writer sent Hallmark greeting cards with pictures of teddy bears and kittens for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. Sometimes the cards were signed “Tanya” or “Jay.” He also sent letters to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a British Columbia newspaper.

Detectives wonder if the author was a transient who travelled along the West Coast. They also say it’s possible the letter writer is Canadian. There is some grammar and punctuation in the letters that would indicate that he was educated in Canada, Scharf said. Expressions such as “Greetings and Salutations,” and “Hallelujah Bloody Jesus,” stand out.

Over the years the slayings have been featured on TV sleuth shows. The case also is part of the county’s first deck of cold-case playing cards.

Scientists at the Washington State Patrol crime lab in Marysville recently told detectives they were able to collect and test DNA from the 23-year-old letters.

If items have been stored properly, it’s not unusual for the scientist to find DNA preserved on the evidence, said David Northrop, acting manager at the lab.

“The way things were collected and stored even 30 to 40 years ago allowed for evidence to be preserved,” he said.

Police say they are having more evidence tested at the lab. In the meantime they are asking the letter writer to call them.

To verify that he is the person who wrote they letters, they’re asking him to tell them the name of the lake where he said he left his car when he committed the murders.

“We want to open the lines of communication with him,” Scharf said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

You can help

Anyone with information about the 1987 slayings of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg or letters sent to the victims’ families in 1987 and 1988, is asked to call the sheriff’s tip line at 425-388-3845 or Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound at 800-222-8477.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

Lewis the cat weaves his way through a row of participants during Kitten Yoga at the Everett Animal Shelter on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Downward cat? At kitten yoga in Everett, it’s all paw-sitive vibes

It wasn’t a stretch for furry felines to distract participants. Some cats left with new families — including a reporter.

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017, file photo, Boeing employees walk the new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner down towards the delivery ramp area at the company's facility in South Carolina after conducting its first test flight at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, S.C. Federal safety officials aren't ready to give back authority for approving new planes to Boeing when it comes to the large 787 jet, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The plane has been plagued by production flaws for more than a year.(AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
Boeing pushes back on Everett whistleblower’s allegations

Two Boeing engineering executives on Monday described in detail how panels are fitted together, particularly on the 787 Dreamliner.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Struggling state ferry system finds its way into WA governor’s race

Bob Ferguson backs new diesel ferries if it means getting boats sooner. Dave Reichert said he took the idea from Republicans.

Traffic camera footage shows a crash on northbound I-5 near Arlington that closed all lanes of the highway Monday afternoon. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Woman dies almost 2 weeks after wrong-way I-5 crash near Arlington

On April 1, Jason Lee was driving south on northbound I-5 near the Stillaguamish River bridge when he crashed into a car. Sharon Heeringa later died.

Owner Fatou Dibba prepares food at the African Heritage Restaurant on Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Oxtail stew and fufu: Heritage African Restaurant in Everett dishes it up

“Most of the people who walk in through the door don’t know our food,” said Fatou Dibba, co-owner of the new restaurant at Hewitt and Broadway.

A pig and her piglets munch on some leftover food from the Darrington School District’s cafeteria at the Guerzan homestead on Friday, March 15, 2024, in Darrington, Washington. Eileen Guerzan, a special education teacher with the district, frequently brings home food scraps from the cafeteria to feed to her pigs, chickens and goats. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘A slopportunity’: Darrington school calls in pigs to reduce food waste

Washingtonians waste over 1 million tons of food every year. Darrington found a win-win way to divert scraps from landfills.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island (Photo provided by Empower Investing)
Orcas Island’s storied Rosario Resort finds a local owner

Founded by an Orcas Island resident, Empower Investing plans” dramatic renovations” to restore the historic resort.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.