EVERETT — A SeaTac man appeared in a Snohomish County courtroom for the first time Tuesday to plead not guilty to the 1987 murders of a young Canadian couple.
Parents, siblings and other family members of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg filled a full row of the courtroom gallery when William Earl Talbott II, 55, entered the courtroom in a white button-down shirt and a blue tie.
In front of news cameras, Superior Court Judge Millie Judge allowed the defendant to be unshackled and in street clothes, at the request of public defender Rachel Forde.
Talbott, a trucker who grew up in Woodinville, is charged with the aggravated murders of Cook, 20, and Van Cuylenborg, 18. They were killed 30 years ago on a road trip from their hometown of Saanich, B.C., on Vancouver Island, to the SoDo district of Seattle. The couple was on an errand to pick up furnace parts for Cook’s father. They never showed up.
Days later, a passerby found Van Cuylenborg’s body off a road 80 miles north, near Alger in Skagit County. She had been sexually assaulted, shot in the head and dumped in the woods.
The body of Cook was discovered beneath a blanket that week, near a bridge south of Monroe. He appeared to have been beaten with rocks and strangled.
Talbott’s parents lived six miles from the bridge, a straight-shot of a drive with only one turn, according to charging papers.
In 1987, the defendant worked as a delivery driver with a route that passed by Gensco, the business that was the couple’s destination, according to a friend’s report recounted in the charges.
The case went unsolved for three decades. Talbott’s name never made a list of more than 300 potential suspects, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
This year a new analysis of DNA evidence led a genetic genealogist and cold case detectives to identify him as the suspected killer, by way of second cousins who had uploaded their DNA to public genealogy sites. The cousins were searching for relatives. Detectives arrested one of those relatives on a murder warrant in May. If convicted, Talbott faces life in prison.
Talbott kept his gaze forward in court Tuesday, never turning his head to the families behind him. He said almost nothing, except that his name was William Talbott and that he pleaded not guilty.
His next court hearing was set for July 18.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.