Led by defense attorney Rachel Forde, William Earl Talbott II enters Snohomish County Superior Court on Tuesday in Everett to be arraigned for the 1987 murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Led by defense attorney Rachel Forde, William Earl Talbott II enters Snohomish County Superior Court on Tuesday in Everett to be arraigned for the 1987 murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Defendant in 1987 slayings of BC couple pleads not guilty

William Talbott of SeaTac was arraigned Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

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; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Lunches available despite ‘terrible’ senior center closure

Homage Senior Services continues to provide weekday meals at Carl Gipson Senior Center and other sites.

Police: Man likely stole from 20 people in Edmonds, Woodway

Edmonds police reportedly retrieved a dozen bags of stolen goods after arresting a Lynnwood man, 24.

‘Appalled’ judge sentences pastor for theft from Oso victims

“God only knows what darkness in (Gary) Ray’s soul has caused him to do these things,” the judge said.

Traffic’s creeping back and some transit to collect fares again

Community Transit and Sound Transit are set to resume fares June 1, but not Everett Transit.

Anna Rohrbough
Help wanted: Mukilteo City Council has seat to fill

You can fill the vacancy for Anna Rohrbough’s sudden departure. Pay is $500 a month.

COVID-19 and domestic violence

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Neil Hubbard plays the bagpipes in front of a memorial at Floral Hills cemetery in Lynnwood Monday morning. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Memorial Day tradition continues in Lynnwood amid pandemic

Loved ones placed flags at Floral Hills cemetery as bagpipes played in the distance Monday morning.

Stillaguamish Tribe gives $1M to food banks, fire services

“I had to do a double take,” said the director of the Stanwood Camano Food Bank, which received $300,000.

Under new rules, you will no longer have to pray in your car

Rules issued Wednesday allow the restart of spiritual services — with limits on the number of worshipers.

Most Read