William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac, is led into court, on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg in 1987, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac, is led into court, on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg in 1987, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Murder charges filed in 1987 killing of young B.C. couple

The suspect’s former friends have filled in some of the missing pieces for police.

EVERETT — Decades after a pair of killings “as random as they were savage,” a SeaTac man has been charged in the deaths of a young Canadian couple in November 1987.

Two counts of aggravated first-degree murder were filed Friday in Snohomish County Superior Court against William Talbott II.

He was arrested last month. Since then, former friends of Talbott have come forward to say they knew him when he was a delivery driver in Seattle in 1987. One of Talbott’s routes at the time went along Sixth Avenue S. in SoDo — a destination Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20, had in mind when they disappeared on a trip from Saanich, B.C., according to the charges.

A week later, a man collecting aluminum cans found the body of Van Cuylenborg in woods off a rural road south of Alger in Skagit County. The date was Nov. 24, 1987.

She had been shot “execution style” in the back of the head, wrote Craig Matheson, Snohomish County’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor. Forensic analysis showed the muzzle of the gun was less than two inches away when fired.

There was evidence she’d been raped. Investigators say that evidence provides a direct link to Talbott.

A spent .380-caliber shell casing was found near the body, along with zip ties that had been fastened to form apparent bindings.

An autopsy listed Van Cuylenborg’s date of death as Nov. 19, the day after the couple’s ferry was supposed to arrive in Seattle.

Cook was beaten with rocks and strangled. His body was found Nov. 26, 1987, near the High Bridge south of Monroe. Zip ties were nearby.

“From all available information, these acts of violence were as random as they were savage,” Matheson wrote in the charges.

The deaths remained a mystery for more than 30 years, until DNA led to a major breakthrough. A genealogist, CeCe Moore, worked with experts at Parabon NanoLabs to build a family tree for the suspect, based on the genetic evidence recovered from the crime scenes. They used data that had been uploaded by distant cousins to public genealogy websites. They pinpointed a suspect, Talbott, a trucker living north of Sea-Tac International Airport.

Police kept him under surveillance until a paper cup fell from his truck in Seattle in early May. A swab of DNA from the cup came back as a match to the evidence that had waited 30 years. Before then, Talbott had never been considered a suspect. Days later he was in handcuffs.

Talbott faces life in prison if convicted.

The arrest made international news, and investigators asked others who knew Talbott to come forward — to help piece together a profile of the suspect and his activities in the 1980s.

Another friend had been a roommate in 1987, until Talbott lost his job and moved back to his parents’ home off Woodinville-Duvall Road. The man recalled seeing a van — the same distinctive bronze Ford Club Wagon that was taken by the killer — at the Talbott home that year, according to the charges.

After the slayings, the van was found in Bellingham, but Van Cuylenborg’s Minolta camera was missing.

The man shared other memories.

Earlier that year, he recounted, he and Talbott had driven about six miles from the parents’ home to the High Bridge to snap photos. They were avid about photography. They walked along the river until they reached a vantage point where they could see the Monroe prison, according to the charges. They took a photo. Talbott told him to hang onto the picture. So he did.

He kept it for more than 30 years. This year he dug it out and handed it over to a detective.

Reporter Rikki King contributed to this story.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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