EVERETT — A one-time roommate of William Talbott II testified that the double murder suspect was familiar with the fields south of Monroe where Jay Cook’s body was found in 1987.
He also recalled Talbott’s mother had a darkroom at her home about seven miles away, and that Talbott had an interest in photography in the 1980s.
Cook, 20, and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, brought a 35 mm Minolta X-700 camera with them on what was supposed to be an overnight trip from Saanich, British Columbia, to the SoDo district in Seattle.
The Canadians were killed between Nov. 18 and Nov. 26, 1987. Their bodies were dumped about 65 miles apart in rural Snohomish and Skagit counties.
Detectives arrested Talbott after a pioneering investigation that used genealogy as a forensic tool. A lab plugged DNA from a crime scene into a public ancestry site, GEDMatch, allowing investigators to identify the prime suspect by building his family tree.
Talbott, 56, of SeaTac, was a truck driver with no felony record. He’s on trial for two counts of aggravated murder.
A former medical examiner, Dr. Eric Kiesel, explained the suffering Cook endured through a series of grim autopsy photos Friday. Blows to Cook’s head had left wounds, but they were not enough to kill him. He’d been strangled to death with twine tied onto red dog leashes. Tissue and a pack of Camel Lights had been shoved down his throat.
Family members stepped out of the courtroom before that testimony began.
In cross-examination, defense attorneys noted Kiesel once estimated that Cook was dead 36 to 72 hours before being found — implying he’d been alive for days after vanishing, an unexplained gap in the prosecution’s timeline.
Kiesel said that was only an initial estimate, and there’s no scientific way to pin down a time of death.
The couple was last seen alive late on Nov. 18, 1987.
Van Cuylenborg’s body was found Nov. 24, in woods north of Mount Vernon. She’d been shot in the back of the head.
Cook’s body had been wrapped in a blue blanket when a pheasant hunter’s dog sniffed him out Nov. 26, beneath a rural bridge south of Monroe.
In the meantime, police found the Cook family van abandoned in downtown Bellingham.
The young woman’s Minolta camera was missing. The camera body was never seen again, though the lens had been recovered at a pawn shop in Oregon in 1990.
Michael Seat, 59, a retired auto mechanic, met Talbott around the time Mount St. Helens erupted, according to his testimony Friday. The pair became close friends, he said, snorkeling in lakes in the summer and taking pictures.
“We even tried taking pictures while we were driving down the highway, just cars, we’d take pictures of sceneries, and we’d use his mom’s darkroom to develop everything,” he said on the witness stand.
“So his mom had a darkroom?” asked deputy prosecutor Matt Baldock.
“A small little darkroom.”
“Where was that set up?”
“That was at their house, in Woodinville.”
Seat had family who lived down the street from Talbott’s parents, off Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Once, he recalled, Talbott took him to a boat launch near Monroe, like the one at High Bridge, where Cook’s body was later found. It was raining and thundering, Seat said.
“I grabbed the electric fence,” he said, “and thought I got hit by a bolt of lightning, I said, ‘Bill, I been hit!’ … We both had a good chuckle.”
The defense pointed out each time Seat told the story, it had been a little different. In court Friday, he said he’d walked across a field with Talbott; in a police interview, it was a half-mile along the riverbank. In court, he said he and Talbott walked side-by-side; in the police interview, Talbott walked in front; in a recorded interview with a defense investigator, Seat said he was in front.
“I guess I might’ve said it that way, but it wasn’t the way it happened,” Seat said, “because he had to come back and help me through the fence.”
For a few months Talbott lived in the Woodinville area with Seat and a mutual friend, Timothy McPherson.
McPherson testified that he helped Talbott to get hired at Hirschler Manufacturing, but his friend eventually lost the job and had to move out.
Deputy prosecutor Justin Harleman asked about Talbott’s build and appearance around 1987.
“He was heavy, maybe a bit overweight, and strong, could lift stuff,” McPherson said.
Harleman asked what he and the defendant did together.
“Bowling,” McPherson said.
“Can you give us an example of how Mr. Talbott bowled, or why you would come to the conclusion that he was a strong guy?”
“He threw the ball hard and the pins exploded,” the witness said.
“Any other physical activities that you did with the defendant?”
“After we left that house, the landlord said we could take whatever,” McPherson said.
“When did you leave that house?” the prosecutor asked.
“Fall of ’87,” McPherson said. “Ah, it was later, I think Bill had moved out. I think it was the next spring, and he came back. … He exerted a lot of energy removing a shower stall from the house.”
“And you watched him do that? Did he do it by himself?”
Both former roommates said they never saw Talbott with guns, and never heard him talk about guns. Seat said Talbott often declined invitations to shoot clay pigeons.
McPherson said Talbott didn’t smoke cigarettes, and he never saw him with a camera, or a blue blanket, or dog collars, or zip ties. Detectives seized zip ties at the three crime scenes.
“You also didn’t see Bill in November of 1987?” asked Harleman.
“No,” McPherson said, “I did not.”
Prosecutors expect to rest their case early next week.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
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