Andy Bronson / Herald file                                William Earl Talbott II enters court on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon.

Andy Bronson / Herald file William Earl Talbott II enters court on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon.

Trial delayed for suspect in 1987 killings of young couple

Defense lawyers say they still need DNA information and to question witnesses in Canada.

EVERETT — The trial of a man accused of killing a young Vancouver Island couple in 1987 has been delayed.

Judge Linda Krese approved the continuance during a one-hour hearing Thursday afternoon in Snohomish County Superior Court.

SeaTac truck driver William Earl Talbott II, 55, is charged with the aggravated murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. The Canadian couple were on an errand to the Puget Sound area to pick up furnace parts for Cook’s father when they were abducted and killed more than 30 years ago.

The trial date has been moved from April 1 to June 3.

Thursday’s motion for a continuance came from defense attorneys. They previously had been eager for the April trial date, and prosecutors were unsure that they might not be prepared by then.

Deputy prosecutor Matthew Baldock said Thursday that his side would have been ready for an April trial having “redoubled our efforts in earnest.”

Defense lawyers said they haven’t yet received important lab notes they will need before they interview DNA experts. They also plan to travel to Canada to talk to other witnesses.

Genetic evidence will be critical at trial. A 2018 analysis of DNA evidence led a genetic genealogist and cold case detectives to identify Talbott as the suspected killer, by way of second cousins who had uploaded their DNA to public genealogy sites. The cousins were searching for relatives.

The June trial date was set after attorneys and the judge compared their calendars. May was ruled out because defense attorney Rachel Forde has a homicide trial scheduled in San Juan County that will take up much of the month. Relatives of one of the victims would be unable to attend in early July.

Forde said there were just too many last minute moving parts for the defense to be ready for the April trial. That includes additional lab testing that was done but only recently came to light.

“I want both sides to have the opportunity to be properly prepared,” Krese said.

The trial is expected to last a month.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg were killed in 1987 while on a road trip from their hometown of Saanich, B.C., on Vancouver Island, to Seattle’s industrial area.

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, according to charging papers.

If convicted, Talbott faces life in prison.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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