DNA Used to Create Sketches of Suspect in 1987 Cold Case Killings of Couple

Playing DNA Used to Create Sketches of Possible Suspect in 1987 Unsolved Double Homicide

DNA has helped investigators in Washington state develop sketches of the man they believe is behind the unsolved killings of a young Canadian couple found dead more than three decades ago.

Authorities released the three sketches at a news conference last week in the hunt for the killer of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20.

The high school sweethearts set out in a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon from British Columbia for Seattle on Nov. 18, 1987.

The pair planned to pick up an item for Cook’s father at Gensco heating in the industrial district and spend the night in their van before returning home the next day.

High school sweethearts Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, set out in a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon from British Columbia for Seattle on Nov. 18, 1987, but never made it home.
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office

Van Cuylenborg and Cook were seen on the Coho ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. Investigators believe they likely missed the turnoff at state route 101 and 104, because they ended up at the Hoodsport Grocery, Snohomish County Cold Case Det. Jim Scharf said.

They then were seen at Ben’s Deli in Allyn at 9:29 p.m.

At 10:16 p.m., Cook and Van Cuylenborg bought tickets at the Bremerton ferry dock to take the ferry to Seattle. They would have arrived in Seattle at 11:34 p.m., but never made it back.

On Nov. 24, Van Cuylenborg’s body was found in a ditch in a wooded area of Parsons Creek Road in Skagit County. She had been restrained with zip-tie fasteners and shot in the back of the head. Her body was partially clothed and she had been sexually assaulted, police said.

High school sweethearts Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20, set out in a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon from British Columbia for Seattle on Nov. 18, 1987.
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office

The next day, the couple’s van was found locked and abandoned in a Blue Diamond parking lot near State and Holly streets in Bellingham. The ferry ticket was found inside the van, which a witness told police had been parked in the lot since Nov. 21. 

Van Cuylenborg’s wallet, ID, keys for the van, a pair of surgical gloves and a partial box of .38-calibre ammunition—the same bullets used to kill Van Cuylenborg—were found one block away near a Greyhound bus station.

Cook’s body was found covered with a blue blanket near High Bridge on Crescent Lake Road the following day. He had been strangled and restrained with the same zip-tie fasteners used on Van Cuylenborg. 

“The person who did this came prepared to do a brutal crime,” Scharf said at a press conference last week. 

DNA evidence collected during the investigation did not match profiles in any databases, but advances in technology have made it possible for authorities to better understand what the suspect looked like.

Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, generated composite images based on trait predictions from DNA collected in the case, the Snohomish and Skagit County Sheriff’s Offices said.

Investigators released three composite sketches depicting a white man in his 20s, 40s and 60s at a news conference last week. 

Investigators released three composite sketches depicting a white man in his 20s, 40s and 60s at a news conference last week.
the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Skagit County Sheriff’s Office

"If these new pictures of this amazing new technology triggers a memory you had, perhaps of someone who said something odd... please for the sake of my brother Jay, Tanya and all of our families, call it in," Laura Baanstra, the sister of Jay Cook, said at the press conference.

Police also noted that Van Cuylenborg’s 35mm Minolta camera lens was traced to a pawn shop in Portland, Ore., in 1990, but that the camera body is still missing.

Tanya Van Cuylenborg owned a 35mm Minolta camera similar to the one pictured above. It is still missing.
Tanya Van Cuylenborg owned a 35mm Minolta camera similar to the one pictured above. It is still missing. Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Skagit County Sheriff’s Office

“It’s been over 30 years since this happened, but the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office has never given up home in solving this case because we do have DNA evidence that will identify the killer,” Scharf said. “We’ve exhausted many leads but with the new technology … we have these new clues. We believe someone out there knows something that will help us solve this horrible crime. 

“Maybe a relative who looks similar to one of these composites gave you a Minolta camera,” Scharf continued. “Or you could have bought a camera like this from your neighbor around that time. The smallest detail could end up being the lead we need to solve this case.”

Anyone with information related to this case is asked to call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 425-388-3845.

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