Police use DNA technology in effort to identify suspect in 30-year-old murder case of Victoria couple


The suspect in the double homicide of Jay Cook and Tanya van Cuylenborg. The developed images show the suspect at age 25, 45 and 65. Credit: Snohomish County Sherrif’s Office.

Using DNA phenotyping technology, investigators in Washington state have released an image of a suspect wanted in the double homicide of a Victoria couple.

On Wednesday, detectives from both Snohomish County and Skagit County released three images of the suspect developed by Parabon NanoLabs from forensic DNA analysis. The process predicts physical appearance and ancestry from DNA evidence.

“We are looking for anyone who may know something related to this case or can identify a person of interest from these images,” Snohomish County Investigations Capt. Jeff Miller said.

“We believe someone knows who our person of interest is.”

Eighteen-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook, two Saanich residents, were found dead in Washington state more than 30 years ago.

The two Oak Bay High School graduates travelled from Victoria to Port Angeles on Nov. 18, 1987, via the Coho ferry. They had borrowed a bronze van from Cook?s father to pick up some furnace parts for him.

Investigators know they stopped to get gas at a business called Ben?s Deli. Receipts then show they purchased a ticket for a ferry from Bremerton to Seattle. The couple planned to sleep in the van in Seattle’s SoDo district overnight, then travel back to Victoria the next day.

The couple was last seen in the Bremerton-Seattle area but did not arrive in Seattle. They were reported missing on Nov. 20, 1987.

Van Cuylenborg?s body was discovered in a ditch 20 kilometres south of Bellingham, Wash. on Nov. 24, 1987. She had been sexually assaulted, then shot in the head. She had been restrained with zip ties.

Her wallet, identification and keys were found discarded behind a back porch on Bellingham tavern the next day. Snohomish County Cold Case Detective Jim Scharf said a pair of surgical gloves and a “partial box” of ammunition was also found.

The van was located next to the Bellingham Greyhound bus station, east of the tavern. A witness told police the van had been parked in the parking lot since Nov. 21, 1987.

Then on Nov. 26, 1987, Cook?s body was found south of Monroe, Wash. near the Washington State Reformatory, which was operational at the time.  He had been beaten and strangled. His body was covered by a blue blanket that did not belong to the couple.

“The same type of zip-tie fasteners were also located at that scene,” Scharf said.

“The person who did this came prepared to do a brutal crime.”

Police never found a green canvas backpack and black jacket belonging to Cook or a Minolta X-700 35 mm camera body belonging to Van Cuylenborg. However, investigators did find the camera lens and traced it to a pawn shop in Portland. Ore. in 1990.

Van Cylenborg?s father said he believed the couple may have picked up a hitchhiker. No arrests have ever been made in the case.

Based on the DNA analysis, the suspect is believed to be a white man of European descent with hazel or green eyes, light brown hair, fair skin with possible freckles and possibly male pattern baldness.

“If these new pictures that this amazing new technology created triggers a memory you had, perhaps of someone who said something odd that lived in or near the Snohomish area or even Vancouver in late 1987, please for the sake of my brother Jay, Tanya and all of our families, call it in,” said Laura Baanstra.

Cooke and Van Cuylenborg’s families asking anyone with information to phone the Snohomish County Sheriff’s tip line at 1-425-388-3845. A $50,000 reward is being offered. 

Jay Cook, 20, and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, of Victoria were killed while visiting Washington state 27 years ago. Who killed them remains a mystery. Courtesy of the Times Colonist.

Jay Cook, 20, and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, of Victoria were killed while visiting Washington state 27 years ago. Who killed them remains a mystery. Courtesy of the Times Colonist.

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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