Cold Case Washington

William Talbott II, left, charged with aggravated murder of a Canadian couple in 1987, listens Monday during his trial.

EVERETT — A jury began deliberating Tuesday in the trial of a trucker accused of killing a young Canadian couple in 1987.

William Talbott II, 56, of SeaTac, chose not to testify in his trial. He’s accused of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg.

Van Cuylenborg’s body was found in Skagit County off Parson Creek Road near Alger.

Talbott’s lawyers called only one witness Tuesday, a defense investigator who answered questions for about 10 minutes.

Prosecutors called no rebuttal witnesses.

Jurors heard about 1 1/2 weeks of testimony from law enforcement, family members of the victims, store clerks and those who had found key evidence.

For closing arguments, a crowd filled every seat in the courtroom gallery and spilled into the aisles.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg had been dating a few months by Nov. 18, 1987, when they took a road trip to Seattle to pick up furnace parts from Gensco, a business south of the Kingdome.

The couple never completed their errand.

Van Cuylenborg’s body was discovered Nov. 24, 1987, in rural Skagit County. She’d been shot in the back of the head. Semen was found on her body and on a pair of pants that belonged to her.

She’d been raped and executed, Snohomish County prosecutor Matt Baldock said.

“Coming up with some other alternative explanation would push the limits of logic,” he said.

Cook was found dead — beaten and strangled — two days later under a bridge south of Monroe.

Throughout the trial, the defense noted the days following the couple’s disappearance had unexplained gaps in the prosecution’s timeline.

“They want you to fill in the gaps,” defense lawyer Rachel Forde said in her closing argument.

At both scenes, police found interlocked zip ties. More zip ties had been tied together in the Cook family van, a Ford Club Wagon, when police found it parked in downtown Bellingham.

“If there was any question that these murders were connected, there cannot be, when you consider this evidence,” Baldock said.

The defense suggested Talbott’s semen could have ended up at the crime scenes — on pants in the van, and on Van Cuylenborg — from consensual sex.

Forde said police developed “tunnel vision” over the years, clearing suspects because their DNA didn’t match the semen.

“They never stopped to consider that perhaps the person who left the DNA was not the murderer,” Forde said.

She conceded Talbott had sexual contact with Van Cuylenborg. But that’s not enough, she argued, to convict him of murder.

In a pioneering investigation, detectives linked Talbott to the killings in 2018, through a technique known as genetic genealogy.

A private lab uploaded crime scene DNA onto a public ancestry site, and a genealogist built the suspect’s family tree, based on second-cousins who had uploaded their genetic profiles to GEDMatch.

The investigation pointed to Talbott. The match was later confirmed with DNA samples from Talbott’s mouth, according to witness testimony.

Early on, prosecutors had warned jurors that they would have questions at the end of the trial.

“That was an understatement, to say the least,” Forde argued. “You have many, many questions about what happened to Jay and Tanya in 1987, and none of those have been answered.”

The gun used to kill Van Cuylenborg was never recovered, and Talbott wasn’t known to own guns.

Dog collars used to strangle Cook weren’t shown to belong to Talbott, and he wasn’t known to own dogs.

Neither of the Canadians had injuries on their wrists from zip ties — suggesting that there was no struggle, Forde said.

And in the defense’s view, prosecutors did not establish a motive for the killings.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese denied a defense motion early Tuesday to dismiss both charges.

Another of Talbott’s lawyers, Jon Scott, argued there was no evidence directly linking the Talbott to Cook’s death.

Krese, however, noted the couple had last been seen in each other’s company, and evidence from the crime scenes suggested a link between the two killings.

For example, a pack of Camel Lights had been stuffed down Cook’s throat. The same kind of cigarettes were found in the van.

Krese left it to the jury to decide if Talbott was guilty or not.

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