Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg were murdered after travelling to Washington state in 1987. The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department will hold a press conference Wednesday to discuss new evidence in the murders of the Victoria couple. (Photo submitted)

DNA sketch aims to crack 30-year-old murder case of B.C. students

Washington State sheriffs department to release composite sketch of suspect made using DNA from the crime scene

Thirty years ago, two high school sweethearts who had recently graduated from Oak Bay High, hopped on the Coho ferry to Port Angeles.

They never came home.

The couple — 18-year-old Tanya van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook — were reported missing on Nov.20, 1987. Their bodies were found a few days later – van Cuylenborg’s on a rural road in Skagit County, sexually assaulted and shot in the back of the head, Cook’s further south in Snohomish County, beaten and strangled.

Thus began a 30-year hunt for answers, a journey that will hopefully find some form of closure soon with tomorrow’s release of a composite sketch of the suspect made using DNA from the crime scene.

The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department will release the sketch during a press conference that will be livestreamed on their Facebook page starting at 11 a.m..

“I have to credit the investigators with continuing to move the case forward,” Tanya’s brother John van Cuylenborg told the Oak Bay News today. “I am hopeful. I think it represents a fairly significant move forward in the investigation. It’s not the resolution of it though. That’s for sure.”

Even after 30 years, the pain of the loss is so acute that it is difficult for John van Cuylenborg to share stories about his sister. It is a reminder that while a police investigation may move forward, the world is not the same without Tanya and Jay.

Tanya van Cuylenborg graduated from Oak Bay High in June of 1987, just five months before she was killed. The Oak Bay High yearbook shines light on her personality. She played on the senior girls basketball team, was nicknamed “sweetie”, and was known for her sarcasm and “many different laughs”. Her dream after graduating was to move away from Victoria and become a photographer.

Tanya, a resident of Saanich, met Jay, an Oak Bay resident, when they both started attending Oak Bay High. They became high school sweethearts whose love for life and each other was evident to their classmates.

“There is nothing so touching as two young people in love. Tanya and Jay had so much ahead of them, so much to live for. Their love of life shone radiantly in her smile, in his eyes,” reads a tribute to the couple in the 1988 Oak Bay High yearbook.

RELATED: Police hope new tools will help solve 30-year-old murder

On November 18, 1987, the couple borrowed a van from Jay’s father to go on a trip to Seattle. They left Victoria on the Coho ferry bound for Port Angeles, then headed east to Bremerton to catch another ferry to Seattle.

“Detectives believe they may have taken a wrong turn, heading south instead of east,” said Shari Ireton, director of communications for Snohomish County Sheriffs Department.

That wrong turn took them on a longer route through Hoodsport, WA, where they stopped at Hoodsport Grocery, and Allyn, WA, where they visited Ben’s Deli. The deli visit was at 9:29 p.m. on Nov.18, and it is the last place the couple was seen alive.

When the van was eventually found next to the Bellingham Greyhound bus station, a ticket for the Bremerton-Seattle ferry was found inside. Detectives have not been able to confirm whether the couple got on the ferry.

The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department has been investigating ever since.

“There have been a number of suspects over the years that have been investigated and ruled out through one means or another,” said John van Cuylenborg.

But there have been no true breaks in the case. The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department hopes new technology will change that.

“We will be releasing a composite sketch of the suspect using DNA phenotyping from a company named Parabon,” said Ireton. “It’s the first time we’ve ever done it at Skagit or Snohomish County Sheriff offices.”

The company website says, “DNA Phenotyping is the prediction of physical appearance from DNA. It can be used to generate leads in cases where there are no suspects or database hits, to narrow suspect lists, and to help solve human remains cases.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact local police or Crime Stoppers, at 1-800-222-8477 or on the web at victoriacrimestoppers.ca.

And as the 1988 Oak Bay High yearbook says: “Let us find happiness in the little things in life, living each day to its full potential and through our bitter loss let us be reminded of the sweet fragility of life.”


 

keri.coles@oakbaynews.com

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Also read: DNA analysis conjures the face of a 1987 killer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Tanya Van Cuylenborg in the 1987 Oak Bay yearbook, the year she graduated.

A tribute to the couple in the 1988 Oak Bay High yearbook.

A tribute to the couple in the 1988 Oak Bay High yearbook.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg were murdered after travelling to Washington state in 1987. The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department will hold a press conference Wednesday to discuss new evidence in the murders of the Victoria couple. (Photo submitted)

The Snohomish County Sheriffs Department created a deck of cards featured unsolved crimes. 18-year-old Tanya van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook were featured on the King of Hearts. (Courtesy of snohomishcountywa.gov)

The murders noted in Oak Bay Star’s Year in Review for 1987, published on Jan.6, 1988. (Oak Bay News)

Just Posted

Weekly RCMP update: Bike thefts and persistent driving while prohibited

Campbell River RCMP detachment seeing bicycle theft as an ongoing concern

Over 21 Campbell River tourism businesses benefit from resiliency program

Vancouver Island Tourism Resiliency Program is helping businesses pivot and adapt to the COVID-19 imposed changes in industry

NIC online marine training accessed by mariners across the country

NIC was among the first post-secondary schools to receive approval for digital marine courses

Search for missing hiker suspended once again

Search for Laurence Philippsen was revived over the weekend after new information was received

NIC practical nursing students hone skills on pandemic’s front line

‘It also has become clear that this is my thing,’ – NIC practical nursing student Breanna Patterson

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

Mirror business directory and map

If you’d like to be added to the list, shoot us an email

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

Beloved Island woman dies at 106

Dorothy Adair adored by the many people she met in Chemainus in two short years

Man arrested for allegedly pushing unsuspecting seniors, jumping on cars at Parksville mall

Cops arrest man after ‘aggressive incident’ at Wembley Mall in Parksville

Most Read