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DNA sheds new light on 30-year-old B.C. murder mystery

Police in Washington release sketch of suspect in murder of Victoria sweethearts

There is hope that new DNA technology can shed light on the murder of a pair of Victoria sweethearts who never returned from a getaway to Washington State 30 years ago.

Jay Cook, 20, and his 18-year-old girlfriend Tanya van Cuylenborg hopped on the Coho ferry to Port Angeles on Nov. 18, 1987. But they never returned to Canada.

Over the past year, detectives in Snohomish and Skagit county worked with Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia to generate a composite image based on trait predictions for a man believed to be a suspect in the case. This DNA technology company specializes in DNA phenotyping, and can predict physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.

“Jay and Tanya were brutally murdered and, more than three decades later, their killer has yet to be brought to justice,” said Sheriff Ty Trenary. “We hope this new technology will help us positively identify a suspect and finally provide answers for their families.”

The couple was reported missing on Nov.20, 1987. Their bodies were found a few days later – van Cuylenborg’s on a rural road in Skagit County, she had been sexually assaulted and shot in the back of the head. Cook’s body was found further south in Snohomish County, beaten and strangled.

They had been driving a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon to Gensco Heating in Seattle to pick up a part for Cook’s father. The plan was to return the next day via I-5. Their last known whereabouts were when they bought a ticket in Bremerton at 10:16 p.m. for a ferry to Seattle.

READ MORE: DNA could crack 30-year-old murder case

Using DNA evidence from the investigation, the ‘Snapshot’ program was able to produce individual predictions for eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, freckling, and face shape.

By combining these attributes, a composite was produced showing what the suspect may have looked like at 25-years-old and again at 45 years-old and 65 years-old.

Detectives hope the public can provide new tips and information that will lead to the identification of the perpetrator.

“We are looking for anyone who knows something related to this case, or can identify a person of interest from the Parabon DNA predictions and images,” said Investigations Captain Jeff Miller. “Maybe you were too afraid to come forward at the time, or thought someone else would. Now is the time to share what you may have seen or heard.”

Detctives are also trying to track down a 35mm Minolta camera that belonged to Tanya. The lens was found in a Portland, Oregon pawn shop in 1990, but the body of the camera is still missing.

Family members remain hopeful

“I have to credit the investigators with continuing to move the case forward,” said Tanya’s brother John van Cuylenborg. “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.

“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.

Family members are offering a reward up to $50,000 to anyone that can provide information by Dec. 31, 2018 that leads to the positive identification of the suspect through a DNA match.

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

ALSO READ: DNA analysis conjures the possible face of a 1987 killer

 

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)

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