A ghost from murders past is unmasked
$50,000 Reward offered
April 12, 2018
Two local sheriff’s offices seek your help to uncover identity of suspect in a brutal 1987 double murder case
The ghost from the darkness. DNA phenotype sketch of person of interest in the case. LARGER IMAGES BELOW
CLICK TO ENLARGE: Larger images of suspect sketches
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The victims
CLICK TO ENLARGE: Evidence items in the case.
(EVERETT, WA.) – When you stop to think about it for a moment, what you are looking at is a near miracle. As far as anyone knows there were no eyewitnesses to the terrible murders of the two happy, very much in-love young people those many years ago.
Yet there he is before your eyes three decades later. A sketch of the suspect. A ghost from the heart of darkness. Every parent’s worst nightmare.
The sketches of this man you see here are the products of lab techs coaxing out from decades old fragments from a crime scene, something called Deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA.
This DNA stuff is one of nature’s instruction booklets telling every living organism on this planet how to grow, develop and reproduce into either an antelope, a lizard, a gorilla in the mist or a human hunter-gatherer in the Great Rift Valley some 1.2 million years ago.
DNA is also a criminal’s worst nightmare outside of getting caught red-handed in the act.
And so it was that detectives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office held a news conference Wednesday to accomplish two things: request your help in identifying a suspect in a god awful 1987 double homicide case that has seen all the leads dry up and two, unveil some amazing sketches to help you jog your memory a bit to see if something, anything clicks in your mind that might help bring this killer to justice if he’s still among the living.
They just need one solid lead to crack this thing. Anything to point investigators in the right direction.
About those sketches
Over the past year, detectives have been working with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, to generate “a composite image” - not an exact likeness mind you – but an image based on “trait predictions for an adult Caucasian male believed to be the suspect in this case.”
Parabon specializes in what you could call modern day magic -- DNA phenotyping, the process of “predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence,” according to a Snohomish County Sheriff's office statement.
"Jay and Tanya were brutally murdered and, more than three decades later, their killer has yet to be brought to justice," said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary at the news conference. "We hope this new technology will help us positively identify a suspect and finally provide answers for their families."
The back story
On November 18, 1987, 21 year-old Jay Cook and 18 year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg, high school sweethearts left Saanich, BC, Canada, traveling in Cook’s family van, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon (photo at right) to Gensco Heating, a company in Seattle.
Cook and Van Cuylenborg planned on picking up a part for Cook’s father, and return the next day to Canada via Interstate 5. They took the ferry from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, arriving around 4:00 pm that day. They then drove down Highway 101 into Hoodsport and through Allyn, Washington. They were last seen alive in in the Bremerton/Seattle area.
It was discovered they had purchased a ticket at 10:16 pm in Bremerton to take a ferry to Seattle. It is believed they boarded that ferry. On November 20, they were reported as missing.
A few days later on November 24, Tanya’s body was discovered on a rural road near Alger in Skagit County. She had been sexually assaulted and shot. Her body was bound with plastic wire ties. She had just graduated from high school five months earlier.
Jay's body was found quite a long distance away on November 26 under a bridge in Snohomish County along Crescent Lake Road, near High Bridge Road on the Snoqualmie River. That location is about three-quarters mile west of the old Washington State Reformatory’s Honor Farm near Monroe. Jay had been beaten and strangled. His hands also had also been bound with plastic ties.
Detectives from Snohomish and Skagit Counties have been investigating and working this case since 1987. Now they have exhausted all leads.
The DNA evidence collected during the investigation did not match any profiles in any DNA databases available to law enforcement either here in the states or in Canada.
So this is where you come in. Take a hard look at the sketches. Do they jog your memory of anyone you may have known or seen around that time in 1987? A neighbor? Co-worker? High school or college pal? Did you see this man in a tavern or bar around that time? Perhaps on a ferry? Did he work at the local hardware store or gas station?
Any small thing that may be relevant is what investigators need.
Understanding the sketches
Using DNA evidence from this investigation, Snapshot produced what are called “trait predictions for the associated person of interest (POI).”
Individual predictions were made for the subject’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape. By combining these attributes of appearance, a Snapshot composite was produced (see images at right) depicting what the POI may have looked like at 25 years-old and with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22. These default values were used because age and BMI cannot be determined from DNA.
Additional composite images were also generated depicting how the POI might look at 45 years-old and 65 years-old. Note that these Snapshot composites are “scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA, and are not likely to be exact replicas of appearance.”
What the DNA shows about this man
According to the DNA, this suspect is a fair skinned, white male of “northern European ancestry” and likely has green or hazel eyes, blond or reddish hair and possibly a few facial freckles.
Northern European ancestry means, according to Wikipedia this man’s roots originate way back to areas north of the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Countries like Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and occasionally Ireland, Britain, northern Germany and northwest Russia.
Environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, diet, and other non-environmental factors — things like facial hair, hairstyle, scars, etc. — cannot be predicted by DNA analysis and may cause further variation between the subject’s predicted and actual appearances.
Detectives hope someone in the general the public can provide new tips and information that will lead to the identification of the killer.
“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.”
Detectives also want to find a 35mm Minolta camera that belonged to Tanya. The camera lens was recovered and traced to a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon in 1990. The camera body is still missing.
“We know someone out there knows something that can help us with this case,” said Detective Jim Scharf. “Maybe somebody gave you a 35mm Minolta camera, or you bought this type of camera from someone around that time. The smallest detail could end up being the lead we need to solve this case.”
Family members are offering a reward up to $50,000 to anyone who can provide information by December 31, 2018 that leads to the positive identification of the suspect through a DNA match.
The man came prepared to kill
One of the points made by investigators Wednesday is that this crime does not appear to have been a random attack on these two kids. It is believed the perpetrator came prepared to kill based on various things they discovered at the crime scenes.
It is possible this was not this person’s first murder “event” or attempted murder. It appears he was, at least in this crime, calculating, methodical and went to great lengths to confuse investigators including placing the bodies far away from each other, the van even further away from the bodies and going so far as to stash evidence under some steps of a tavern not far from where the van was abandoned.
Why would he do that? Did he plan to come back for those mementos of the kills at a later date? Did he once work at that tavern or patronize it often? Did he live in that neighborhood?
How did he choose these particular victims? Did he know them? Did he meet and chat them up on a ferry ride and then talk them into giving him a ride?
Did the two young people make the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker who, like Washington state's infamous Green River Killer, appeared small, meek and non-threatening?
Who was this man? Where did he live? Where is he now?