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)

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 Oak Bay High grads

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 3o-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 and headed 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.

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

 

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)

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 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)

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Just Posted

Habitat Acquisition Trust has received provincial funding to help restore Garry oak ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island. (Photo by Jeremy da Silva)
Central Saanich park among sites for local Garry oak restoration projects

Habitat Acquisition Trust received $140,000 in funding for 12 projects

A family of ducks that lives near Saanich Municipal Hall recently welcomed 11 ducklings and took them for a swim in the koi pond outside the offices. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Pair of ducks make Saanich Municipal Hall a nursery for 11 hatchlings

Family of ducks spent time in koi pond before heading down to Swan Lake

Architect’s rendering of the 7 Erskine Lane development, showing the view from the east and south. (VDA Architecture Ltd. image)
View Royal green-lights residential development on Erskine Lane

First of two developments near Victoria General Hospital will provide 71 housing units

Sue Hodgson returns as publisher of the Peninsula News Review starting June 1. (Courtesy Sue Hodgson)
Peninsula News Review welcomes back Sue Hodgson as publisher

Dale Naftel takes helm of Oak Bay News as publisher

Andrew Swanson was arrested Wednesday after he was wanted for an alleged choking assault and for obstructing police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police arrest Andrew Swanson on warrants for alleged choking assault, obstruction

A member of the public spotted Swanson and called 911 before police came and made the arrest

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports 1st vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read