Murders of Jay Cook dinner and Tanya Van Cuylenborg: How a childhood Halloween photograph helped a girl uncover a killer in her household tree

In 2013, Chelsea Rustad was 31 years outdated and realized she couldn’t identify a single certainly one of her great-grandparents. As she instructed “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty, “It is not that far again, proper? However I could not identify them.”

So Rustad, a resident of Tumwater, Washington, went on-line to construct her household tree. She discovered her roots stretched from Washington State by means of North Dakota and again to Norway. She discovered new kinfolk and related with them on social media. But it surely was a second cousin she by no means spoken to who turned out to be the one who would change her life perpetually. And it was a Halloween photograph from when she was simply 5 years outdated that set the entire course of in movement.

“Every time there is a department of the tree that I — or a person that there is little or no information on … I am sort of further interested in that particular person, . Like … why is there nothing on them?” she stated. When she began her search, Rustad had discovered a household of second cousins from Snohomish County — the Talbotts. Rustad was in a position to join and alternate messages with the sisters, however their brother, William Earl Talbott II, was all however invisible.

“Essentially the most placing factor about him can be his absence. He would not have a social media presence. No Fb. No Instagram. No Twitter. No YouTube,” Rustad instructed Moriarty in “A Killer within the Household Tree,” an all-new “48 Hours” airing Saturday, November 20 at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount+.  “Normally, folks have some kind of web presence … and there was nothing for him. I believed that was unusual.”

Chelsea Rustad
Chelsea Rustad, left, at age 5 and dressed for Halloween, pictured along with her mother and youthful sister.

Chelsea Rustad

Rustad continued her family tree work, including great-great grandparents and constructing out branches of her tree. In 2015 she entered an Ancestry DNA contest — submitting a photograph of herself at 5 years outdated, dressed as a ballerina on Halloween. That photograph should have been a fortunate attraction, as a result of out of lots of of entries, Rustad was certainly one of two to obtain a free dwelling DNA check equipment. She took the check, generally often known as a “spit equipment,” and her outcomes confirmed the ancestry she’d already mapped in her household tree.

Then Rustad took a vital subsequent step, posting her uncooked DNA from the equipment to an internet site referred to as GEDmatch, the place customers can share their leads to an open database. Rustad spent about an hour on GEDmatch that day in 2015 after importing her knowledge, however she did not discover any new relations and did not give it some thought once more till 2018 when police knocked on her entrance door.

In April 2018, the Golden State Killer was arrested in California after familial DNA was used to determine a suspect from crime scene DNA. When Snohomish County detective Jim Scharf heard that information, he puzzled if the identical course of would work on a infamous chilly case in Washington State he’d been making an attempt to unravel for a few years — the 1987 murders of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and her boyfriend Jay Cook dinner, 20. The couple had disappeared whereas operating a long-distance errand to Seattle from their properties in British Columbia and had been discovered, in two separate and horrific crime scenes, in Washington State the next week.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg
For greater than 30 years, investigators in Washington state had been making an attempt to unravel the murders of Jay Cook dinner and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. The killer remained a thriller till DNA discovered on Van Cuylenborg’s pants was uploaded to the identical database the place Chelsea Rustad had uploaded her DNA.

Cook dinner had been strangled, crushed to dying and left close to a river in Snohomish County, greater than an hour north of Seattle. Van Cuylenborg was the sufferer of an obvious rape and had been shot within the head. Her physique was discovered by the facet of the highway in Skagit County about an hour north of Cook dinner’s. Cook dinner’s van was present in a city close to the Canadian border, parked close to a bus station, and inside had been Van Cuylenborg’s pants, stained with a stranger’s semen that matched semen recovered from her physique.

After listening to of the Golden State Killer suspect’s arrest, Detective Scharf reached out to Parabon Nanolabs, an organization that had been doing DNA work together with his workplace. He was related with their family tree professional CeCe Moore. Moore had been unraveling household secrets and techniques for adoptees and others for a few years and was a grasp at constructing household timber utilizing client DNA —a observe referred to as genetic family tree that Moore had helped pioneer.

Inside days, Parabon had uploaded the suspect DNA from Van Cuylenborg’s pants to GEDmatch to see if the unknown suspect may need a match from among the many fewer than a million GEDmatch customers. Moore waited anxiously for an inventory of matches — kinfolk who shared sufficient DNA with the suspect to be prolonged relations. Would she have the ability to discover a identify for this unknown suspect in spite of everything this time?

Moore instructed Moriarty, “We’re hoping for at the least a second cousin or nearer on the high of that record. We will work circumstances with far more distant matches however that is actually optimum. And we used to name that being struck by lightning.”

“Have been you struck by lightning on this case?” Moriarty requested.

“Twice,” Moore answered. “We had been struck by lightning twice.”

DNA helps crack chilly case after 31 years


These lightning strikes had been two individuals who shared sufficient DNA with the unknown suspect to be second cousins. One in every of them was Chelsea Rustad. Now Moore needed to construct that household tree, however she was feeling good about her possibilities.

“How lengthy did it take you?” Moriarty requested. “Not so long as I believed it will,” Moore stated. “Two hours.”

And the suspect she had recognized? It was Rustad’s mysterious second cousin from Snohomish County — a truck driver named William Earl Talbott II. Talbott was 24 when Cook dinner and Van Cuylenborg had been killed and had grown up 7 miles from the place Jay’s physique had been discovered.

When Scharf obtained the decision that Moore had discovered a reputation to match the suspect’s DNA, he did not imagine it. “I am like, actually? You are not joking?” Scharf stated. It had been almost 31 years because the murders and Scharf himself had spent many years on the case. Moore had discovered Talbott’s identify in simply two hours.

CeCe Moore
CeCe Moore was in a position to shortly determine Rustad’s relative – utilizing genetic family tree in her first felony case.

CBS Information

“That is the facility of genetic family tree,” Moore instructed Moriarty.

“However how certain had been you?” Moriarty requested. “Very certain,” stated Moore. She had been working towards genetic family tree for a few years and he or she knew her outcomes had been good as a result of she had spent days double checking them earlier than telling anybody else.

The identify William Earl Talbott II meant nothing to Detective Scharf. Talbott had by no means been on a suspects record and Talbott had a scant felony document. May he actually be the one that had dedicated these very violent crimes? However when Scharf discovered that Talbott had grown up simply 7 miles from the place Jay Cook dinner’s physique was discovered, he stated, “There’s eight billion folks on the planet and you’ve got a DNA profile … to any person geographically that is in your yard? This has obtained to be a very good tip.”

To substantiate that tip, Scharf must match the DNA from the crime scenes to Talbott. A workforce tailed Talbott, ultimately retrieving a paper espresso cup that fell from his truck. When Scharf discovered the DNA from the cup was a match, he says he obtained tears in his eyes. “I am unable to imagine it. It is so emotional. After which I am like, yeah! We obtained him!” Scharf stated.

Scharf made an arrest, and shortly after, police had been at Chelsea Rustad’s entrance door searching for details about her distant cousin.  Rustad instructed them what she knew about Talbott — which wasn’t a lot. Talbott pleaded not responsible after his arrest, claiming the semen discovered on the crime scenes was from consensual intercourse. He went to trial in 2019 and a jury discovered him responsible. Talbott was sentenced to 2 life phrases in jail with out parole. He’s interesting the decision.

CeCe Moore says she was pleased to have helped Cook dinner and Van Cuylenborg’s households who had been dwelling with a lot grief and so many unanswered questions for thus lengthy. However she was additionally pleased that her first case with legislation enforcement had been so fast to resolve.

“I might had these doubts all these years. I used to be involved about making this choice, and I lastly determined to go forward,” Moore stated. “And the analysis simply fell into place, which is uncommon. … I’ve by no means had one other case the place the items got here collectively in solely two hours. … And so it does kind of really feel prefer it was an indication — if you happen to imagine in these issues — that I made the appropriate choice.”

Within the three-and-a-half years since discovering Talbott on GEDmatch, Moore says she’s gone on to find almost 200 unknown suspects and victims for legislation enforcement utilizing genetic family tree.

And in the long run, Rustad did join with relations she had by no means recognized of earlier than — the households of Jay Cook dinner and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. After Talbott’s conviction, Rustad attended the sentencing and obtained to fulfill Tanya and Jay’s households and categorical her help.

Rustad could not assist however discover she was the one relative of Talbott’s within the courtroom that day. “His dad wasn’t there. His sisters weren’t there,” she stated. “He had a member of the family within the viewers, and I used to be there supporting the victims.”

That outdated Halloween photograph that helped launch this journey has a complete totally different which means to her now. By haunting coincidence, it was taken in 1987, only a few weeks earlier than Cook dinner and Van Cuylenborg had been killed.

Rustad says she’s proud her DNA proved so helpful and says to those that could really feel nervous to unlock the secrets and techniques in their very own DNA, “All it’ll present you is the reality and nothing extra.”

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