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Snohomish, Skagit cold case gets momentum with modern DNA science

It’s a cold case from 1987, but Snohomish and Skagit County detectives hope new information can help solve it.

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Using DNA from the case, a lab has been able to produce an image of what a person of interest may look like at different age 25, 45, and 65.

According to a statement released Wednesday: “Over the past year, detectives worked with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, to generate a composite image based on trait predictions for an adult Caucasian male believed to be the suspect in this case.”

Cold case

Driving a bronze 1977 Ford Club van, 20-year-old Jay Cook and 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg were traveling from Saanich, B.C. to a heating company in Seattle. They were picking up a part for Cook’s father and planned to return to Canada the next day on I-5. They took a different route to get there — the ferry from Victoria, B.C. to Port Angeles, then a ferry from Bremerton to Seattle. But they went missing after the 10:16 p.m. Bremerton ferry ride on Nov. 18, 1987.

Van Cuylenborg’s partially-clothed body was found on Nov. 24, 1987 near Parson’s Creek Road in Skagit County. The van was found on Nov. 25 in Whatcom County in a Bellingham parking lot. On Nov. 26, Cook’s body was found along Crescent Lake Road, near the Snoqualmie River in Snohomish County.

“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. “We hope this new technology will help us positively identify a suspect and finally provide answers for their families.”

New DNA evidence

DNA collected from the scenes did not produce any suspects at the time. But using modern science, the lab was able to produce physical traits and descriptions of what a person of interest may look like. Detectives note that the “snapshot composites” are estimates. A person’s appearance can vary depending on environmental factors like smoking, weight, facial hair, etc.

“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.”

Another aspect of the case that detectives are still investigating is a missing 35mm Minolta camera that belonged to Van Cuylenborg. The camera’s lens was sold at a Portland pawn shop in 1990. But the body of the camera remains missing.

Family members are offering a reward up to $50,000 for new information that leads to a positive identification of a suspect through the DNA match. That offer is good until Dec. 31, 2018.

Anyone with information can contact the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 425-388-3845.

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