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Man Who Killed BC Couple 30 Years Ago Was Finally Identified Through Cousins' DNA

A new forensic technique helped track down the killer.

Just like something out of your favourite true crime show, a new forensic technique has been used to solve a 30-year-old murder case. The trail for a British Columbia cold case became hot again when authorities applied this technique to identify the murderer through his distant cousins. His DNA was compared to family records that are publically available.

William Talbott II was found guilty of the murders of two Canadians, Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook. The murders took place in 1987, and Talbott will serve two consecutive life sentences for his crimes.

Van Cuylenborg and Cook had left for an overnight trip together to Seattle, Washington from their home near Victoria, BC. When they didn't return, their families initiated a search for the couple. Their bodies were found a week later. Van Cuylenborg had been killed by a gunshot to the head while Cook had been strangled and beaten with rocks.

During the initial investigation, authorities collected DNA from the crime scene, but did not find a match in any databases. In 2018, however, they used a new genealogical forensic technique to finally identify Talbott.

Pioneered by Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, the technique compares the DNA to publically available family records. Investigators then use DNA from family members to build a family tree which can eventually lead to a suspect.

This technique was used in the infamous Golden State Killer case in 2018 to identify former police officer Joseph DeAngelo as a suspect. It was also used to make an arrest in a murder case dating all the way back to 1976.

Investigators in the Cuylenborg-Cook case used this technique to identify distant cousins of Talbott. From there, the information was studied until the only possible suspect had to be a male child of William and Patricia Talbott. The couple only had one son: William Talbott II.

Further investigation revealed that Talbott had lived in the area where Van Cuylenborg and Cook's bodies were found. At the time, he would have been 24-years-old. 

Talbott had pleaded 'not guilty' to the crimes. According to ABC News, Talbott said during the trial, "I stand before you a man convicted of a crime that I did not commit."

While this technique has been used in a number of cases, the genetic database known as GEDmatch has changed its policy on police investigations. Participants must now give permission for investigators to use their genetic information. Previously, this information was freely available to law enforcement.

Only time will tell if the technique will continue to be successful. So far, Talbott is the only suspect identified through forensic genealogy to stand trial for his crimes.