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.
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.”
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