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As technology advances it seems cold cases are becoming all the more solvable. You could look at the use of CCTV cameras being installed everywhere which has near enough stifled organised crime across the USA. There is also the use of phone and computer hacking recognising terrorist activity. But more so, cold cases are recently being solved regardless of DNA not being matched, no witnesses and no audio or video capture of the crime. This is through genetic genealogy.

Murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

In 1987 the body of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, was found in Washington. She had been raped and shot in the head. Initially her boyfriend, Jay cook was a suspect until his body was found 2 days later, beaten, strangled and 60 miles from where Tanya’s body was found.

The suspect left no fingerprints and even left gloves at the crime to taunt the police. However, the suspect did leave DNA via semen on Van Cuylenborgs trousers, which did not match anyone on the police database. Just like that the case went cold for over 30 years.

Genealogy investigation

In 2018, Parabon Nanolabs began investigating the case. They transferred the DNA left at the crime scene into a format which could be uploaded to a public website called The same site that led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo. When the suspects DNA was uploaded, they found it had a 3% DNA match with 2 other people on their database.

This didn’t mean these 2 people were the suspect but that they shared around 3% of the same DNA, making them roughly third cousins or sharing a great grandparent. It was noted that the 2 subjects were not blood related to each other, just both related to the suspect. This means that they represented different branches of the suspect’s family tree. Each of their families were joined by marriage somewhere and produced children. Following these lines, the children all shared DNA with both subjects meaning that one of them was the suspect. Only one of these children was a male and luckily fit the suspects age and was also from Washington. William Earl Talbott was now the prime suspect in this 31 year murder investigation.

William Earl Talbott lived a few miles from the bridge where Jay Cooks body was found. 29 years later, at age 55, Talbott worked as a trucker and is secretly being followed by police. Police want his DNA to see if it’s a match with that found at the crime scene. While surveilling him they notice a disposable drinking cup fall from his truck. They immediately collect the cup and begin STR testing at Washington State Crime Lab.

It’s a match!

The DNA found on the cup correctly matched the DNA found 29 years prior at the crime scene. On May 17th 2018, William Earl Talbott is arrested and charged with first degree murder. The suspect was identified not because he took a DNA test, but because a distant relative of his did. Someone Talbott had never even met. In 2019, Talbott was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences. Talbott became the first suspect to be identified by genetic genealogy and convicted by a jury.

Since Talbott’s conviction, the Parabon team have helped identify over 100 criminal suspects using genetic genealogy.

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