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In Pasadena Wednesday Night, Author Edward Humes Details the Fascinating Power of “The Forever Witness”

Mysterious, fascinating, important and disturbing
Published on Nov 30, 2022


18 year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and her 20-year old boyfriend Jay Cook were traveling from Saanich in British Columbia to Seattle for an overnight trip in November 1987 when they disappeared.

The following week, they had been found, in two separate and horrific crime scenes, in Washington State. Cook had been strangled, beaten to death and left near a river in Snohomish County, while Van Cuylenborg, a victim of an apparent rape and shot in the head. 

The killer’s identity remained a mystery for investigators including detective Jim Scharf for 31 years until DNA evidence found on Tanya’s pants, uploaded to a website called GEDmatch, found a match, enabling genetic genealogist CeCe Moore to identify the likely suspect in just two hours.

In 2019, William Earl Talbott was found guilty by a jury of two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree and given two life sentences for the murder of the young couple. He was the first ever person to be convicted as a result of genealogy research. 

In his book “The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder,” Edward Humes discusses further how the murders of the young couple were solved after over 30 years through the help of DNA genetic genealogy tracing.

Humes said he realized he wanted to write a book about the killing of the couple after meeting members of their families and friends who had searched for answers for many years. 

“Tanya and Jay’s family and friends waited so long for answers. And then two people entered their lives who were determined to find those answers. And a really incredible story unfolded from there,” Humes said, referring to Scharf and Moore. 

“The case is truly mysterious, the science is fascinating, and the privacy questions it raises are important and disturbing,” added Humes. 

Genetic genealogy involves identifying suspects by entering crime-scene DNA profiles into public databases that people have used for years to fill out their family trees.

Humes said genetic genealogy tracing, which he said involves both science and art, is a useful tool in police investigation. 

“It is research based on birth and death records, on marriage records, social media posts, phone books, old phone books, even family oral history. It all gets sort of put together,” said Humes. “Think of it more like a tip to the police – a lead that the investigators then check out in more conventional ways.”

“Think of it as a really good tip that the authorities then need to investigate further, and that’s how it’s been used.”

Humes will share more about genetic genealogy on Nov. 30, 7 p.m., at Vroman’s Bookstore at 695 E. Colorado Blvd. At the event, he will be in conversation with physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow.

“An audience will hear us talking about the science part of the story, about the privacy issues of using genetic genealogy, which taps into the DNA test that people buy online and learn about their own roots doing 23andMe Ancestry.” 

“So we’re going to talk about those issues. And then about the crime itself — why it was such an unsolved mystery for decades, who the characters were, Tanya and Jay, how the case went from unsolvable to really, the trigger of an avalanche, a revolution in crime solving,” said Humes. 

Humes speaks in Pasadena Vroman’s  Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. on Wednesday, November 30 at 7:00 p.m.

For more information regarding the upcoming event, visit:

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