When Chelsea Rustad went online to create her family tree, she had no idea that the work she had begun would help solve a murder several decades old. Jay Cook and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg were found brutally murdered in November 1987. Although the bodies were recovered from two different locations in the United States, police were able to obtain DNA evidence that they hoped would lead to the killer.
’48 Hours: The Killer in the Family Tree ‘recounts the horrific murders and shows how the case slumbered for several decades due to a mismatch with DNA evidence. In the end, the police decided on genetic genealogy and tensed the net around the perpetrator in 2018. But what role did Chelsea play in the whole process and where is she today? Well, we come up with answers.
Who is Chelsea Rustad?
At the age of 31, Chelsea Rustad discovered in 2013 that she did not know the names of her great-grandparents. Desiring to learn more about her family, Chelsea turned to the internet and began tracking her family tree. Her efforts connected her with many distant family members and led her to make contact with a family of her second cousins ââwho lived in Snohomish County. Although she bonded with her cousin sisters, her cousin brother, William Earl Talbott II, had no presence on social media. He seemed almost invisible, and although the situation seemed strange to Chelsea, she wasn’t paying much attention to it.
As early as November 1987, the bodies of Jay Cook and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg were recovered from two different districts of Washington state. Jay was beaten and strangled, while Tanya was apparently raped before she was shot in the head. Further investigation also helped police find foreign DNA samples from the semen on Tanya’s body and clothing.
However, the semen did not match any in the police database, leaving the authorities without a trace. The case remained unsolved for several decades, but in 2018 detectives decided to use genetic genealogy to find DNA samples similar to those found at the crime scene. Detectives contacted Parabon Nanolabs, who in turn brought their genealogy expert CeCe Moore into the case.
CeCe went online and began examining the DNA from the crime scene before concluding that it was genetically similar to two samples already in the system. One of those samples belonged to Chelsea Rustad, and it wasn’t long before CeCe traced back a path from Chelsea to her second cousin, William Earl Talbott II. Talbott’s DNA matched that of the crime scene perfectly, leading to his arrest and subsequent double life sentences.
Where is Chelsea Rustad now?
Chelsea became famous for her involvement in the groundbreaking case and was featured by multiple media outlets, including People Magazine. She also shared her experiences in several documentaries including “Is Murder In Your DNA?”, “W5: Dirty Tricks: Family Secrets”, “NOVA: Secrets In Our DNA” and of course “48 Hours: A Killer In The Family Tree.” Additionally, the Institute of DNA Justice named Chelsea its ambassador in 2019, and she was invited to speak at the 2020 Midwestern Conference for Investigative Genetic Genealogy.
Chelsea is currently employed as IT security by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. She lives in Olympia, Washington, and is happily married to Benjamin Kaufman. She has also grown to become an avid true crime writer, and has published a book, Inherited Secrets: Memoir of America’s Breakthrough Genetic Witness, detailing her experiences.
Read more: Where Is William Earl Talbott II Now?