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Darn Wright | A super sleuth and his volunteer team


Last updated 4/20/2020 at 12:38pm

International DNA Day is on April 25. It is a day to commemorate when the scientific journal, Nature, in 1953 published James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues’ DNA papers that changed science forever. 

With this breaking biological news, Congress jointly passed a onetime-only DNA Day on April 25, 2003. Ever since then DNA Day, has been declared "International DNA Day” by numerous scientific groups. 

With this year’s DNA Day in mind, let us review the considerable successes your own Snohomish County Sheriff’s Cold Case Team (aka Cold Case) has had due to their tenacity and their use of DNA. 

One of your latest Cold Case team’s success story became both national and international news. This landmark case began back in 1987 when two young Canadians, Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook, were murdered. Their bodies were found in two different counties; one of them was Snohomish County. 

There was DNA evidence found at the Skagit County site, but after many months of investigation, the two murder cases became “unsolvable.” They were then placed under the charge of the Snohomish and Skagit Counties cold case detectives.

Mainly due to Cold Case Detective Jim Scharf’s tenacity, investigative skills, and his innovative use of “forensic genealogy,” the crime scene’s DNA was finally matched to a suspect. 

This suspect ended up being identified as William Talbott II and several Snohomish County Major Crime detectives arrested him for the double homicides of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook.

On June 25, 2019, this landmark judicial case was turned over to 12 Snohomish County jurors and this historical litigation became the first time in criminal chronicles that such evidence was ever considered.

DNA was extremely useful to convict William Talbott II. By using updated equipment during the middle of the trial, the Washington State Crime Lab found other pieces of evidence that had Talbott’s DNA on them. Being extremely cautious, the prosecutors chose not to enter this evidence into the case; therefore, the jurors didn’t know about these further damaging DNA matches.  

After several days of deliberation and almost 32 years after the double murders, on Friday, June 28, 2019, the jurors came back with a verdict that William Talbott II murdered Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook.

Cold Case Detective James H. Scharf and his then-volunteer team members, Snohomish County Superior Court Reporter Peggy Witter (retired), Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Cowsert (retired), and Washington State Community Corrections Officer supervisor and Mental Health Professional Chuck Wright helped solved this and many other “unsolvable crimes.”

This team’s accomplishments inspired our 44th District House of Representatives John Lovick, Jared Mead and several other House Representatives to put forth House Resolution 4663 2019-2020, to honor Detective Scharf and his team’s investigative skills. 

HR 4663 was easily adopted by a bipartisan vote on February 21, 2020, and reads:

“WHEREAS, James H. Scharf served 20 years investigating homicides, with the last 14 years as the primary detective of the Snohomish County Cold Case Team since its inception in 2005; and

“WHEREAS, Scharf and his team solved nine homicides considered unsolvable during that time; and

“WHEREAS, One of those nine cases received national and international media coverage due to the fact it was the first case in history where an offender was identified and convicted using DNA forensic genealogy techniques; and

“WHEREAS, Scharf and his team located one missing person who had been presumed to be murdered, solved a cold rape case, and were instrumental in assisting Arizona law enforcement in solving one of their cold homicide cases; and  

“WHEREAS, The cold case team cleared the names of scores of people previously considered ‘persons of interest’ for the sixty-five cold cases handled by the office;

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives recognize and salute James H. Scharf, not only for his time leading the Snohomish Cold Case Team but for his career in law enforcement and public service; and

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a (State shelled) copy of this resolution be immediately transmitted by the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives to James H Scharf.”


Darn right detective and super-sleuth James H. Scharf has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “ticking of the clock,” tenacity and science are on the side of law enforcement.

Editor's note: To learn the more about the case, read this story by the Edmonds Beacon:


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