(TargetLiberty.org) – Genetic genealogy is more accessible and affordable than ever. Sites such as Ancestry or 23AndMe make it easy for people to discover their heritage, meet long-lost relatives, and occasionally, unearth dark secrets from the past. The true-crime show 48 Hours recently covered the story of a Tumwater, Washington woman whose results also ended up solving a decades-old murder.
More Than She Bargained For
Chelsea Rustad never intended on discovering or solving a crime when she opted to explore her heritage. Instead, a childhood Halloween photo inspired her to learn more about her roots and where her ancestors came from — and she achieved that goal.
Rustad started building a family tree and discovered she had roots all the way back to Norway. She got an instant and added boon when she discovered a handful of second cousins. She immediately reached out to them on Facebook and forged delightful new connections.
But something wasn’t quite right. Rustad immediately noticed that while her female second cousins all maintained a social media presence, their sibling, William Earl Talbott II, remained mysteriously invisible. In fact, she could find no trace of him online at all.
DNA Test Leads to Arrest
Rustad eventually ended up winning an Ancestry DNA kit in an online contest. She completed the test and submitted it, learning more about her background. Once Rustad received the results, she shared them to a site called GEDmatch, which helps cross-reference results from potential relatives. She didn’t really think much more about her results until police showed up at her door in 2018.
It turned out a detective by the name of Jim Scharf was investigating two unsolved murders from 1987 in which an unknown suspect killed 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook. Scharf asked genealogy expert CeCe Moore, who works for Parabon Labs, to process DNA originally found on the female victim’s pants.
Moore eventually uploaded Cuylenborg’s DNA to GEDMatch, the same site utilized by Rustad in her search. She was hoping to discover an unknown relative or some kind of link that might help identify the suspect in the decades-old case.
She immediately got a hit. The man who killed Cuylenborg was Rustad’s second cousin, William Earl Talbott II. The genealogist managed to solve an ancient cold case in under two hours, all thanks to the help of DNA matching sites.
In an investigative effort that reads more like something out of a Hollywood movie, Scharf took action. Law enforcement agents tailed Talbott until a coffee cup accidentally fell out of his vehicle. The oblivious suspect drove away, leaving police with plenty of DNA for testing.
New DNA scans proved Talbott was at least present at the time Cuylenborg was killed. Local police visited Rustad in an effort to learn more about the mysterious second cousin and potential murderer. While she didn’t really know much about the man, police now had enough to arrest William for the crime. He eventually pleaded guilty to both murders and is now serving double life sentences without the opportunity for parole.
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