Trial For Truck Driver Identified By Genetic Genealogy Could Set Precedent In New Method To Fight Crime

Genetic Genealogist CeCe Moore said William Ear Talbott II’s Case is important for the “whole industry.”

By Gina Tron

An upcoming murder trial, which will mark the first trial for a person linked to a crime by genetic genealogy is expected to set guidelines for the future of genetic genealogy in law enforcement.

The trial for former truck driver William Earl Talbott II, who was arrested in May of 2018, could start as early as next week, according to the Vancouver Courier.

He was linked to a decades-old cold case with genetic genealogy research. Even though his arrest came slightly after the arrest of the Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo, he is expected to be the first suspect linked to a murder through genetic technology to make it to trial.

Talbott has pleaded not guilty to killing British Columbia residents and high school sweethearts Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, who were killed while vacationing in Washington State in 1987. Cuylenborg was found in a ditch bound by her hands with plastic ties. She had been violently raped and shot in the head. Cook was found two days later, 60 miles away, strangled and beaten to death.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, who is now the chief genetic genealogist at Parabon, worked with law enforcement to upload DNA from the crime scene to GEDmatch. Moore was able to identify relatives connected to that DNA on GEDmatch and developed two family trees, which eventually pointed to Talbott as the lead suspect. He lived near the murder scene back when Cook and Culenborg were killed, according to the Washington Post.

Police then followed Talbott and grabbed a paper cup he left behind near his work truck. The DNA on the cup matched the DNA found on Cuylenborg’s body, according to law enforcement.

Moore was one of the very first citizens to test her own family members using genetic genealogy. Always fascinated by genealogy, she started building a family tree in the year 2000 as a present for her niece. A few years later, she started testing the genetics of her father to learn more about the history of her surname, according to Family Tree DNA. That led to the testing of 35 of her relatives to unravel her ancestral lines, an experience she began writing about on a blog called “Your Genetic Genealogist” in 2010. Soon after, people started approaching her and asking for help with researching their own family history. A year later, law enforcement began asking for her help, as she alone developed techniques specifically for human identification. Now she’s worked on numerous cases and even helped identify a suspect in the Golden State killer case.

Moore told Oxygen Digital Correspondent Stephanie Gomulka at CrimeCon 2019 that she is looking forward to Talbott’s trial as she believes the outcome of the trial will determine the future of genetic genealogy and how law enforcement uses it. She’s not alone. Moore added that many experts in law enforcement are awaiting to see the outcome of this trial as well.

“It’s important for the whole industry to finally get a precedent setting decision from a judge,” she told Gomulka. “It’s what so many people are waiting for and I think once we get that it will point the direction for the future of genetic genealogy in law enforcement.”

Moore will be testifying at the trial.

She did call the timing of the trial unfortunate because of recent changes made to GEDmatch policy, which requires new users to actively opt-in to allow law enforcement to have access to their DNA. The change, prompted by fear of privacy violation, also means the approximate million plus users already on file have to also opt in, the Associated Press reports.

The new policy could result in less arrests and convictions, Moore claims.

“I’m very supportive of people having the right to decide how their own DNA is used,” she told Gomulka at CrimeCon. “I just don’t agree with the recent changes to the GEDMatch policy because a lot of those people have specifically uploaded their DNA to help with these law enforcement cases” adding that she doesn’t think people should have been opted out.

“There will be many, many violent criminals that we won’t be able to identify in the coming months or even years that we would have been able to without this policy change.”

Cece Moore
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