Chelsea Rustad knew very little about her family history.
“I couldn’t name a single one of my great-grandparents and I thought that was a little strange,” she tells PEOPLE.
In 2013, she decided to purchase a subscription to Ancestry.com to begin building her family’s tree. It became a hobby, and in 2015, she won a DNA kit after submitting a photo of herself.
She uploaded her profile but then didn't think much of it. Until 2018, when two officers from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state showed up at her door. “It was the first time I’d ever heard about the double homicide of the Canadian couple from 1987,” she says.
What the officers told her would change Rustad’s life — and her family — forever. The officers were investigating the 1987 murders of Canadians Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, who were killed while on a trip to Seattle. Thanks to the DNA Rustad had submitted in her test kit, they had connected evidence from the crime scene to Rustad’s cousin, truck driver William Earl Talbott II, now 57.
In June 2019 Talbott was found guilty of two counts of murder and sentenced to two life sentences — making him the first person to be convicted as a result of genealogy research. Authorities who worked for decades to solve the case say they're very grateful for Rustad’s willingness to assist the investigation.
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.
“The truth matters more to her,” says Snohomish County deputy prosecuting attorney Justin Harleman, “than covering up for a family member.”
Rustad had been unaware of Talbott's existence; she learned about him and his family through the Rustad branch of her tree. She connected with two of his three sisters on Facebook, but there was very little information about Talbott himself.
For more on Chelsea Rustad's family discovery that solved a cold case, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
“Nobody ever talked about him,” says Rustad, a quality assurance tester at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. “He’s not present in any recent photos or family gatherings.”
Still, Rustad handed over documents, photos and research to police about the cousin she didn’t know.
“Police told me that without my DNA, he would not have been arrested,” she says. “There would have been no trial. That family would have never had answers.”
Source: Read Full Article