Sarai Sierra, the married New York mother who was murdered while on a solo trip to Turkey, had sex the day before she vanished with a man she met on the internet, he has claimed.
“Taylan K” has been interviewed at length by Istanbul police after they discovered his online communication with 33-year-old Sarai Sierra, but he had initially insisted they were just friends.
Now Turkey’s Vatan newspaper has claimed Taylan K told police they had consensual sex a day before Sarai Sierra went missing. The duo had met online months before she left for Turkey on January 7.
It adds yet more intrigue to the circumstances surrounding Sarai Sierra’s death after earlier reports she was hanging out with “a criminal element” before she was killed. The FBI is also reportedly investigating whether she was involved in drug trafficking during her visit to the country.
Taylan K, who first met Sarai Sierra online several months ago when he commented on one of her photographs on Instagram, denied having any part in her disappearance or murder.
He added that he sent her a message on the day she vanished and asked her to meet, but she never responded. Police have taken a blood and sperm sample from Taylan K and 21 others.
Sarai Sierra’s body was found stashed by Istanbul’s ancient city walls on Saturday, more than a week after she failed to catch her flight home. Police said she died from a blunt force trauma.
She was found with a head wound and a blanket near her body. She was wearing jeans, a jumper and a jacket, and still had her earrings and a bracelet on, but her iPhone and iPad were missing.
The claims come on the same day as a source familiar with her murder investigation has suggested she had been hanging out with “a criminal element” while on the trip.
FBI agents investigating the killing do not believe she had only travelled to the country to take pictures, as her family has claimed.
“The first people she met up with were a criminal element,” the source told the New York Post.
“There are some witness reports that she was seen with sketchy characters.”
Authorities are now trying to verify these claims amid reports that her casket will be sent back to the US on Thursday, the Post reported.
Among various lines of inquiry investigators are looking into a possible connection to drug trafficking.
Sarai Sierra, who had been unemployed and had declared bankruptcy in 2005, had also travelled to Amsterdam and Munich while on the trip, which was her first time leaving the United States.
She had initially planned to visit the country for three weeks, but after 12 days she posted online that she had to cut the trip short.
Her family, including her devastated husband Steven Sierra, have said Sarai went to the country because of the photo opportunities. They say she used her iPad and iPhone to shoot the images.
To pay for her funeral, her family began selling some of her images online on Tuesday and soon had enough to cover her expenses.
The photos remain on sale online and any other profits will go to her two young sons, who are nine and 11, her family wrote on the website.
Photographs on sale include images taken during her time in Istanbul and pictures of New York City. They are being sold as canvases, framed prints, greeting cards and iPhone cases for $39.95 each.
“Sarai’s passion for photography and love for capturing the beauty we see in culture, architecture and scenery was her reason for traveling to Istanbul,” her brother, David Jimenez, wrote on the site.
David Jimenez added this afternoon: “Thank you for all the support in purchasing Sarai’s pictures. Quick update, all expenses for Sarai’s funeral have been paid for!
“From here on out any picture of hers that you purchase will NOT be going towards her funeral. All funds will be going to her children. Thank you for your support. David.”
The outpouring of support comes hours after Sarai Sierra’s devastated husband, Steven, revealed how he is consumed with sadness at his wife’s death.
Steven Sierra, 40, left their home in Staten Island for Istanbul last week to help search for his wife, after she failed to get on a flight back to the U.S. on January 21 – but the trip ended in heartbreak.
“I’m heartbroken,” Steven Sierra said. He was married to Sarai for 14 years. “This is something you never want to imagine, and it’s something I’d never want anyone to experience.
“You have so many plans, so many dreams with the person you deeply love. You look forward to many years together and there are so many things you haven’t fulfilled with that person, and now those won’t be fulfilled,” he told the New York Daily News.
His two sons, who are aged 9 and 11, still do not know their mother is dead. Steven Sierra told the Daily News he is waiting until he returns home to tell the boys face-to-face.
Turkish police hope DNA samples from 21 people being questioned in the case will be key to finding the perpetrators, according to state run media.
Sarai Sierra’s mother told the Today show: “It was such a shock when we heard. She was supposed to come back and she didn’t.
“Her little boys do not know, their father will talk to them once he gets back. We will all be present for this.
“It was the first time she was going overseas after getting into photography college. She wanted to go there and take pictures of bridges and the history of the city.”
Sarai Sierra had left for Istanbul on January 7 to explore her photography hobby, her family said.
She was in regular contact with friends and relatives, and had told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.
CBS News reported that shortly after Sarai Sierra’s body was discovered, a woman came forward and told police she had seen a white car parked near the city walls as she was driving there the night of January 29, Anadolu reported.
The eyewitness said a man was trying to remove “something” from the car, at which point she caught a glimpse of a woman’s hand.
The news came after police in Istanbul detained and released a man who was one of the last in contact with the missing mother, who vanished the same day she planned to meet up with him.
The man only identified as “Taylan” on social media sites was taken into police custody after questioning on the disappearance of the woman.
Turkish news reports said Sarai Sierra had arranged to meet her contact, “Taylan”, on Galata Bridge she wanted to photograph the day she went missing.
It was about a mile from Sarai Sierra’s hostel, Dogan news agency reported but it’s not known if the meeting had actually taken place.
“We did not meet that day, but we had met before,” Taylan told police while adding that it was four months ago that they met for the first time online, Turkish paper the daily Hürriyet reports.
Authorities scoured security camera images near to the bridge to see if the meeting did in fact take place, the news agency said.
Last week, Turkish police released security camera footage showing missing Sarai Sierra at a mall near her hostel hours before she disappeared.
Sarai Sierra can be seen eating lunch and walking through the mall on January 20 – a day before she was supposed to catch a flight back home.
Her family last heard from Sarai Sierra on January 21, when she was supposed to start her journey home, but she never checked into her flight.