LOCAL > NY mom’s body on way to US as FBI finds killing 'suspicious'

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

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People carry the coffin of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, at Beyoglu in Istanbul on February 6, 2013. AFP Phoot

People carry the coffin of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, at Beyoglu in Istanbul on February 6, 2013. AFP Phoot

The body of Sarai Sierra, a mother of two who was killed in Turkey while on a solo vacation, is being returned to the United States today, but questions behind her mysterious murder remain.

Speculation has increased after Turkish dailies picked up on a story by the New York Post, which cited an FBI officer as saying there were suspicions the woman was engaged in illegal activity.

“Sierra’s visit in Istanbul was not to take photos. There is a possibility of her being a drug courier,” the anonymous agent was quoted as saying. In response to the story, daily Sabah used the headline “Sierra murder not ordinary” for today’s edition.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Istanbul Public Security Branch Office Deputy Manager Yener Ülgütol also refuted such claims, saying they did not reflect the truth.

“We have no such information,” Ülgütol said yesterday on the phone, adding that no FBI agent had confirmed the information.

Similarly, the family of Sierra rejects the accusations that she was a drug courier, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, a carpet seller and the owner of a boarding house are being sought by police in connection with the Sierra case, daily Habertürk reported based on anonymous police sources.

Turkish authorities concluded that Sierra, 33, had been in regular contact with her family on Staten Island during her three-week trip, which included a preplanned excursion to Amsterdam and a stop in Munich before she returned to Istanbul.

The woman disappeared Jan. 21, and her body was found 12 days later near the remnants of the city’s ancient walls. She was still wearing her jewelry, but her Android phone and iPad were missing. Authorities reported that she had suffered blunt blow to the head.

‘Taylan’ revealed to be man named Tarkan

Meanwhile, police officials have closed off the area where her body was found in Sarayburnu beneath Istanbul’s city walls, according to daily Hürriyet.

The ditch where Sierra’s body was discovered by police officers was covered, and homeless people living around the site were removed from the area. The site was then closed off.

Investigations also revealed that Sierra’s last contact in Istanbul, whose online handle was “Taylan,” was a Turkish man named Tarkan.

Tarkan claimed that he had met Sierra through the photo-sharing website Instagram and that they had met at a bar in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. Tarkan’s testimony further said he had sex with Sierra in the same bar.

Tarkan's account was questioned by Sierra's best friend, Magdalena Rodriguez, who told FoxNews.com she doesn't believe the man's claim.  

"We know Sarai. We know she didn't run off with anybody. She would have told me. She would have said something," Rodriguez was quoted as saying.

Tarkan's lawyer, Özkan Polat, also insisted that there was no kind of romantic or any other sort of relationship between the two. Polat also told the press today that Tarkan was a well-respected and successful person in society, denying claims linking him with drug dealing gangs. 

“He is a person with a social circle and a family. He graduated from university and studied his masters abroad. He has work and is well respected in his social circle. He is not married and is very sorry that things ended up at this point,” said Polat.

He reiterated that Tarkan had only met Sierra on an online photograph sharing platform three or four months ago, adding that he had not invited the American woman to Turkey.

More than 20 people have testified in the case, and over 22 DNA samples have been collected so far.

Turkish Airlines is repatriating her remains free of charge, and a funeral house on Staten Island has offered free services, but the owner said it was unclear whether the family would accept the offer.

Sierra's funeral is due to be held Feb. 15 at the Pentecostal Church in Staten Island, New York, where she met and married her husband, Steven.


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Notice on comments

Turk Uzan

2/9/2013 2:08:02 AM

@ Mara, Like I explained many times, I'm talking about a "vacation" on her own, she wasn't with friends, she wasn't here for business or work etc. Your sister in law is visiting friends and family, she's not staying in a rough neighborhood on her own, traveling to mexico and back to the US, also I doubt she's married with two children and her husband at home. You're simply assuming that I'm being sexist, if you'd pay attention to what I write you'd realize I am not.

Çılgın Kanarya

2/8/2013 7:38:25 PM

MARA, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, but I really can't understand how you can think it's "immaterial" whether a woman travelling the world alone stays with friends & relatives or with guys she has never met outside of social media! For me there's a huge difference in terms of safety issues. If my wife wants to travel alone, she can, but if this involves her staying with guys who she doesn't even know, then I would insist on her buying a one way ticket!

mara mcglothin

2/8/2013 4:23:03 PM

CILGIN It is immaterial where my sister in law will be staying. She is traveling alone and she is also taking a major flight to the continent and then taking shorter trips once she is in the US. That's the point. I have flown all over the World by myself before and after my marriage. I have also met with acquaintances of friends of mine in order to make some business contacts. TURK UZAN There are many women who leave their kids at home. It was wrong for me, but maybe not for others.

Çılgın Kanarya

2/8/2013 11:30:12 AM

MARA, well yes, if your sister-in-law is going to be staying with friends & relatives during her trip to the USA, then of course her itinerary is perfectly normal. But if, as in the tragic case of Sarai Sierra, she was planning to meet up with & even stay with various guys from social media & photo-sharing sites, who she had never even met before, in places where she'd never been before & didn't know anybody, then I would say she was very reckless & irresponsible. There is no comparison.

mara mcglothin

2/8/2013 12:01:48 AM

TURK UZAN My Turkish sister in law is coming to the USA right now. She has a direct flight from London to the USA. She will spend a few days with friends, and then she will travel to our state to see us for a few weeks, then she will return to her original destination because the round trip airfar is cheaper that way. It happens alot. We have gone from Chicago to Istanbul round trip and while we were in Turkey, we spent three days in Greece and another 7 days in Bodrum. Normal.

Fred Doyle

2/7/2013 10:40:22 PM

Even if this woman was a person of questionable morals...does that mean she deserved to be bashed in the head? My questions in this case would be...How do you travel to Europe with only $400 and a credit card? Why would you stay in a bad section of Istanbul, and at a hostel and by yourself? Amatuer photographer? Just because you take pics with your iPad. That's a tourist, not a photog. Have the police seen all the photos? Also, I find it very hard to trust any of the Turkish media outlets

Nuri Gotham

2/7/2013 7:23:38 PM

Ironicaly, some Turkish men believes that not married women but men can travel alone. The HDN claims, that they had sex in the bar. I did not know that you can have sex in Turkish bars !

Turk Uzan

2/7/2013 6:20:43 PM

Last but not least, (sorry for the multiple comments) People need to realize that meeting strange people from the internet/setting internet dates/sex dates etc is extremely dangerous and simply stupid. Person could use fake pictures, name etc. Could be a murderer, rapists, and anything in between. I wish all the strength in the world to the family and hope she is innocent, but that doesn't mean I can't be suspicious, anyway we'll all find out the truth in time

Turk Uzan

2/7/2013 6:15:55 PM

1.5 Also, at first I though maybe the first man was lying, maybe he met her and then forcefully raped and killed her? But what are the chances of 2 man claiming to have met her over the internet and had sex with her? Nothing is set in stone, for all we know they raped her together and now claim they have had consensual sex so they can explain any DNA/sperm found on the crime scene etc. But saying a married mother, travelling on her own, meeting strange men isn't suspicious? Then what is??

Turk Uzan

2/7/2013 6:04:28 PM

Andrea, Misses, Mistique 1.3. She went to Amsterdam and returned. It's "extremely" unlikely that a tourist would go to Amsterdam from Turkey and then return. That + the cheating, going alone etc combined are the reasons why I was suspicious. According to the huffington post there were signs of a struggle, so she may have been raped. Maybe she met another person on the internet, but this time it turned out to be a murderer/rapist? Or she changed her mind after meeting him and he got violent?
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