Jun 25, 2014

The Mysterious Disappearance of Mr. Gay Austria

34-year old Aeryn Gillern was living the life that every gay American wants: he had a beautiful apartment in Vienna overlooking the Danube, a job at the United Nations, and a face and physique that won him the title of Mr. Gay Austria in 2005.  Best of all, he had found a "good place," where the homophobia and heterosexism of his home country was a distant memory.

Or so he thought.

On the night of October 29th, 2007, he left work at 6:00 pm and checked into the Kaiserbrundl, a gay sauna near the City Center.  It is known for its upscale, closeted clients, including high-ranking politicians and religious leaders.

He was never seen again.  

The next morning, his partner called the police, but they refused to take a missing person report for three days, and then refused to investigate. 

A few days later, Aeryn's mother, Kathy Gilleran, flew in from Ithaca, New York.  A retired police officer herself, she tried to appeal to their professionalism, but, as she said, the police "treated me...as a vile creature who had the audacity to ask them to help me find my gay son."

Sexual deviants disappear all the time, they said; it's not a police matter.  When they finally issued a statement to the press, three weeks after Aeryn's disappearance, they called him an "emotionally unbalanced homosexual."

They told Kathy that Aeryn was probably so wracked with guilt over being a sexual deviant that he decided, on the spur of the moment, to commit "spontaneous suicide" by jumping in the Danube.

Good riddance.  Case closed.

Eventually, through the efforts of Kathy and Aeryn's friends, witness statements began to emerge.  But the story was contradictory:

7:00: A bald man, naked except for a towel, is seen running out of the Kaiserbrundl.

8:20: A passerby hears a splash, and sees a bald man floating in the Danube Canal near the Urania Bar in the City Center.

8:30: The police search the river.  They have divers, or don't, depending on who you ask.  They find nothing.

10:00: The Kaiserbrundl staff claims that Aeryn is still in the sauna.  He gets into an argument, and they call the police.  He runs out before the police arrive, leaving his clothes behind.

So he ran out at 7:00 or 10:00, or not at all.  Why would he run from the sauna naked, on a cold Austrian night?

And if he indeed fell (or was pushed) into the Danube near the Urania bar, why did it take him an hour and a half to go 1/2 mile?   

And why didn't anyone see him run through the crowded, heavily-traveled streets, dodging cars and trams?

Two years later, two witness came forward and said that they had seen a naked man running through the City Center.  They mentioned that he "looked terrified."  They sounded like they had been coached.

Sounds like Aeryn saw something he shouldn't have, and ran, but didn't get far.  .

Kathy has continued to investigate, and to publicize the official homophobia.  In June 2014 the newly-formed Sonderkomission, the Cold Case Division of the Austrian police force, agreed to re-open the case, based on an article in Der Falter by investigative reporter Joseph Gepp.  You can read about new developments on her website.

The documentary film Gone, by Gretchen and John Morning, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011.  You can see the trailer on youtube.