Aeryn M. J. Gillern was an openly gay man that was 34 years old at the time and had been working for UNIDO in Vienna for approximately 4 1/2 years, when he went missing.
At the time Kathryn Gilleran was the Director of the Cortland County SPCA *1 – she has previously been working at the Ithaca Police Department for 21 years, when she got the message that she needed to go home because a very important message was waiting for her there.
It was Aeryn’s workplace, UNIDO HR Department that had called and left a message that her son was missing and that she needed to call them right away – UNIDO had reacted because it was unlike Aeryn not to come to work or not to report that he was sick. No one could get hold of him.
In September of 2007 Aeryn came home to visit his mum for 10 days and they even planned that she should come to Austria in beginning of December for early Christmas celebrations and Aeryn convinced his mother to put her house on the marked so she could move to Austria for a while after she had sold the house. On September 19, 2007 when Aeryn flew back to Vienna, it was the last time Kathryn saw her son, and the last time she talked to her son was the evening of October 27, 2007.
UNIDO tried to file a Missing Person Report, but the police declined it because Aeryn was not an Austrian Citizen and they weren’t required to do so. UNIDO told her that Aeryn’s partner and upstairs neighbour had been to the Police twice, that the Police were aware that Aeryn was gay, as they had asked his partner how he was related, and how the Police has made homophobic remarks to her son’s partner. UNIDO told her that UNIDO had contacted the Austrian Foreign Ministry, who had interceded with the Police and instructed them to accept the report. That on Thursday, November 1st, 2007, UNIDO representative along with her son’s partner and neighbour would meet with the police and officially report him missing.
On Thursday, November 1st, 2007, she flew from her home in Cortland, New York into a nightmare that is still part of their everyday life. Rahman joined her in Vienna on November 9th in the search for his brother.
A Mum to a gay son meets homophobia
When you meet the police in this kind of situation you think that they will meet you with compassion, understanding and respect in addition to that they should have the “know how” to meet relatives in missing person cases. And since Kathryn has the experience working at the Ithaca Police Department she knows what that should look like. But Kathryn didn’t get the compassion, understanding and respect instead she experienced homophobia, lies and disrespect by the police in Vienna.
The police had a ‘watertight’ theory that Aeryn committed ‘spontaneous suicide’ because he had discovered that he was HIV positive, but she didn’t believe her son was HIV positive or had spontaneous killed himself. When she got Aeryn’s belongings and returned home to Aeryn’s apartment she needed to sit down and relax before she could look through his belongings that she just had got from the police. When she after a while managed to look through Aeryn’s belongings she found the result of a newly taken HIV test -dated October 29th, 2007, the date Aeryn disappeared, and it said he was HIV Negative. If it hadn’t before that – the police amateurish ‘watertight’ theory started to crack. One of the key elements in the police’s theory about Aeryn’s disappearance was based on false facts.
Aeryn’s belonging has been found at a Kaiserburndl sauna near Stephansplatz and according the information given from the sauna – it had been a fight and someone got injured and sent to hospital ( but there are no records that police or ambulance has been there at all that evening) – that resulted in that Aeryn running out of the Kaiserburndl sauna naked and leaving his belongings behind – ( about the fight there are conflicting information – some says it wasn’t any fight).
The Austrian police acted like they couldn’t speak English and when UNIDO translator asked if the police could talk a bit and break so the translator could translate to English – the police just replied no they wouldn’t do that. Later on the police revealed they hadn’t any problems understanding English or speak it. The sad part is that UNIDO wouldn’t let translator testifying to what happen during Kathryn and Rahman meeting with the Austrian police since they weren’t there as professional translators.
In the documentary Gone, Kathryn tells about when she was invited in to Kaiserburndl sauna and got a guided tour :
As her “tour” winds its way through the labyrinth of lounges, bars and baths inside the sauna, the Kaiserbrundl’s manager suddenly drops, crying and running his hands over the marble floor. When Kathy asks her translator what has happened to upset the owner, she replies that this is the last place he ever saw Aeryn.
“What happened?” Kathy asks as he continues to cry and rub the floor.
“He doesn’t want to talk about it,” comes the reply. “What happened to your son here doesn’t matter. Your son is gone.”
The answer – “what happened to your son doesn’t matter” – echoes throughout the rest of the film.
According to the police they had a witness : “bald-headed man” had possibly been sighted floating in the Danube River by a fisherman, but the Vienna police changed the story frequently, from someone hearing a splash to “maybe someone heard a scream around that time, but maybe not.” This seems to be some kind of a cover up by the police.
The Police repeatedly telling Kathryn that they had scuba divers on the scene and in the water. That they had dredged the canal. That they had a boat in the water. That they had a canine unit on the scene. That they received the call at 2020hrs and cleared at 2050hrs, and yet they still accomplished all that in 30 minutes, the police claimed in 2007.
Stephansplatz is the high-end tourist and shopping district in Vienna – so lot of people are out and should have noticed Aeryn running completely naked, but no witnesses has come forward until Der Falter Investigative Reporter Joseph Gepp runs couple of articles about the case and he gets an e-mail from a student that saying that he and his girlfriend had seen Aeryn running naked – at the time they thought it was kind of prank – but Aeryn had stopped for a second and looked and them – they describing it like they have never seen a man looking so afraid before. They had reported this to the police and the police has taken their statement, but the police says the witnesses are lying about that. The male witness was willingly to say this with full name and a picture in the newspaper – that is big deal in Austria – you don’t criticising the police. So Joseph Gepp and Kathryn Gilleran believes the witnesses.
One year anniversary
On October 30, 2008, while she was in Vienna for the one year anniversary of Aeryn’s disappearance, Kathryn met with members of the Green Party of Parliament. On December 11, 2008, they filed an official Inquest with the Minister of the Interior questioning the Police Investigation as well as the behaviour of the police. Minister of the Interior replied with the police’s answers on February 10th, 2009 on all questions from the Green Party. To no one’s surprise the police had just cleared them self from any wrong doing.
After 15 1/2 months of the Police repeatedly telling Kathryn that they had scuba divers on the scene and in the water. That they had dredged the canal. That they had a boat in the water. That they had a canine unit on the scene. That they received the call at 2020hrs and cleared at 2050hrs, and yet still accomplished all that in 30 minutes. They finally say that the Fire Department was in charge of the scene, and that there were no divers, no boat, no dredging the canal, and no canines.
Times goes by – still no answers – 2013 – 2014
The Ombudsman Board has finished their review, which began in November 2013, thanks to Der Falter Investigative Reporter Joseph Gepp says Kathryn. Their findings were forwarded to the Minister of the Interior, and then given to the (SoKo) ‘Sonderkommission’ Cold Case Squad of the Austrian Police. On 12.06.2014 the disappearance of Aeryn M. J. Gillern case was reopen by the the (SoKo) ‘Sonderkommission’ Cold Case Squad of the Austrian Police.
Kathryn met with Cold Case Squad (Sonderkommission) in Vienna the beginning of October 2014. Since she had hear from them once – they sent her an e-mail in mid January 2015. She wrote them back with many questions but hasn’t heard from them. “It is frustrating being so far from them, but I do know from other people that they are interviewing people”, she says.
How was the meeting with Cold Case Squad (‘Sonderkommission’) ?
“The meeting with the Cold Case Squad in October 2014 was a good experience, in that they were professional, courteous and showed compassion. But, it was like starting the grieving process all over again. Like loosing Aeryn twice, if that makes any sense.” she adds.
LGBT Community and the Austrian police
I was a bit chocked when I heard about the treatment you got from the Austrian Police back in 2007 – I didn’t think Austrian Police was in the 1980’s, any comments to that Kathryn ?
I was stunned by the way the police treated myself and Rahman. If it had stopped with the Investigators that were my initial contacts, I would say that it was not representative of the entire police department. But, as I pushed harder, and started going up the ranks, from Investigators, to a Lieutenant, and then up to a Chief, and then to General Maher, and it continued, it was clear that this behavior, this mentality, ran extremely deep.
Police Departments will circle the wagons, so to speak, to protect their own whenever they can. I was told by Genral Maher and Lt. Kovar that I shouldn’t be upset about what was said about my son as the one Investigator was “an old man, so what does it matter”. They made excuses for all of the remarks and for their own. They said that I should be angry at Aeryn for going to a gay sauna. When all else fails, blame the victim.
Do you think the homophobia within the Austrian Police has changed in 7 Years ?
Do I think it is different 7 years later ? My guess is probably not a whole lot. I hate to stereotype but police departments historically are the last bastion of a male dominated work force. They exude and encourage macho behavior. Even with more departments hiring more women and minorities to better reflect the community they serve, the US versus THEM mentality is strong and is something that rookie police officers get spoon fed. US are the police, THEM is everyone else. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for inclusivity. I don’t believ from talking to police there that it is any different from here in the States.
My understanding is that General Maher is now the head of the Police Department in Vienna, so I don’t think there is someone in a position of power who thinks change, other than the window dressing kind, is necessary, she adds.
What about the LGBT community and the Austrian Police ?
In talking with so many of Aeryn’s friends in Vienna it’s seems that the attitude is that as long as the police leave them alone, they won’t complain about the police. The police don’t bother the sauna patrons, they don’t bother the participants in the Gay Parade or the Life Ball festivities. So there is this unspoken truce. They will tell you that they don’t trust the police but they also don’t complain about them. HOSI WIEN, the Vienna Homosexual Initiative, wouldn’t touch Aeryn’s case with a ten foot pole when I first approached them. Part of it was because he was American, so they just didn’t care. Since the documentary they have spoken up a bit on Aeryn’s behalf.
Vienna certainly appears to be gay friendly, as long as the police aren’t involved, everything is ok, she says.
Without Investigative Reporter Joseph Gepp help and investigation – the Aeryn’s disappearance probably been a forgotten case in Austria, says Kathryn in the end of the interview.
Your Help is Needed
Kathryn and Aeryn’s brother Rahman have since 2007 been looking for the truth – what happened to Aeryn October 29th, 2007 in Vienna, Austria – as you can imagine they have lot of questions that they want to have an answer to. So if you know something and then bare in mind – even little piece of information can become the big rock that point the investigation in the right direction – if you think your information is significant let the Sonderkommission (Cold Case Squad for the Austrian Police Department) decide if it is or not – your piece of information might be the piece that they are missing from a big puzzle of information. So if you have any information you think might help the Sonderkommission with their investigation – please contact Federal Office of Criminal Investigation in Austria (Bundeskriminalamts) or contact Kathryn Gilleran on www.aeryngillern.com and she can forward your contact details to the Sonderkommission.
(You are also helping by spreading this story in social media – all over the world – since it might be a tourist visiting Vienna in 2007 that holds the key for a breakthrough – that hasn’t heard about Aeryn disappearance or to remind the person(s) that knows what happen on October 29th, 2007 in Vienna, Austria, where ever they are in the world – the story about Aeryn M. J. Gillern disappearance is not going away anytime soon.)
Special thanks to Kathryn Gilleran taking the time to contribute to this story – without her it wouldn’t be a story.
*1. The Cortland Community SPCA is dedicated to ensuring the best possible quality of life for animals and to promoting respect and reverence for them.
* Different spelling of the last name – Kathryn has taken back the original spelling of her father’s family name after Aeryn went missing, so that’s why the spelling are different to Aeryn’s last name.
* Investigative Reporter Joseph Gepp are now working for Profil magazine in Vienna
Photos copyrights owned by Kathryn Gilleran
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