DATELINE: Disappearing without a Trace
American Aeryn, Mr. Gay Austria
A parental nightmare centers on the sudden disappearance of an adult child in a foreign land.
This true story from 2011 tells the horror faced by a retired Ithaca, New York, cop Kathyrn Gillern whose son goes missing in Vienna. Without help, with a language barrier, and with many unanswered questions, this disturbing tale of Aeryn Gillern is told primarily from his mother’s viewpoint.
Alas, much is either withheld or minimized. We see the strapping handsome young American who has become an expatriate and moved to Austria to work for a branch of the United Nations. Then, we learn he is gay. Then, we learn he wants his mother in retirement to move in with him.
Most disturbing of all, we learn that Austria is not a friendly place for gay men. Like the attitude toward Jews 60 years earlier, the populace may be more than hostile.
Police are unfriendly and decidedly cruel to the mother, claiming she is “difficult,” and believe she has come to learn what happened with a chip on her shoulder.
Along the way, more details emerge. Aeryn (once Aaron) was at an elite sauna for well-to-do gay men—and ran out naked to the streets. Police contend it was a “spontaneous suicide” after learning he was HIV-positive.
When his mother goes through his belongings, his recent medical test said he was HIV-negative! Police lie to her about search dogs, divers in the Danube, and other sundry details.
We hear he is Mr. Gay Austria of 2006! What? An American? That seems to be part of a homophobic reaction by police, and a coverup of high-ranking gay officials.
Was Aeryn on drugs? Murdered by a jealous lover? A suicide?
Or was it even more nefarious? We think it sounds like he was somehow involved in high-level espionage. Was he CIA? You will never learn from this film.
There are no answers in this compelling mystery that ends in 2011 with annual trips by Aeryn’s mother to seek information in Vienna and hold a solitary vigil.
In 2015, the police finally dragged the river for his body—an example of too little, too late, and no results.
The story is almost as infuriating as the details we are not told.