Udo Proksch (May 29, 1934 (Rostock, Germany)
– June 27, 2001 (Graz, Austria)) was an Austrian businessman and
industrialist. In 1991, he was convicted of the murder of six people
as part of a major insurance fraud. Proksch died in prison.
In 1977 the ship Lucona sank in the Indian
Ocean, after an explosion, killing six people. Proksch, the owner of
the cargo, also then owner of famous Viennese confectioners' Demel,
claimed US$20 million from his insurance company, saying that the ship
was carrying expensive uranium mining equipment. Lucona was
located by American shipwreck hunter David Mearns, revealing that the
ship had been sunk by a time bomb. Fraud was suspected, but
investigations were obstructed by powerful Austrian politicians, who
were friends of Proksch.
Several ex-ministers were eventually convicted over
their involvement. The ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs was sentenced
for forging documents authenticating the cargo. Two other ministers
were dismissed for obstructing the investigations. The minister of
Defense, shareholder in the Proksch firm, had given permission to
deliver explosives to sabotage the ship and committed suicide when
that became clear.
Proksch fled to the Philippines in 1988 after Hans
Pretterebner published a book about the scandal. Proksch stayed at the
palace of his personal friend, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
He returned to Vienna in 1989 incognito but was
recognized and arrested. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on
March 11, 1991. A year later the sentence was increased to a lifelong
term in prison. He died on June 27, 2001 during heart surgery.
Proksch was the first husband of the actress Daphne
Wagner, daughter of Wieland Wagner, great-granddaughter of the
composer Richard Wagner and great-great-granddaughter of Franz Liszt.
Works about Proksch and the Lucona case
1988: Hans Pretterebner published a book about
the Lucona case, Der Fall Lucona.
1993: A film about the Lucona case (starring
David Suchet) is released.
2004: The art group monochrom stages Udo 77,
a musical about the life of Udo Proksch.
2010: A documentary about Proksch, entitled
Udo Proksch: Out of Control and directed by Robert Dornhelm is
Udo Proksch: Mad Genius or Murderer?
David Wörgötter - ViennaReview.net
April 11, 2022
"I couldn’t help
it, I was, out, Out of Control."
Austrian businessman Udo Proksch was a designer and
industrialist, a brilliant organizer, egocentric and probably
completely mad. And in the end, his demise came about only when he was
accused of sinking a ship and killing six people, a tragedy that
eventually led to his conviction and imprisonment in Karlau, Graz,
where he died in 2001.
But looking back, no one really knew who he really
was.Still, it makes a great story, as audiences realized at the
release of Out Of Control, a movie about Proksch’s
controversial life in Austrian cinemas in mid 2010. ORF
Anchor-woman Ingrid Thurnher recently published a book on his
controversial character, Auf den Spuren des Udo Proksch.
Out Of Control is a Filmhaus Wien
production, co-financed by the ORF, the Film Institute, and
Film Fonds Wien. Directed by Robert Dornhelm, this movie is a
combination of archival footage from Proksches archive, as he himself
was a film director, dozens of interviews from acknowledged Austrian
people from Androsch to Zilk, and partly narrated by Robert Reinagl.
Additional material such as 20.00 photos, letters from prison, designs,
and concepts from Westlicht founder Peter Coeln are used.
This well-cut documentary with altering opinions lets people make up
their mind about his persona, which only partly includes the case
Proksch’s live was imprinted by his student times
at the NAPOLA, a training school for up-and-coming SS officers and
members of the Nazi Armed Forces. The guns and power placed in their
hands during their formative years made a huge impression on him.
After studying at the Academy for Applied Arts in
Vienna, he worked as an award winning designer and art director for
the company Wilhelm Anger. Under the alias Serge Kirchhofer, he
designed the now famous sunglasses Carrera of which 13 million were
sold in 1955 alone, unprecedented up to that time.
Proksch had two absurd and controversial “ideas”,
which he nevertheless thought were innovative and striking.One was an
association he founded in 1969/70 that agreed to bury its members
vertically, thus calling itself the “Verein der
Senkrechtbegrabenen.” The dead would be shrink-wrapped in plastic
and then buried vertically, thus saving space in the overcrowded
cemeteries and boost the plastic industry. Supporters included his
then wife, the actress Erika Pluhar, and Helmut Zilk, later Minister
of Education and Mayor of Vienna.
“This personally fascinated me,” comments airline
CEO and Formula 1 World champion Niki Lauda in the movie.
Proksch often talked about power, which he believed
was more important than money; women are anyways granted a place – but
power was the most essential instrument.
His other inspiration was to organize a safe
environment where men could play at war, with real guns and ammunition,
to satisfy what he believed was man’s inescapable urge to kill.
“War is the father of all things,” he would say.
“We will continue to fight and kill, this is what is inside us,” which
seemed to perfectly describe what he believed in. His close friendship
with then Defense Minister Karl Lütgendorf gave him access to an
Austrian military base in Tyrol where he held controlled explosive
drills and could live out his dream.
“I too am afraid of dying,” he admitted. “You have
to train to overcome that.”
In 1972, Proksch bought the famous Viennese
confectionary shop Demel - K.u.K Hofzuckerbäckerei, once a
purveyor to the Imperial and Royal court of the Austria-Hungary
monarchy. A year later he started Club 45 upstairs over the cafe,
an association that was influenced, to a certain extent, by the
Italian P2 group of Freemasons. A meeting place for politicians (mainly
Social Democrats), industrialists, economists, and other opinion
leaders, people came to discuss issues, hold parties, network, etc.
He knew everyone who was in power or otherwise
influential at the time. Members of Club 45 were then Interior
Minister Karl Blecha, Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz and Defense
Minister Karl Lütgendorf, also today’s President Heinz Fischer as well
as Hannes Androsch (later Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor) and
Franz Vranitzky (later Chancellor) were members for a time.
“And if today someone says he was not member of the
Club or in Demel, then he’s a liar,” comments his brother and
adds. “He was intellectually superior to the politicians, that has to
be said. That is why he gained control over these people; he played
them like marionettes. To some extent it was funny what he did with
Despite him being a brilliant man, he left people
puzzled. Something was not quite right, and he used this to his
advantage: In short, he was a master of manipulation.Although he was a
small, balding man with rather a large belly, Proksch had an enormous
effect on people, especially women. From tall and beautiful to small
and plump, all women wanted to be with him, even if that meant for
just a night. He was married three times, first to Erika Pluhar then
to Daphne Wagner, and from 1969 onwards to Ariane Glatz. However, this
didn’t change much; even when married, he was still unfaithful much of
the time – he knew how to enchant, and how to make the most of his
For him, life was a game.He played with everyone,
from one-night stands to life long friends and companions; he lived in
his own world, and no one really knew who he was.
In 1977, the freighter Lucona sank in the
Indian Ocean after an explosion, killing six people. Proksch, the
owner of the cargo said the ship had been carrying expensive uranium
mining equipment, and claimed nearly $20 million from his insurance
company – which was later revealed as false and was never paid.
Because of the strength of his connections, however, investigations
were never really pursued, and it was only in 1985 that Proksch and
partner Peter Daimler were arrested. And while they were set free days
later, investigations by journalists of Gerald Freihofer and Hans
Pretterebner resulted in the expose Der Fall Lucona (1987),
and Proksch fled to the Philippines, where he lived in President
Further investigations were conducted – including
an expensive on-site inspection of the sunken ship in the deep waters
off the Indian Ocean – and the scandal became increasingly involved as
it was proven that the ship had been sunk by a time bomb, and no
evidence of uranium-mining equipment was found.With the revelation of
sabotage, Club 45 was closed down.
In a sense, it was the end of an era. In his book,
Pretterebner describes Club 45 as a, “mafia like tool of the governing
SPÖ, acting in a system of corruption and nepotism that, by any and
all means, took advantage of the country.”
After the death of his daughter Anna, Proksch had
plastic surgery on his face in 1989 and returned to Austria; still he
was recognized and arrested at the Vienna International Airport
Schwechat. The trial put an end to the political careers of
several of his friends among them National Council president Leopold
Gratz and Interior minister Karl Blecha, who were in charge of the
Proksch’s discharge. Karl Lütgendorf’s death, who dropped his
positions the year the Lucona sank, remains unsettled to this day.
In 1992, after one of the longest and most
expensive trials in post-war Austria, Proksch was convicted of the
murder of six people and sentenced to 20 years in prison, which was
later on increased to a life-long sentence.
In the movie, Erika Pluhar talks about the many
visits and talks they had while he was in prison. Although they had
divorced 20-years before he was detained, she spoke at length about
their time together, what they could have done differently, and about
their only child who had died.At a certain time in her life, she had
clearly loved him.
While in prison, Proksch also became friends with
Austrian terrorist Franz Fuchs, Out of Control producer
Wolfgang Ramml related in an interview. Fuchs was terrorist, convicted
of sending letter bombs that killed four people and wounded over a
dozen more, including Vienna Mayor Helmut Zilk, a close acquaintance
of Udo Proksch. Although Fuchs refused to communicate with anyone
while in prison, even his own attorney, he opened up to Proksch for
reasons that remain unexplained.
On June 27, 2001 Proksch died during heart surgery,
in the prison hospital.
While Udo Proksch was a military fanatic, obsessed
with war games, and a brilliant mad man, one wonders if he really was
responsible for the sinking of the Lacona and the resulting deaths of
six innocent people. Many who knew him doubted it, saying he was not
physically violent and “couldn’t have hurt a flea.” Although he always
carried a gun and showed it off with considerable bravado, no one had
ever seen him shoot at anyone. But Proksch declined to defend himself
in court, the judge said in the movie.
Austrian Czech diplomat Karel Schwarzenberg,
currently Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, also questions his
guilt. But beyond that, he too is unable to untie the riddles.
“What he really was, I don’t know, and I have huge
doubts that Udo himself knew. In fact, I don’t think so."