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Alfred Loewenstein: The Man Vanished In Air

By the beginning of the 20th century, Alfred Loewenstein was firmly established as one of the most influential financiers in the world. He made his immense fortune by working as a broker between several industries and the financial system. He also invested in numerous companies across Europe and was one of the settlers of the concept of the holding company.

Alfred And His Workers

Strange Company: Alfred Loewenstein's Final Flight: Review of "The Man Who  Fell From the Sky," By William Norris
Pic BY The Strange Blogspot

The story starts on the evening of July 4,  1928. On that day, Alfred and his workers boarded a private plane at Croydon Airport. He was leading the way to his home country of Belgium, a normal trip that he made regularly. The climate was excellent and the flight was going as smoothly as planned. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary until, at some point over the English Channel, Loewenstein got up to his feet and went inside the small bathroom compartment at the rear of the cabin. This compartment had two doors, a windowless one that distinguished it from the rest of the plane, and an outer one that served as the only mean of entrance and exit to the plane.

Alfred Loewenstein never made it out of this compartment, and that was the final time anyone had noticed him alive.

Naturally, one of the workers went to check on Alfred when he failed to come back to his seat. Upon finding that the compartment was vacant, he notified the pilot, Donald Drew. The latter made an extraordinary decision; he decided to land on a deserted beach just outside of the city of Dunkirk instead of leading the way to a nearby airfield. This beach was under the supervision of the French military so the pilot and Loewenstein’s workers were shortly apprehended by the administrations. They were at loss as to what occurred, but they appeared to believe that their boss must have plunged to his death after accidentally opening the exit door.

The issue of whether Loewenstein was dead was resolved on July 19. A fishing boat sighted a decomposed body floating near the French coast. It was recognized as the corpse of Alfred Loewenstein thanks to many clothing items. His widow Madeleine arranged a private autopsy to assume the reason for death. The analysis discovered no indications that could predict foul play or suicide. Nonetheless, a small amount of alcohol was inspected in his blood, which is odd considering Alfred never drank.


The weirdest thing about how the entire incident was dealt with is that there was a tiny effort to get to the bottom of what had occurred. An official inquiry, in which no one was under oath, inferred that Loewenstein’s casualty was accidental. That conclusion was in great part founded on the testimonies of Donald Drew (the pilot) and Robert Little ( the mechanic). Both men claimed that the exit door was simple to open and that Lowenstein could open it by accident. As we will see later, the veracity of this statement will come under serious scrutiny.

So was it just a tragic accident? This appears highly unlikely. As you would anticipate, the airplane exit door wasn’t as simple to open as the pilot and mechanic had contended. Several tests to check the door’s stability were performed in the weeks following the occurrence. Some even involved men from the Accidents Branch of the British Air Ministry throwing themselves at the entry door at an altitude of 1,000 feet! The door resisted the weight with relative comfort.  The conclusion was obvious and simple: No one could have fallen out of the plane by accident.


So…was it suicide? Again, the certainties just don’t add up. Loewenstein wasn’t discouraged and he was making strategies for the future right until the day of the occurrence. And even if we entertain this theory, there is still the problem of the door. Alfred could not have opened it by himself even if he was attempting to kill himself.

This leaves us with one conclusion: Alfred Loewenstein was forced off the plane. If that was certainly the case, then who did it? How did they govern to open the door mid-flight? And who was behind the plot?

Given the false statements that they gave to Belgian authorities, the two apparent suspects are Donald Drew and Robert Little. Author Williams Norris thinks that both men were hired to murder Alfred. Drew, who died of stomach cancer a few years after the occurrence, appears to have lived a luxurious life after this incident, which implies that someone might have paid him a heavy sum of money for achieving the job.

Norris thinks that the conspirators replaced the entry door with a rigged one that featured loose bolts and hinges. This would make opening it midflight and sending Alfred to his casualty a relatively simple task.  As for the actual door, it could have been positioned in the small luggage compartment at the back. The two doors would then be switched upon landing. This would also clarify the pilot’s weird decision to land on the beach rather than the nearby airfield. They couldn’t afford to have anyone observe the switch being made.

So who was behind the plot? Some probable suspects include:  

Henri Dreyfus: A business foe and former associate of Alfred. Their quarrel escalated when Loewenstein found out that Henri was behind an exposé that circulated in the Belgian press a few months before the occurrence. As an outcome, Dreyfus was facing a libel suit. Did he turn to kill to prevent appearing in court for what could have been a disastrous lawsuit?

Albert Pam and Frederick Szarvasy: The two men were Alfred’s partners in International Holdings. On the ground, it doesn’t appear like they could have profited from Loewenstein’s demise. But a closer look at the paper trail discloses a different story. International Holdings stock soared in the weeks following the occurrence thanks to a mysterious $13 million profit that appeared out of nowhere. Williams Norris did some digging and found out that this sum eerily fitted numerous anonymous insurance policies that were taken out on Loewenstein’s life soon before the occurrence.

While Williams Norris did some outstanding work piecing this case together, there are still a lot of unanswered issues. Was the poorly decomposed body that was discovered floating in the channel the body of Alfred Loewenstein? Why was the case rapidly closed by both French and Belgian Authorities? Who was behind the insurance policies on Alfred’s life?

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