A millionaire disappearing from his own airplane mid-flight sounds like the beginning of an old detective novel, and while the idea seems outlandish, just such an event did occur on a summer evening in 1928. The vanishing man was Captain Alfred Loewenstein, one of the richest people in the world at the time and someone who embodied the Gilded Age lifestyle. The media even nicknamed him "The Belgian Croesus" as a nod to his immense wealth. His story took a tragic turn, however, when it was reported that Loewenstein had somehow fallen from his private plane mid-flight during a routine trip.
Alfred Loewenstein's death has been researched and debated for over 90 years but still remains unsolved, and many important questions remain unanswered: Why did authorities walk away from the case so quickly? Why did Loewenstein's wife move on from his death with little mourning? Why don't more people today know who Alfred Loewenstein was, even though his disappearance rocked the world? Below we lay out a timeline of the events leading up to, and following, Loewenstein's fall from the sky and explore the conflicting theories surrounding his death.
In 1928, Alfred Loewenstein Was The Third-Richest Man In The World
Born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1877, Alfred Loewenstein was the third-richest person in the world by 1928. During the early 1900s, Loewenstein invested in a number of companies throughout Europe - what would be called "holding companies" today - which proved to be extremely lucrative.
Loewenstein, reportedly not one for modesty, created a larger-than-life persona that frequently caught the attention of the media, whom he apparently had no qualms about indulging. He lived lavishly and embodied the extravagance of the Roaring '20s, morphing from a regular businessman into an internationally known figure.
Following his disappearance on July 4, 1928, panic rose across the globe. Following the news of Loewenstein's death, stocks in his companies dropped drastically, almost as if these companies couldn't survive without him. Loewenstein's bizarre disappearance only became more perplexing as details of his routine, Belgium-bound flight were revealed.
On July 4, 1928, Loewenstein Boarded His Private Plane, Along With Six Others
Alfred Loewenstein was set to return to his home in Brussels, Belgium, after a business trip to London on July 4, 1928. Loewenstein owned his own plane, a Fokker F.VIIa/3m, which he had used on numerous trips - in fact, he was one of the first people to regularly travel by airplane.
The plane took off from Croydon Airport in Surrey sometime between 6:30 and 6:45 pm without issue. Reports claim the weather was good.
The passengers on this fateful trip included Loewenstein and six others, including the pilot and co-pilot. Though the trip was supposed to be ordinary, events took a turn for the worse somewhere over the English Channel, just off the coast of France.
While Flying Over The English Channel, Loewenstein Went To The Lavatory And Never Returned
Loewenstein was relaxing during the flight when he got up to use the lavatory, according to his staff. While no one knew it at the time, Loewenstein's exit from the cabin would reportedly be the last time anyone would see him alive.
An undetermined amount of time passed before Loewenstein's staff decided to check on him. Fred Baxter, Loewenstein's valet, knocked on the lavatory door to see if his employer was feeling unwell. When there was no response, Baxter opened the chamber and was shocked by what he found: Nothing. Loewenstein was not in the lavatory, and there was nowhere else for him to hide in the plane.
The captain, Donald Drew, made an emergency landing on a beach in Dunkirk, France, and French authorities were called to the scene. Everyone on board the aircraft agreed that Loewenstein must have accidentally opened the wrong door and fallen out of the plane.
Fishermen Found Loewenstein's Remains 16 Days After He Disappeared
Crews of fishermen began dragging the English Channel the following morning in search of Loewenstein's remains. Even without a body, The New York Times reported the morning of July 5 that Loewenstein had drowned following his 4,000-foot fall.
Sixteen days after the alleged accident, fishermen found Loewenstein's body floating in the waters off Calais, France. Calais and Dunkirk are fairly close to one another, making it plausible that the emergency landing occurred shortly after Loewenstein had fallen from the plane.
Although the recovered remains were significantly decomposed after two weeks in the ocean, sources claimed that they were indeed those of the famous tycoon based on several articles of clothing. An autopsy revealed that Loewenstein had a skull fracture, perhaps from the impact of the fall, but was still alive while in the water.