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The Mysterious Death of Alfred Loewenstein

In 1928, Alfred Leonard Loewenstein was the third richest man in the world, sitting on a fortune worth around £12 million (£929 million today).

Wherever he went, he was recognised and revered; he had worked hard to solidify his fortune in his native Belgium and had even begun to expand his reach into Britain.

Alfred Loewenstein’s name has now become synonymous with one of the most bizarre air disasters of all time. Had it not been for this incident, Alfred would have been forgotten to the sands of time as a wealthy businessman in the golden age.

An image of Alfred Loewenstein. Image via Bettmann/Getty Images.

Savvy Business Investments

Born in Brussels, Belgium, Alfred had a good start in life. His father was a banker, and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy stockbroker. The Loewenstein men instilled their savvy sense of money and wealth into little Alfred.

They taught him the ways of the banking world and how to ensure financial success, no matter the state of the world. In the late 1800s, tension was felt throughout Europe, with pockets of violence opening up.

As Alfred grew into a young man, he had no doubts about his career path, and he entered the business world. With the backing of his father and grandfather, Alfred quickly rose up the ranks of the banking world, eventually opening his own lending institution.

The institution would take deposits and send them to the target party, taking a fee for the transaction. This quickly made Alfred a very wealthy man, and according to historical records, by 1914, he had already made his first £1 million. 

Not content with just being a financier, Alfred began to branch out into other sectors. First, he invested heavily in silk and saw a great return, but his real fortune would come from the energy sector.

Where others saw poverty and destitution, Alfred saw potential and profit. He began supplying energy and electricity facilities to developing countries. 

Whilst the countries he directly supplied are not listed, he was likely heavily involved in providing electricity to the Congo, which was under Belgian colonial rule until the 1960s.

Belgium were also given the Republic of Rwanda following World War I, another country that Alfred likely supplied electricity to. Leaders around the world saw Alfred’s incredible work and desperately wanted him on their side. 

When World War I broke out, Belgium suffered heavily at the hands of the invading Germans. Alfred began channelling his riches into other sectors and gave money toward the war effort.

While other governments desperately sought after Alfred, his own country was not as keen. As war-ravaged Europe, Alfred offered the Belgian Government $50 million, tax-free, to get the nation back on its feet.

$50 million is around $1.5 billion in today’s money and is by no stretch of the imagination a small donation. Unfortunately, Alfred’s kindness came with a hidden cost.

He told the Belgian government he would give them the money, but only if he was given permission to print Belgian Francs. Naturally, the Belgian government said no, somewhat angering Alfred. This was the first time Alfred’s mean streak had been publicly exposed. 

More Money, More Problems

Whilst Alfred was successful, that’s not to say all his business ventures were. In 1926, Alfred created International Holdings and Investments, which saw an outpouring of funds from wealthy investors around the world.

By this point, Alfred had made a name for himself in the banking and investing world and was seen as a safe bet. Just two years later, at the brink of the Wall Street Collapse, investors were beginning to ask questions and, most importantly, wanted to see returns on their investments.

It is believed that Alfred raised over £1 million in capital through International Holdings and Investments and was slow to give any return on his holdings.

Unfortunately, those who felt they were rightfully owed money by Alfred would never get to see it as he disappeared in the Summer of 1928. 

The Wrong Door

On July 4th 1928, Alfred and his team prepared for Alfred’s private jet to take off from Croydon (London) Airport bound for Brussels, Belgium.

Photo of Alfred Loewenstein boarding a plane. Image via Bettmann/Getty Images.

This was a flight Alfred and his trusted pilot had made dozens of times over as Alfred had moved to the UK in 1926, where he had opened International Holdings and Investments.

Alfred had also become cosy with the sitting British Government, and he was dubbed “Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath” for his work as a consultant to British politicians. 

At around 6:00 PM, pilot Donald Drew announced that they would be preparing for takeoff. Alfred, his secretary Arthur Hodgson, his valet, Fred Baxter and two stenographers took their seats and braced for takeoff.

According to Captain Drew, all went well, and within a matter of minutes, they were gliding through the air. As the plane flew over the English Channel, Alfred got up and excused himself, telling his crew he was going to the bathroom.

Several minutes passed, and Alfred’s seat remained empty. After almost 20 minutes or so had passed, his valet, Fred Baxter, became concerned.

He rushed to the bathroom, terrified that Alfred had suffered a medical emergency, but as he reached the rear of the plane, he noticed the back door to the aircraft violently flapping in the wind. 

After knocking on the bathroom door several times and receiving no reply, Fred ran to the cockpit and told Captain Drew that Alfred was missing.

In a haze, Drew landed the plane on a beach in Dunkirk, which was a major cause for concern. As the aircraft reached a rumbling halt, the crew searched every inch of the plane for Alfred before realising what had happened. 

Alfred had somehow mistakenly opened the rear door to the plane instead of the bathroom door, sending him hurtling 4,000 feet to the ground.As soon as Captain Drew landed the aircraft in Dunkirk, the French Military arrived.

They controlled the area, and everyone on board was interrogated. The story was almost too bizarre to believe, but eventually, the crew were let go. 

The local police were alerted of Alfred’s disappearance, although there was little hope that he had survived a fall of 4,000 feet.

Nonetheless, a vast search party was put together, but no sign of him was found. Meanwhile, aviation authorities were keen to speak with Captain Drew and everyone else on board.

Everyone onboard maintained the same story: Alfred had excused himself, only never to return.

On July 13th 1928, the New York Times reported that the British Air Ministry conducted tests on the Fokker Tri-Motor plane doors to see if it was indeed possible Alfred could have ‘slipped out’.

Whilst Captain Drew and the mechanic on board testified that it would have been easy to open the rear door, the findings of the British Air Ministry greatly contradicted that. 

They reported that it would have been impossible to open the rear door as the slipstream would have immediately slammed it shut, preventing such a fall from taking place.

They also noted the exit door had been clearly marked by signage, and it had taken two strong men to force open the spring-loaded latch door in mid-air.  

Body Of Proof

The findings of the inquiry would be quickly overshadowed by the events of July 19th 1928. That day, the body of Alfred Loewenstein, the missing millionaire, was found floating in a river near Boulogne, France, around 50 miles Southwest of Dunkirk.

A passing fishing boat retrieved Alfred’s body and alerted the local authorities. As he had been deceased for over two weeks and likely in the water the whole time, he was severely decomposed and in an unrecognisable state. 

French investigators were only able to identify him by the gold watch that adorned his wrist. Alfred’s body was taken to Calais, where an autopsy was performed.

As expected, the coroner found that Alfred had suffered a fractured skull and a plethora of broken bones. Some sources report that the coroner believed Alfred was still alive when he hit the water.

However, no official report from French authorities has ever been released to the public to verify these claims.

There are also claims from unverified sources that there were traces of alcohol in Alfred’s system, which was odd given he did not drink. After a lengthy investigation, it was determined that Alfred’s death had been accidental.

He had, somehow, opened the spring-loaded door, pushing through the jet stream and had been sucked out of the plane, but not everyone subscribed to this theory. 


The first theory that sprang to people’s minds was the idea that Alfred had taken his own life. By 1928, the economy was beginning to show signs of faltering, and those in the know may have anticipated that something big was coming.

Perhaps they did not know just HOW big the 1929 Wall Street Crash would be, but they still felt the rumblings in the financial world. 

Alfred had become a consultant to many influential politicians in Belgium and The United Kingdom and had also amassed great personal wealth via his investment and holdings firm.

By July 1928, investors had waited 2 years for the ‘big returns’ Alfred had promised them, yet all they were given was peanuts. Had pressure from his wealthy investors and the knowledge he was unable to deliver driven Alfred to take his own life?

One friend commented that even if Alfred had lost a few hundred thousand, or even a million Francs, this still wouldn’t be the catalyst needed for Alfred to take such drastic action.

Alfred had lived through tough times before and was a very savvy businessman who could have bought himself more time. Many do not subscribe to this theory and, instead, favour the next. 

The next theory is that Alfred was murdered; perhaps he had angered the wrong client or investor, or it was someone closer to home who wanted him out of the picture.

It was no secret that investors were nipping at Alfred’s heels for their money, and it is entirely plausible that one of them paid Fred Baxter, Arthur Hodgson, Captain Drew or someone else on board to get rid of him. 

Some believe that Captain Drew and the mechanic had intentionally left the rear door open to cause an ‘accident’.

It is plausible that Alfred may have gone to the bathroom, realised the back door was open and upon trying to close it, was whisked out by the powerful jetstreams and air pressure.

The back door of the plane.

It is also possible that someone carefully followed behind him and threw his body out of the rear plane door. 

All onboard stuck to the same story, maintaining their innocence, but if it had needed 2 men to open the rear door and 1 to throw Alfred out, it is unlikely they would have turned on each other through fear of implicating themselves.

Some believe that it wasn’t an investor or angry politician who had ordered the murder of Alfred but his own wife, Madeleine. By 1928, their marriage had grown ‘frosty’, and Madeleine certainly stood to gain a pretty penny from her husband’s demise. 

Nobody onboard claimed to have heard any noise that would have suggested the rear plane door had been opened and no screaming to suggest that Alfred had plunged thousands of feet below.

Ultimately, Alfred Loewenstein’s bizarre death was ruled accidental, and nobody was ever charged in relation.

According to reports, despite his wealth and outward appearances, Alfred Loewenstein was very unpopular, and even his wife, Madeleine, didn’t attend his funeral. 

Alfred Loewenstein was buried in an unmarked grave, condemned to be forgotten to the sands of time. Years later, a French fisherman came forward claiming to have seen something ‘parachute-like’ falling from the sky over where Alfred Loewenstein had dropped.

Many have hypothesised that this object may have been Alfred or the rear door, which was quickly replaced during the emergency landing at Dunkirk to cover up the murder plot.

Despite intense scrutiny and investigation, the mystery of how Alfred Loewenstein fell 4,000 feet to his death has never been solved. 


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