Loewenstein (by Jos De Swerts, 1926)
Alfred Léonard Loewenstein
March 11, 1877
|Died||July 4, 1928 (aged 51)|
The basis of his wealth was that he invested in electric power and artificial silk businesses when those industries were in their infancy.
Early life and business career
Loewenstein was born to Bernard Loewenstein, a German-Jewish banker in Brussels, Belgium. Loewenstein established his own banking concern, and was a wealthy man by 1914. He offered his government in exile 50 million dollars, interest free, to stabilize the currency in return for the right to print Belgian francs. The offer was refused. At war's end, he maintained a residence in England where he ran an investment business that made him one of Europe's most powerful financiers. He partnered with the investment house of Canadian-born Sir James Dunn in several business ventures, the duo emerging with more than £1,000,000 profit from their 1920s investment in British Celanese alone.
Loewenstein also made an enormous fortune providing electric power facilities for developing countries worldwide through his Belgian-based company, "Société Internationale d'Énergie Hydro-Électrique" (SIDRO). By the mid-1920s, Loewenstein's reputation was such that he was consulted by heads of state from around the globe. The British government made him a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
In 1926, he established "International Holdings and Investments Limited" that raised huge amounts of capital from wealthy investors wishing to get aboard his bandwagon of success. However, Loewenstein was rebuffed in his attempt to take over a Canadian company called Barcelona Traction, Light, and Power, a huge operation building infrastructure in Brazil.
Alleged drug deal with Arnold Rothstein
On the evening of 4 July 1928, Loewenstein left from Croydon to fly to Brussels on his private aircraft, a Fokker F.VII trimotor, along with six other people. While the aircraft was crossing the English Channel at an altitude of 4,000 ft (1,200 m), Loewenstein went to the rear of the plane to use the lavatory. On Loewenstein's Fokker, a door at the rear of the main passenger cabin opened on to a short passage with two doors: the one on the right led to the lavatory, while the one on the left was the aircraft's entrance door.
When he had not reappeared after some time, Loewenstein's secretary went in search of him and discovered that the lavatory was empty, and the aircraft's entrance door was open and flapping in the slipstream. The employee (along with the others on the plane) asserted his belief that Loewenstein had fallen through the plane's rear door and plunged several thousand feet to his death in the English Channel. The aircraft landed first on the beach before transferring to the airfield at Saint-Inglevert, Pas-de-Calais, France.
News and investigation
On 12 July it was reported that tests had been conducted by the Accidents Branch of the British Air Ministry using Loewenstein's aircraft. It was stated that at an altitude of 1,000 ft (300 m) one of the Ministry men had thrown himself against the aircraft's entry door, which had opened about 6 in (150 mm). However, he was immediately thrown back into the aircraft when the slipstream violently slammed shut the door. It was concluded that it would have been impossible for someone to accidentally open the door and fall out.
Loewenstein's body was discovered near Boulogne on 19 July, and was taken to Calais by fishing boat where his identity was confirmed by means of his wristwatch; an autopsy was performed (at the request of his family), his brother-in-law stating that they did not suspect anyone of foul play, but that they did not want anyone to suggest after the burial that Loewenstein might have been poisoned, or had died in the aircraft and then been thrown out. The autopsy revealed a partial fracture of his skull and several broken bones, and it was concluded that he had been alive when he struck the water.
Loewenstein was laid to rest in a cemetery outside Evere, in a tomb belonging to his wife's family, the Misonnes. However, his name was never carved on the slab covering his casket, so he was in effect buried in an unmarked grave.
Many theories have been put forward as to exactly what had happened to Loewenstein in the back of his plane; some suspected a criminal conspiracy in which his employees murdered him. The New York Times hypothesised that a growing absent mindedness, noted by many of Loewenstein's acquaintances, may have caused him to walk out the wrong door of the plane. Because he had left behind a tangled web of business ventures, many of which were highly leveraged, others theorized that his business empire was on the verge of collapse. Some even asserted that corrupt business practices were about to be exposed and that Loewenstein, therefore, committed suicide. None of these theories was ever proved.
In 1987, William Norris wrote Loewenstein's story in a book titled The Man Who Fell From the Sky (New York: Viking, 1987). Norris presents evidence in support of his case that, if his death was not a conspiracy by business rivals and associates, a certain opportunism existed regarding the death of the tycoon and his insurance. He also shows that later events are frequently ignored, such as the fact that Loewenstein's son shot one of the family servants under murky circumstances within a decade or so after the tragedy. The son eventually died in World War II. Norris concluded that Loewenstein had been thrown from the aircraft by Donald Drew, the pilot, at the behest of Madeleine Loewenstein, the motive being to gain control of Loewenstein's fortune. He suggested that the aircraft's rear door was completely removed while in the air and a replacement fitted on the beach at St. Pol.
Crime writers Robert & Carol Bridgestock have speculated that Loewenstein faked his own death and disappeared because the financial irregularities in his businesses. This theory is supported by the facts that the body was buried in an unmarked grave and that his wife did not attend the funeral.
In popular culture
- In 2010 Loewenstein's death was the subject of an episode of the History Channel's Vanishings! series.
- In 2014 Loewenstein's death was the subject of an episode of BBC Radio 4's Punt PI.
- William Norris: The Man Who Fell From the Sky. New York, Viking, 1987. ISBN 978-0744303032
- Maurice Privat: La vie et la mort d'Alfred Loewenstein. Paris, La nouvelle société d'édition, 1929
- E. Phillips Oppenheim: Who Travels Alone. The Life and Death of Alfred Loewenstein Project Gutenberg Australia. (e-book, 2012). Accessed 23 Dec. 2015
- Généalogie de quentinhayois
- LOWENSTEIN'S TRAGIC END SHAKES EUROPE'S MARKETS; SUICIDE THEORY IS RAISED: CAPTAIN ALFRED LOWENSTEIN. Wireless to THE NEW YORK TIMES.Times Wide World Photo.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 July 1928: 1.
- Murray Teigh Bloom - The Man Who Stole Portugal, London: Secker & Warburg (1966), p. 25.
- "Suicide hinted in strange death of europe's croesus". The Evening Independent. St Petersburg, Fla. 5 July 1928. p. 1.
- "Fall From an Aeroplane". The Times (44938). London. 6 July 1928. col D, p. 16.
- "TEST DOOR OF PLANE LOEWENSTEIN USED; British Officials Doubt He Could Have Fallen Out of It Accidentally". New York Times. 13 July 1928. p. 5.
- "Lowenstein post-mortem urged". Canberra Times. 23 July 1928. p. 1.
- Norris, William (1987). The Man Who Fell From the Sky. Viking. p. 2.
- BBC Radio 4, 12 July 2014, Steve Punt Punt PIThe Mysterious Death of Flying Millionaire Alfred Loewenstein
- Mira Wilkins (30 June 2009). The History of Foreign Investment in the United States, 1914-1945. Harvard University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-674-04518-7.
- "Vanishings! Alfred Loewenstein: The Missing Millionaire". History (U.S. TV channel). 31 March 2006. Archived from the original on 27 March 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
- Loewenstein listed among famous people who died in aviation accidents in the 1920s
- BBC audio with podcast link for Punt PI Series 7 Episode 1 The Mysterious Death of Flying Millionaire Alfred Loewenstein
- Newspaper clippings about Alfred Loewenstein in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)