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February 27, 2004 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-02-27

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The strange story of Alfred Loewenstein: How a leading financier
(and _possible drug dealer) disappeared from a plane.

AppleTree Editor

: A few weeks ago, I was up
late and I caught a TV pro--
gram about unsolved myster-
ies. Included was a profile of
Alfred Loewenstein. I only saw a few
moments of this, but apparently
Loewenstein vanished from his plane. I
assume, based on his name, that
Loewenstein was Jewish (is that cor-
rect?). And what was the story of his dis-

A: The mystery of Alfred Loewenstein
is certainly one of the oddest stories you'll
ever hear — a case that has never been
Loewenstein was technically Jewish
- (that is, according to Halachah he was
Jevvish because his mother was Jewish),
though he himself was a practicing
Catholic. However, he held many associa-
tions with Jewish businessmen — as well
as a leading Jewish mobster (more on that
Loewenstein was a businessman in
Brussels — an exceptionally wealthy busi-
nessman whose fortune, back in the
1920s, was estimated at more than $200
million. Some estimated he was one of
the 10 wealthiest men in the world.
Loewenstein, 51 when he vanished, was
quite a character: tough, a shrewd busi-
nessman, a risk taker, a private man who
loved horses. His wife was named
Madeleine and his only child was a boy
named Bobby.
On July 4, 1928, Loewenstein was in
his private plane taking off from Croydon
Airport, just outside London. Included
on the flight, on its way to Brussels, were
Loewenstein, the pilot, copilot,
Loewenstein's two stenographers, his valet
and secretary.
The flight left shortly after 6 p.m.,
cruising at 4,000 feet. Soon after the
plane crossed the coast of Dover,
Loewenstein went to the bathroom. It
was in a small compartment at the back
of the plane. After passing through the
compartment door, Loewenstein went to
the left and entered the bathroom. On

the right was another door, which led out
of the plane.
When Loewenstein didn't return after a
reasonable amount of time, his valet, Fred
Baxter, went to check on him. To his
astonishment, he found that Loewenstein
had disappeared.
What happened next is confusing. The
pilot, Donald Drew, gave conflicting sto-
ries about whether he backtracked to see
if he could see Loewenstein's body in the
water below, or whether he went on
ahead. Whatever the case, he inexplicably
landed the plane on a beach rather than
go on to an airport that was only minutes
ahead. Help came quickly at the beach,
but apparently those on board were any-
thing but eager to tell authorities the
name of the man who had disappeared.
Of course newspapers were filled with
accounts of the odd case of Alfred
Loewenstein — and continued when his
body was found several days later.
Coroners couldn't tell too much (the
body was badly decomposed), but they
did know that Loewenstein had been
alive when he hit the water. His wife had
Loewenstein hastily buried in an
unmarked grave in Brussels. She did not
attend the funeral.
Investigators eventually ruled the case
an accident. Loewenstein; they said, had
emerged from the bathroom and acciden-
tally opened the wrong door. Instead of
reentering the plane cabin, he opened the
exit and fell to his death in the ocean.
More than a few were understandably
skeptical when they heard that explana-
tion. First, they reasoned, the noise of a
door opening on a plane in midair would
have alerted everyone aboard. Second, the
air pressure would have been so profound
it would have taken 10 men to push a
door open (and, in fact, after the incident
numerous men recreated the scene, trying
to push open a door on a similar plane
flying at 4,000 feet; none was able to do
Many believed that Loewenstein had
been murdered. In his book The Man
Who Fell From The Sky, author William
Norris suggests that pilot Donald Drew
pushed Loewenstein out of the plane
because he was having an affair with

Loewenstein's wife and stood to get a
huge chunk of the money when the fin-
ancier died and Madeleine inherited all
the wealth.
Numerous oddities, and tragedies, fol-
lowed the paths of those involved in the
Loewenstein affair. Donald Drew died of
cancer soon after the incident, while
Loewenstein's only child, Bobby, was
lulled in a plane crash when he was 30.
The two stenographers and Loewenstein's
secretary returned home, never to discuss
the case again. Valet Fred Baxter was
found with a bullet in his head; it was
ruled a suicide, though many, many ques-
tions exist about his death.
Most recently, Loewenstein's name
appeared in a biography of mobster
Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein, the mentor
to Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, is
probably best known as the man who
fixed the 1919 World Series. According
to author David Pietrusza in his new
book Rothstein, the gangster was a busi-
ness associate, of sorts, with none other
than Alfred Loewenstein, and the two
laid the foundation for the modern inter-
national drug trade.
Interestingly, like Loewenstein,
Rothstein also died in 1928. His murder
has never been solved.

According to Halachah, you
should say a brachah (blessing)
before eating or drinking anything.
But what about gum? Gum isn't con-
sumed, so does the Halachic com-
mandment apply to gum-chewing as

A: Yes. Rabbi Eliezer Cohen of
Congregation Or Chadash explains that
the idea behind the brachah isn't only
what you consume. Consider, he says,
that you will be enjoying the taste of the
gum. Because you will take pleasure from
all that flavor, you need to say a brachah.
If you're going to get the same pleasure
from a medicine (it sounds odd, but there
might be someone out there who just
loves the taste of a certain pill or syrup),
then you're going to need to say a
brachah before taking that, too. Usually,

TELL ME WHY on page 34



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