Podcast Episode 324: The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein


In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called “one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.”

We’ll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman.


Philosopher Robin Le Poidevin offers a time-travel puzzle concerning an indefinite diary.

In 1946, a quirk of Ohio law seemed to yield contrary outcomes.

Sources for our feature on Alfred Loewenstein:

William Norris, The Man Who Fell From the Sky, 1987.

E. Phillips Oppenheim, Who Travels Alone: The Life and Death of Alfred Loewenstein, 1929.

Judy Ferring, “Before the Skies Were Friendly,” American Banker 153:169 (Aug. 30, 1988), 38.

Phoebe-Lou Adams, “The Man Who Fell From the Sky,” Atlantic 259:5 (May 1987), 94.

Amy Friedman, “The Chasing of Ghosts,” [Kingston, Ont.] Whig-Standard, May 23, 1987.

James Idema, “Solving the Strange Death of the World’s Third-Richest Man,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1987.

William French, “Real Life Mystery Is Finally Solved,” Globe and Mail, April 25, 1987.

Daryl Frazell, “A Mystery With No Solution,” St. Petersburg Times, May 17, 1987.

“Latest of the Strange Winged Tragedies of the Loewensteins,” Detroit Evening Times, June 8, 1941.

“Wealthy Airman Killed,” [Melbourne] Argus, April 1, 1941.

“387 Civilians Own Airplanes in State,” New York Times, Aug. 17, 1928.

“Result of Autopsy,” Canberra Times, July 23, 1928.

“Disappearance Is Still a Mystery,” New Britain [Conn.] Herald, July 6, 1928.

“Say He Could Not Open the Door,” New Britain [Conn.] Herald, July 6, 1928.

“Loewenstein’s Death Shocks All of Europe,” [Belvidere, Ill.] Republican-Northwestern, July 6, 1928.

“Third Richest Man Walks Off Plane in Night; Dies in Sea,” United Press, July 5, 1928.

“Capt. A. Lowenstein Falls From Plane,” Associated Press, July 5, 1928.

“Noted International Financier Disappeared From Plane When on London to Brussels Flight,” Ottawa Citizen, July 5, 1928.

“Noted Belgian Magnate Falls Into North Sea,” Calgary Herald, July 5, 1928.

“Suicide Hinted in Strange Death of Europe’s Croesus,” Associated Press, July 5, 1928.

“Loewenstein a Suicide,” Windsor Star, July 5, 1928.

“Gem Thieves Who Robbed Alfred Loewenstein, Belgian Croesus, Hunted Here by Paris Police,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 1926.

“The Mysterious Death of Flying Millionaire Alfred Loewenstein,” Punt PI, BBC Radio 4, July 12, 2014.

“ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 59899,” Aviation Safety Network, May 8, 2009.

Listener mail:

Sarah Gibbens, “How This 23-Foot Python Swallowed a Man Whole,” National Geographic, March 29, 2017.

“How a Giant Python Swallowed an Indonesian Woman,” BBC News, June 18, 2018.

Wikipedia, “Reticulated Python” (accessed Dec. 10, 2020).

Victoria Gillman, “Photo in the News: Python Bursts After Eating Gator (Update),” National Geographic, Sept. 5, 2006.

“Indonesian Man Found Dead in Belly of 7m-Long Python” (video), Jakarta Post, March 29, 2017.

“Missing Man Found Swallowed Whole Inside Snake in Indonesia” (video), On Demand News, Mar 30, 2017.

Mary Beth Griggs, “A Cute Stuffed Dinosaur Hitched a Ride on SpaceX’s Historic Launch,” The Verge, May 30, 2020.

Loren Grush, “SpaceX Crew-1 Team Harnesses the Force by Bringing Baby Yoda With Them to Space,” The Verge, Nov 16, 2020.

Wikipedia, “Sandmännchen” (accessed Dec. 10, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Sigmund Jähn” (accessed Dec. 10, 2020).

Olaf Stampf, “‘Capitalism Now Reigns in Space’: East German Cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn,” Spiegel International, April 12, 2011.

Uwe Seidenfaden, “Als DDR-Pilot Sigmund Jähn ins Weltall flog,” volksstimme.de, Aug. 23, 2018.


Tremor, zero-G indicator of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule (from listener Victoria Sluka).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, based on Ambrose Bierce’s 1888 short story “A Son of the Gods.”

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!