Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2022

Murder in the Sky

By Timothy Harrison


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In November of 1964, Edward Rowe Snow, New England’s famous historian and author, who during this time was also known by the lighthouse keepers as the Flying Santa, was planning his annual flight. He had been dropping Christmas gifts to the keepers since 1936 when he started helping Capt. William Wincapaw who was the original Flying Santa, and then took over the title upon Wincapaw’s tragic death a decade later. In the following written account, Snow gives his thoughts on what he believed was the mysterious death of the pilot he had employed for the 1963 flight.

“On Monday morning, this coming December 14th, if all goes well, I will fly from Wiggins Airport at Norwood, Massachusetts on my twenty-ninth annual Flying Santa aerial journey. The trip will be over lighthouses in New England and the North American continent, but there will be a sad mission connected with the flight this year.

“Usually the sole purpose of the trip is to drop my Christmas packages from the Flying Santa plane to the lighthouse keepers and Coast Guardsmen below at the lighthouses and Coast Guard stations along the coast.

“This year, however, veteran pilot Ralph Hynes will be flying the plane and I will be in the co-pilot’s seat. At my side will be a wreath. I plan to drop the wreath in memory of Albert Aucoin, my 1963 Christmas pilot, who met his death under apparently suspicious circumstances at Falmouth, Massachusetts on August 5, 1964. To explain further:

Foster L. Silva, Jr., twenty-one, of Edgartown, Massachusetts, Aucoin’s passenger, is said to have owed a substantial sum of money on the day before the plane crashed at Falmouth, Massachusetts. This information was revealed by the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, the further findings of which may be summarized as follows:

1. Bruises and lacerations were found on Aucoin’s body indicating a possible blow on the head immediately prior to the crash.

2. Silva was under investigation for fraud and forgery charges.

3. Silva’s financial house of cards had crashed.

4. Silva took out $60,000 worth of insurance immediately prior to the Boston-Martha’s Vineyard flight.

5. The aircraft was new, the weather excellent, and the pilot highly experienced.

6. It is of significance that Silva specified a twin-engine plane. (The insurance policy did not cover a single engine craft.)

“The longitudinal trim control on the plane which carried the two men to death was in a full nose down position. This would have inevitably caused a crash. No conscious pilot would ever have allowed this condition to occur.

“I will miss Al Aucoin when we fly to the lighthouses again in December as I had the fullest faith in his ability as a seasoned, careful pilot.”

The newspapers of the day were full of stories about the mysterious and suspicious plane crash. But the incident came to a close when the District Attorney Edmund Dinis made his announcement, as was reported in the September 19, 1964 edition of the Boston Globe. Dinis said an investigation by State Police Detective Lt. George E. Killen revealed that Silva had been deeply involved with Boston loan sharks and was facing arraignment on bad check charges. “The case is closed, and officially we’ll never determine the cause of the crash, but circumstances indicated that Silva caused the crash,” Dinis said.

Edward Rowe Snow continued as the Flying Santa through 1980, when during the following year, he suffered a stroke and was forced to retire. Immediately the Hull Life Saving Museum in Hull, Massachusetts stepped forward to take the mantle to continue the flights. To this day, the nonprofit Friends of the Flying Santa continue the tradition to bring Christmas gifts to Coast Guard stations and lighthouses throughout New England.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2022 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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