Feb. 13, 2022

Dolly Oesterreich // 97 // The man in the attic

Dolly Oesterreich  // 97 // The man in the attic

Walburga Oesterreich (Dolly) married a wealthy man named Fred.  When she was 33, she was introduced to 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber, who worked at her husband's factory.  Dolly invited Otto to her home to "fix her sewing machine" and they began an affair.  Otto didn't really have any friends or family, so he agreed to move into Dolly's attic to make their affair easier.  During a fight one night, Otto flew out of the attic and murdered Dolly's husband.  She began dating other men and kept Otto in the attic to be her sex slave and she told people he was her vagabond half-brother.


I watched A Crime To Remember, Season 4, Episode 6 and it's called Guess who?

Walburga 'Dolly' Oesterreich (o-strike) was a housewife in her early thirties and she was married to a successful man, Fred Oesterreich. Fred worked very long, tiring hours and was the owner of a Milwaukee apron factory and that's where he met his wife. Dolly and Fred fought often because he was so tired when he got home and she constantly needed sex. Like, she wanted it 8-10 times a day. Dolly did accompany her husband to work sometimes and she would observe the employees as they worked. One day, while she was at the factory, a sewing machine broke down and they called a repairman. 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber showed up to fix it and he caught Dolly's attention with his bright blue eyes. Otto was adopted and his last name was changed to Sanhuber, but it's believed that his original last name was Weir. In 1913 Dolly called her husband and told him her sewing machine stopped working and he said he would have a repairman sent to the home to take a look at it. Dolly already knew that it was Otto who was coming to the house and she was wearing stockings and a silk robe. Otto realized he wasn't there to fix the sewing machine and suddenly, he was called to the house many times to “fix her sewing machine”.

Dolly and Otto were very secretive about their relationship and would meet up in hotels, but Dolly was a woman that liked convenience and she decided she didn't want to go through this kind of hassle, so they just started having sex in her home when her husband was away. Some of the neighbors began noticing a gentleman caller at the house and Dolly was like don't be silly, that's my vagabond half-brother. Now that people were noticing Dolly and Otto together, she had to come up with a new plan. She told Otto that he could live in the attic so he would never be seen by neighbors and he was like, sounds good. Otto quit his job at her husband's factory and lived in the attic. He didn't really have any family, so no one noticed that he disappeared. 

Otto liked to write, so he spent his time in the attic working on pulp fiction stories and hoped he could get them published. The Los Angeles Times reported, “At night, he read mysteries by candlelight and wrote stories of adventure and lust. By day he made lovedto Dolly Oesterreich, helped her keep house and made bathtub gin.” Otto actually helped Dolly with the housework during the day when her husband was at work. He made the beds, cleaned the kitchen, mopped, did laundry, and gave Dolly several daily tuneups. When Fred and Dolly would leave the house together, Otto was able to sneak out of the house and walk around the neighborhood at night. Fred announced in 1918 that he wanted to sell the house and move to Los Angeles. Dolly said she would move, but only under one condition. The new place had to have an attic. Fred and Dolly found a new home with an attic and she sent Otto the house so he could get settled into the new attic before they arrived.

For four more years, the arrangement stayed the same and Otto stayed in the attic. Fred was hearing movement in the house and kept noticing that food was going missing, but Dolly convinced him that he was drinking too much and was working too hard. He was just crazy. On August 22nd, 1922, Otto overheard Dolly and Fred fighting. He flies out of the attic holding two pistols and busts into their room. Fred is completely baffled and recognized Otto from the factory. Fred is confused and pissed off and starts fighting over the guns with Otto and the guns went off....and Fred had been shot. Dolly and Otto are panicking and didn't know what to do, so Otto locked Dolly in a closet. He took the guns with him and grabbed Fred's expensive, diamond watch, and retreated to his attic. Otto knew that neighbors had obviously heard the gunshots and he wanted to make sure Dolly had a clear alibi. How could she have shot her husband when she was locked in a closet?

When the police got to the house, they find Dolly in the closet and she said someone broke into the house, robbed them and shot Fred. The house was in disarray, everything was knocked over and a bullet was in the ceiling. Fred had been shot 3 times, once in the head and twice in the chest. Dolly said the burglar took some very expensive things and locked her in the closet. Fred was wearing the chain to a pocket watch, but the watch was missing. The police were like, alright, your story doesn't make any sense, but they had to release her. The gun that was used to murder Fred was a very small .25 caliber handgun and it would be strange for an armed robber to bring such a small gun, but they couldn't prove that something different happened. It was obvious that the “burglar” didn't really take much and this was odd because Fred was worth about $500k and when I watched A Crime To Remember, they mentioned that it would be about $7 Million dollars today. Dolly told the police that there had been two attempted break ins and mentioned that Fred had been hearing noises at night and was noticing that money and food had gone missing. Dolly would cook a meal and suddenly, the leftovers were gone the next day. This is obviously easily explained if the police had known there was a man living in the attic...walking around at night and taking food. They didn't know that, but they did notice that Fred's wallet was in his pocket, just inches away from where his stolen watch had been and that was very suspicious. 

The police were trying to piece things together and wondered if there was one or two burglars in the home and maybe Fred and Dolly entered and spooked them. Perhaps the watch with diamonds was in plain sight, so the burglars grabbed that off Fred and shot him. The police spoke to the neighbors and they confirmed there had been multiple attempted break-ins. They also said that on the night of the murder, after the gunshots, they heard a woman's voice yell, Fred, Oh Fred! The neighbor was watching the house at this point and could see a shadow of someone moving around near the back of the house and 15-20 minutes later, all of the lights went out. Why would a burglar stick around the house for 15-20 minutes after the murder without taking anything? Dolly seemed like the best suspect because she was going to get a shit ton of money, but there was no way she could lock herself in that closet....so they wondered, could she have done this with someone else? Employees of the company said that Fred had a hot temper and pushed them to work fast and keep up. Fred was sort of described as a hard ass, a heavy drinker, and he wasn't super well liked. Fred and Dolly actually had a son named Raymond who had passed away ten years prior and that's when Fred turned really angry and started drinking more. His employees didn't think he would even have time to cheat on Dolly though. They also said that Dolly would come to the factory and was very motherly and sweet. She treated the employees like her children. Neighbors said they had never seen Dolly cheating either. 

Fred actually had a soft spot for hiring ex-cons, he liked to give them a second shot when they were out on parole. Some employees say that Edward Flude really gave Fred a hard time after he was hired and he even stayed in the home with Fred and Dolly for awhile back in Milwaukee. Ed ended up back in prison and from his prison cell, he started sending Fred some threatening letters. Once he was released from prison, he disappeared and the police weren't sure where he was.

Dolly was now a widow and she did NOT move Otto into the main house, he remained in the attic. Their relationship was as lovers and also kind of a mother and son type thing. Otto was an orphan that had actually been dropped off on someone's doorstep as a baby, so he never had a family and didn't have money. Dolly had lost her son and wanted someone to take care of. They both offered something that the other person craved at the time. Otto had actually had a few of his stories published, so he earned a little bit of money and was finally able to purchase a typewriter and Dolly got herself a new man. Otto was the sidepiece again. Dolly's new man was a lawyer named Herman S. Shapiro. He had just helped her settle her husband's estate and as a thank you gift, she gave him her late husband's diamond watch. Herman started wearing this and it's a rather unusual, distinct watch. The investigators noticed the watch and asked where he got it. He was like, oh Dolly gave it to me for my birthday. They were like, alright, well that matches the description of the only item that went missing on the night of Fred's murder and we know you were Dolly's estate lawyer. Dolly was brought in for questioning and she says that she was straightening the sofa pillows and oh my! She found her husband's watch. The burglars didn't steal it after all. She didn't want the watch just sitting in a box, so she gifted it to her lawyer. The police were able to confirm that Herman hadn't met Dolly until several months after the murder. 

Dolly must have been hella persuasive to convince a man to give up their life to live in the attic and pretty much be her sex slave. She also got herself another man on the side, a movie producer named Ray Klumb and she got him to ditch the gun that was used in the murder of her first husband. Fred had loaned money to Ray Klumb and if he did this teensy little favor for Dolly, he didn't need to pay it back. She handed him a package that was shaped like a gun and told him to toss it in the La Brea tar pits. The La Brea tar pits in southern California are full of sticky, tar-like material that slowly trapped animals over time. It's a pond filled with hot tar that bubbles. Researchers have found saber-toothed cats, mastodons, bears, wolves, camels, birds, insects, human bones, and other artifacts in the pits. There is some controversy over the entrapment theory, I guess the way the bones got in the pit is up for debate, but either way, it's really interesting. Now remember, Otto flew out of the attic wielding two guns on the day of the murder. Dolly couldn't just have Roy Klumb ditching two guns because that might look suspicious, so she talked her neighbor into burying the other gun in his yard. 

It's believed that Dolly may have only been with Roy Klumb to convince him to ditch one of the guns. People think she just used him. He clearly knew there was some sketchy business going on because he went straight to the police as soon as she broke up with him. The police went to the tar pits and typically, if something goes in the pit, it doesn't come back out. When Ray went to toss the gun, he didn't throw it far enough, so the police found it on the edge of the pit. Dolly was brought in for questioning and she said that she found the gun after the murder and didn't want to get in trouble or have police thinking she did it, so she got rid of the gun. Both guns were so corroded that they couldn't really be tied back to Dolly or the murder. Since she was locked up, she had a very interesting problem. Someone still had to feed Otto in the attic. Dolly tells her lawyer lover, Herman, that he needed to buy groceries, then go to the house and tap on the ceiling of the bedroom closet so Otto would know he could come out. She told Herman that her vagabond brother lived in the attic. The lawyer lover is like ok, I could bring groceries to this vagabond brother. He heads over to the house and follows Dolly's instructions. Otto was so pumped to actually talk to another male or someone that wasn't Dolly, so he just spilled the tea and told Herman everything. 

Otto even admitted to what really happened on the night of the murder. He told Herman that there had been attempted break-ins recently, so he felt it was his responsibility to watch the house while Fred and Dolly were out and he just kept his gun on him. The couple had gone to a party and Otto could hear them fighting when they came back and he decided he was going to confront Fred. When he swooped out of the attic, he saw Dolly lying on the floor and Fred was standing over her. He said that Fred started moving towards him and he thought he was going to hurt him, so he shot him in self defense. After he staged the scene and locked Dolly in the closet, he put the closet key on the table so the police would find it and it would make it impossible for Dolly to have locked herself inside. Then, he hid in the attic and listened while the police did their investigation. After the murder, when Dolly refused to move Otto into the main house, it became very evident that she was his whole world, but he certainly wasn't hers. 

Herman was like, ok I'm going to stay with Dolly and you can just leave the attic and disappear from this situation. Otto Sanhuber moved to Canada and changed his name to Walter Klein and married another woman. Herman got Dolly released on bail and then he moved in with her and all charges against her were dropped......at least initially. Seven years later, things fizzled out between Dolly and Herman, so he began collecting information about the crime and went to the police after he moved out. When a story ran in the newspaper, her neighbor was like oh shit, so he dug up the gun in his yard and brought it to the police. Warrants were issued for Dolly's arrest again and they also needed to find Otto, the man from the attic. A jury found Otto guilty of manslaughter which is a bit surprising to me since he was basically a slave in her attic. If a man kept a woman in an attic as a sex slave, this would be an entirely different story. The trial became known as the Bat-man case since Otto had was kept in a cave/attic. The newspaper headlines also referred to him as the attic lover, the phantom, and ghost in the garrett. The statute of limitations on manslaughter had actually run out though, so Otto was free. Dolly went to trial on a conspiracy charge, but it was a hung jury, so she was free. The indictment was dropped in 1936 and she settled down with Ray Bert Hendrik, her partner of 30 years. They got married when she was 80 years old and she died two weeks later.

Fun fact: This story inspired a film, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom, and a movie starring Neil Patrick Harris, The Man in the Attic. 


The La Brea Tar Pits Mystery | The Institute for Creation Research (icr.org)

The Story Of Dolly Oesterreich, The Woman Who Kept Her Secret Lover In The Attic (allthatsinteresting.com)

Walburga Oesterreich | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers

Watch A Crime to Remember Season 4 | Prime Video (amazon.com)