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Feb. 23, 2022

Episode 10: The Attic Love Triangle

Episode 10: The Attic Love Triangle

Los Angeles 1922, police report to a residence after neighbors reported hearing gunfire. Authorities enter the house and are shocked to see a man bleeding on the ground from gunshot wounds. As they are taking it all in, they hear something faint. They listen and can hear a woman’s voice coming from the closet. An officer slowly approaches and opens the door. Sitting on the floor is a woman who was locked in the closet with an incredible tale to tell. The neighborhood and even officers suspected Mrs Dolly Oesterreich for years of killing her husband but no one suspected her much younger lover who had been hiding in their attic for 20 years.

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Hello and welcome to the eastern crime zone, a show about investigations of real true crime cases. 


I'm your host, Cassie Malay, and every week I’ll take you through new details about cases you're familiar with and completely new cases you've never heard of before.


If there's a case you're interested in learning more about, please head over to my website, easterncrimezone.com, and leave me a voicemail or send me a DM on instagram @easterncrimezone.


(Episode Teaser) 


Coming up in today’s episode:


Los Angeles 1922, police report to a residence after neighbors reported hearing gunfire. Authorities enter the house and are shocked to see a man bleeding on the ground from gunshot wounds. As they are taking it all in, they hear something faint. They listen and can hear a woman’s voice coming from the closet. An officer slowly approaches and opens the door. Sitting on the floor is a woman who was locked in the closet with an incredible tale to tell. The neighborhood and even officers suspected Mrs Dolly Oesterreich for years of killing her husband but no one suspected her much younger lover who had been hiding in their attic for 20 years.


Grab your notepad, get settled in, and let's dive into another “Cassie File”..


The lurid tale begins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and centers around a rather seductive housewife named Dolly Oesterreich.  Born Walburga Korschel, in 1880, Dolly, as she was nicknamed, was married to Fred Oesterreich, a well-off apron manufacturer. Like many others in that city, they were mostly of German heritage and appreciated strong beer and robust German meals. Both were blond and had a zoftig appearance. They were only a few years apart in age, she 36 and he 40, but they had significantly different personality types for all they had in common. Fred was grumpy and drank too much. Dolly had an insatiable sexual appetite and Fred just wasn’t cutting it for her in the bedroom.  Dolly berated her husband so loudly and violently about his conjugal deficiencies that neighbors occasionally were compelled to summon the police.


She quickly set her sights on one of Fred’s factory workers, 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber.  


Otto Sanhuber was a mee k, painfully shy, friendless, small, and modestly built adolescent. Sanhuber himself had no idea how old he was. He estimated his age to be between 16 and 17 years old. He believed he was of German Jewish ancestry and had been raised as an orphan. He was most likely born with the surname Weir, but he was adopted into the Sanhuber family.


One uncharacteristically hot autumn day in 1913, Dolly asked Fred to send one of the factory’s repairmen to the house to fix her sewing machine. When 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber knocked on the Oesterreichs’ ornate double entry door, Dolly, then 33, answered wearing stockings, a silk robe, and nothing else. In the master bedroom the dusty old Singer machine remained untouched; the same could not be said for Mrs. Oesterreich.

However, things could not go on as they were indefinitely.  A neighbor began noticing the frequency of young Otto’s comings and goings and mentioned them to Fred Oesterreich.  A suspicious Fred confronted Dolly. In response, she calmly asserted that such stories were all lies.


 So Dolly came up with the only viable resolution – to move her lover into her home’s attic.


There was a small cubbyhole in the attic, conveniently above the master bedroom. It could only be entered via a small trap door in the ceiling.  Dolly decorated it with a cot, a table, a chair, and other household items. She told Otto to quit his job at the apron factory. And one day when Fred was safely out of the way, she installed her lover in his new apartment, right above the Oesterreich bed.


 Sanhuber didn’t mind. He had no family to speak of and, as the LA Times reported in 1930, he said he grew to love Dolly “as a boy loves his mother.”


 Poor Otto remained hidden away there for five years, never venturing outside during that time and only leaving his rooftop confines in the daylight hours for the purposes of satisfying Dolly – and to help her clean the house.  Dolly brought Sanhuber books from the library to help him bide his time, which, oddly, led to a writing career.  Otto began penning articles and stories, several of which Dolly had published for him (under a pen name) in pulp magazines.


Pulp fiction magazines were the descendants of the 19th-century “penny dreadful.” For 10 cents readers could satisfy their prurient curiosities with tales of sex, murder, addiction, and madness. Pulps like Argosy (1882-1978) were famous for cover art featuring half-dressed damsels in distress awaiting a rescue hero. Perhaps when Dolly answered the door in her flimsy silk robe, Sanhuber saw an opportunity to live his art.


Dolly put a padlock on the door to the attic and carried the key herself so Fred would not be able to slip up there.  Her husband asked about the padlock and she easily replied, “I want to keep my furs in a safe place.”


There was a distinct disadvantage to this arrangement.  Otto was now living directly above his lover and her husband.  He needed to be extra careful when he moved around lest he accidentally alert Fred to his presence. 


The position of the attic meant that Otto could hear the sounds of the woman he adored making love with her husband. After one such night of marital passion, a jealous Otto confronted Dolly.  She reminded him that she could not leave her husband since she had no saleable skills and no funds of her own.  She had to stay married and that meant she had to have sex with Fred.


Otto eventually agreed that he would not harass her about her marital lovemaking.


Fred, on the other hand, feared he was losing his sanity. He'd occasionally hear strange noises coming from the direction of the ceiling. Food he could swear he had seen just a short time before would suddenly be gone. His cigars began disappearing.


One evening, Fred was pottering in his garden and happened to look up – right at the window in his attic.  Dolly had repeatedly warned Otto not to go near that window but he had disobeyed this once and the two men may have looked directly at each other for just a split second before a panicked Otto pulled back. 


Dolly was able to somehow convince Fred that he needed to go to his doctor because he was imagining things. Fred agreed and told his wife that he would see a physician about his curious symptoms.  The physician advised Fred to take it easy and wrote out a prescription for a tranquilizer.


In 1910, writer and lover Otto Sanhuber had lived in the Oesterreich attic for about three years.  The couple decided to move and went to check into houses.  Dolly Oesterreich would only agree to a home with a convenient attic.  She may have told Fred she wanted a secure place for her beloved furs.


In the new residence Otto was not directly above the Oesterreich’s bedroom so he did not have to overhear the couple in their most intimate moments.  Fred also did not hear Otto clearing his throat or coughing.


The Oesterreich marriage continued to deteriorate.  Fred was drinking all the time.  He was by turns silent and depressed or loud and argumentative.  However, the seven-year-old love affair between Dolly and Otto was still going strong.  At approximately 24, Otto was sexually vigorous and he and Dolly were deeply in love.  He was also enjoying some success as a writer, penning stories that appeared in various pulps and that earned him and Dolly a few extra dollars.


In 1913, the odd family moved again and Otto took up residence in a fresh attic, bringing his little light, his cot and a chamber pot


The years passed with Fred becoming ever more of a grouch and his wife finding regular solace in her loving attic man. 


One late evening in 1918, a confrontation occurred.  The Oesterreichs were out at a party.  Fred and Dolly got into an argument and Fred went home in a huff, leaving his wife behind.  The aging factory owner strolled into his kitchen only to find a short, slim, very pale, 32-year-old man seated at the table, placidly enjoying a nice leg of lamb.


Little suspecting that he was dealing with an occupant of his own home, Fred Oesterreich tossed the much smaller man onto the street.


When Dolly came home from the party, her husband related the strange story of the man eating in their kitchen.  Fred had not been imagining things after all.


Otto spent an uncomfortable night sleeping out in the open.  After his unceremonious expulsion, Otto met up with Dolly.  Dolly advised Otto to move to Los Angeles and she would try to join him at a later time. 


Is this the end of the affair? Of course not.


After Otto went to LA, the two communicated through the post office box that had already been set up for sending and receiving Otto’s literary efforts.  Otto got a job as a porter in an apartment complex.  He did not particularly care for Los Angeles.  After spending so many years of his life in an attic, coming out only at night, the sunshine struck him with an unpleasant harshness.


In the meantime, Dolly was working on her husband, telling him that they ought to move to Los Angeles.  He was eventually convinced.  The couple stayed in a Los Angeles hotel while they looked for a house to buy.  It was not easy to find one acceptable to Dolly because few California homes had attics. While the Oesterreichs looked for a home, Dolly and Otto met in various cheap hotels for hookups.


Eventually, Dolly found a large, nice home with an attic on North St. Andrews Place in an affluent area.  Of course, Otto moved into the attic. Later, he would say that he was willing to live cooped up in attics “in order to be near the only person in the entire world who cared whether he lived or died.”  He resumed his life of making love to Dolly and doing housework during the day.  Since it was Prohibition, the couple also made bathtub gin.  At nights he continued to read and to write short stories that she would type and send off to publishers.

On August 22nd, 1922, their arrangement went south. fast.  That evening, Dolly and Fred got into a heated argument.  Then he heard a loud thud and the sound of Dolly screaming. Otto thought Fred was beating Dolly; actually, she had just slipped on a throw rug.   He grabbed two .25-caliber guns and rushed down the stairs. 


It is important to note at this point that Fred Oesterreich was never able to tell his version of the next events.  All we have to go on are the words of Dolly and Otto, plus the physical evidence.


According to the stories told by both Dolly and Otto, Fred recognized Otto as the culprit he had found in his home before, leisurely helping himself to a generous leg of lamb.  Flying into a rage, Fred tackled Otto, grabbing for the guns, then putting his hands around Otto’s neck.  One or both guns went off and a panicked Otto pulled the trigger again and again, shooting Fred a total of three times.


Otto believed they could make it appear that burglars had intruded into the family home and murdered the husband. For once, he gave the orders and a frightened Dolly complied. Dolly and Otto then staged the scene to look like a robbery gone wrong, with Otto locking Dolly into a closet before, once again, hiding himself away in the attic.  Police arrived onsite shortly thereafter thanks to a call from neighbors who heard the gunshots.  Figuring there was no way Dolly could have locked herself into the closet, the detectives bought her story hook, line and sinker.


Dolly inherited Fred’s substantial assets and subsequently moved to a new house (unfortunately, I am unsure of that home’s location).  Yes, this one had an attic, too.  And yes, Otto, once again, came along.  Despite the fact that Fred was now out of the picture and Otto no longer needed to hide, he inexplicably continued to live in Dolly’s attic and the two continued on as before.  The loss of Fred apparently left a hole in Dolly’s life, though, and she started seeing two men, her estate attorney, Herman Shapiro, and a businessman named Roy H. Klumb.  It was at this time that things began to awry.


For reasons unknown, Dolly gifted Herman with Fred’s diamond watch, which was supposedly stolen during the “robbery.”  Herman recognized it immediately, but Dolly explained the situation away, stating she found the watch underneath a seat cushion after the crime had taken place.  Around that same time, she asked Roy to discard of one of her rifles, saying it looked like the weapon that killed Fred and she didn’t want police to come across it and suspect her of the murder.  Roy, who was obviously a few eggs short of a dozen, obliged her request and tossed the gun into the La Brea Tar Pits.  Dolly then asked a neighbor, who was also obviously missing a few eggs, to get rid of the second rifle, and he obliged, as well, burying it in his backyard.


Roy didn’t take it lightly when Dolly later broke up with him (I swear, she must have been quite a woman!) and went straight to the police to tell them about the gun he had disposed of.  Detectives wound up uncovering it on July 12th, 1923, almost a year after the murder, and Dolly was subsequently arrested.  When her neighbor read about the arrest and the other rifle’s recovery in the newspaper, he dug up the gun he had buried and marched it straight down to the station.  Though neither weapon produced much evidence-wise due to deterioration, things only got worse for Dolly.  While she was in jail, she asked Herman, whom she was still seeing, to bring food to Otto, who remained squirreled away in the attic.  Herman was not thrilled upon meeting Otto and learning of his exploits with Dolly and demanded that he leave.  The attic-dweller headed to Canada and, amazingly, the charges against Dolly were soon dropped.  The story does not end there, though.


When Dolly and Herman broke up in 1930, he headed straight to the police to spill the beans, just as Roy had done seven years prior.  Dolly was arrested yet again, this time for conspiracy.  Otto, who had returned to L.A. by then, was also arrested, for Fred’s murder.  The arrests and subsequent trial became a media circus, with the press dubbing Otto the “Bat Man” and the “Bat Man of Los Angeles” due to his many years of attic dwelling. 


Otto's testimony is recorded. Otto described  an average day for him in the Los Angeles Oesterreich house in the years preceding the killing.  “I made up the beds [the couple was by then sleeping in separate bedrooms] and changed the linen about two times a week,” he said.  “They loved to sleep clean, and I made up the beds for them, and put away their clothes, and dusted Fred’s clothes, because he had some beautiful things, and I would keep them in order for him and dust them, and dust his shoes, you know, so he would look neat always.  And then I would wash the dishes if he wasn’t home, and if he was home he would wash them, and Mrs. Oesterreich would dry them, because I couldn’t then.  And I would get the vegetables clean, and they were clean – everybody praised her, how clean her things were; and scrubbed the floor and kept it clean, and kept the floor neat, you know – she loved to have a beautiful floor – and dusted it, you know.”


The Oedipal nature of the relationship was underlined when Otto spoke of the way he occasionally tried to manipulate Dolly.  Not having anything else at his disposal, he used refusing to eat as a weapon when the two had a dispute.


“It was sort of defense,” he told the court.  “I had no other weapon.  I did it deliberately.    I would go in my attic and I would stay there, I would not come out except just when needed, and I would fast, I just wouldn’t eat anything, that is all, and I had peace.  Maybe it was foolish of me, but I did not – that was my best way of doing it – and she would begin to feel sorry for me, I think, and talk softly to me and bring me food, set it there.  Well, now, like in that house, at that little door, you know.

 Though the jury did wind up finding Otto guilty of manslaughter, because the seven-year statute of limitation had run out by the time of the verdict, he faced no jail time and walked away a free man.  After spending the better part of a decade living in an attic, though, something tells me he wouldn’t have minded jail much.  Dolly’s jury was miraculously hung and she, too, walked away with her freedom intact. 


 So what became of the two?  Otto changed his name to Walter Klein and married a woman named Matilda.  


Dolly found love with a man named Ray B. Hedrick, whom she dated for over thirty years before finally marrying him in 1961, less than two weeks before her death.