Every once in a while, a murder case comes along that is so strange it sounds like it was manufactured in a Hollywood writer's room. But, in the case of Walbruga "Dolly" Oesterreich, her scandalous tale involved everything from a weird secret affair to a shocking murder, and it was all 100% true.
Young Dolly OesterreichMurderpedia
Walburga "Dolly" Oesterreich, a German immigrant, was brought up on a Midwestern farm and lived most of her life in poverty. However, all of that changed when she married a wealthy factory owner, Fred Oesterreich, in the 1910s. Fred Oesterreich made most of his money by manufacturing women's clothing, specifically women's kitchen aprons. He had a large factory in Milwaukee, and the couple lived there for several years before moving to Los Angeles.
Dolly's Wealthy Husband, Fred OesterreichMurderpedia
On the surface, Fred and Dolly Oesterreich lived a pretty normal life. However, behind the scenes, Fred Oesterreich drank heavily and the couple fought a lot. Eventually, Dolly Oesterreich morphed into the stereotypical longing housewife, and started to actively seek out an affair. She set her sights on a 17-year-old sewing machine repairman who worked at her husband's Milwaukee factory, Otto Sanhuber.
Dolly Spots Her Lover At Her Husband's FactoryThe Public I
Sanhuber was tall, lanky, and quickly became entangled in Dolly Oesterreich's life. The affair began when Dolly Oesterreich called her husband's office complaining about her broken sewing machine, and Sanhuber showed up at the house to repair it. Dolly Oesterreich greeted Sanhuber at the door in a sexy robe and stockings. From then on, Sanhuber regarded himself as her "sex slave."
The Couple Begins A Sordid AffairMurderpedia
The two carried out their affair in the daytime, meeting at hotels and at then eventually at the house while Oesterreich's husband was at work. Before long, the neighbors got suspicious and started to make comments to Fred Oesterreich about his wife's faithfulness. Dolly Oesterreich tried to paint her relationship with young Sanhuber as something more innocent than it really was—she told friends and acquaintances that Sanhuber was her "vagabond half-brother."
Sanhuber Moves Into The Milwaukee House AtticMurderpedia
Ultimately, Dolly Oesterreich knew that she had to concoct a clever plan to keep her lover close without anyone policing her morals. Her ultimate solution was to move Sanhuber into the attic. Sanhuber was more than willing to throw his life away and retire to the Oesterreich's dusty attic. He was obsessed with Oesterreich, and as Addison Nugent wrote for Atlas Obscura, he used the opportunity to develop a pulp fiction writing career. When the couple decided to move to Los Angeles, Dolly Oesterreich made certain they found a house with an attic. Homes with attics were rare in the city, but they managed to find one and Dolly Oesterreich had Sanhuber move into the home before the couple arrived in California.
Oesterreich Creepily Keeps Her Lover SecludedMurderpedia
Sanhuber's attic abode was as depressing as it sounds—the Los Angeles Times described it as a nest, outfitted with nothing but a mattress, chamber pot, and an oil lamp. When he moved in, all he brought was some meager writing and reading materials to keep him occupied whenever he wasn't satisfying Dolly Oesterreich's every whim. His duties went beyond "sex slave" and crossed over into the territory of "regular slave." When he wasn't in bed with Oesterreich, he was coking, cleaning, making the beds, washing dishes, and taking care of Oesterreich's domestic chores.
The Bat Man's Los Angeles 'Nest'Murderpedia
Additionally, he dreamed about writing pulp fiction stories, and even had some of his work published in magazines under a pen name. However, Sanhuber had little to no money and according to Cecilia Rasmussen writing in the Los Angeles Times, Dolly Oesterreich never gave him any cash larger than nickels or dimes. Presumably she felt her occasional companionship was payment enough—and actually kept him padlocked in the attic so her husband wouldn't go tromping upstairs and discover his gross animal-like nest.
The Oesterreichs Pose For A Photo The Day Of Fred's DeathMurderpedia
Unsurprisingly, the affair between Dolly Oesterreich and Sanhuber didn't last forever. One evening, the Oesterreichs got into a terrible argument, and Sanhuber barreled down the stairs with two .25 caliber pistols. He got into a scuffle with Fred Oesterreich, and ended up killing him by shooting him three times. Fred Oesterreich must have been stunned to see Sanhuber descend from the depths of his cave; ever since the couple had moved from Milwaukee, Fred Oesterreich had complained about random items (especially cigars) going missing and he often heard things going bump in the night. All the while, his wife had been philandering with what the Los Angeles Times called "the ghost in the garret."
The Couple Stages A RobberyStrange Co.
After Fred Oesterreich died, Dolly Oesterreich and Sanhuber got to work staging the murder to make it look like a robbery. They removed Fred Oesterreich's diamond watch, and Sanhuber locked Dolly Oesterreich in the closet and threw away the key. Then, he scurried back up to the attic to hide, and ultimately fled the scene of the crime before police discovered his presence. For years the murder remained unsolved, and the police were highly suspicious of Oesterreich, but couldn't figure out how she might have killed her husband if she were locked in the closet.
Oesterreich's Affairs, Guns, And FavorsMurderpedia
In her true siren-like ways, Oesterreich ended up seducing her lawyer, Herman Shapiro, and had a few slip-ups that made him grow increasingly suspicious of her. First, he found out she still had her husband's watch, which was supposed to have been stolen in the robbery. Before long, the police caught on and also found the watch, along with two .25 calliber pistols that Oesterreich had somehow convinced her neighbors to hide. Oesterreich was placed in jail, and suddenly there was no one to feed scraps to her hidden lover.
Shaprio Discovers The Weirdo In The AtticMurderpedia
Oesterreich persuaded Shapiro to return to the home and feed her lover Sanhuber while she was incarcerated, and for a brief moment Shapiro was actually entranced enough with Oesterreich that he did it. However, that trance was quickly broken when he met Sanhuber (shown here) and started digging into their weird relationship. He discovered that he was the first person, other than Oesterreich, that Sanhuber had spoken to in over 10 years. He promptly evicted the "Bat Man" and broke up with Oesterreich.
Sanhuber Changes His Name And Remarriesmurderpedia
When the papers got ahold of the story, Dolly Oesterreich's life went off the rails. Sanhuber, fearing a murder charge, escaped the country, changed his name to Walter Klein, and actually married another woman in Canada. Mrs. Klein likely had an interesting reaction when her husband fled again, back to Los Angeles, and ended up getting caught and put on trial for the murder of Fred Oesterreich. Although Sanhuber was arrested and convicted for manslaughter, he was let off the hook because of the statute of limitations. Dolly Oesterreich also got off pretty easy when her trial resulted in a hung jury and the charges were dropped in 1936.
The Public Is Creeped Out By Sanhuber's Attic DwellingThe Public I
The fact that Dolly Oesterreich and Sanhuber both got away with murder is appalling, and the two went down in history as one of the weirdest couples ever. Nugent describes the public reaction to Sanhuber best, stating the general public viewed him as "an immoral sexual deviant with a freaky penchant for attic living." The term "Bat Man" wasn't associated with a superhero just yet, and Sanhuber sulked off into hiding after the whole event. Dolly Oesterreich lived the rest of her life with a new lover, and died peacefully in 1961.