Bring back some good or bad memories


June 29, 2016

The Strange and True Case of Dolly Oesterreich, the Married Woman Who Kept Her Secret Lover, Lived in the Attic Like a "Bat Man" for Years

In April 1930, the Los Angeles Times began publishing what would end up being months’ worth of eye-popping details from an exceedingly strange court case. It involved a “comely” woman named Dolly, her murdered husband, and her lover, a man known as the “garret ghost” who, at Dolly’s behest, lived a “bat-like life in hidden rooms.”

The story of how the three were intertwined is worthy of the era’s most lurid pulp novels.

A newspaper clipping from the time.

Walburga "Dolly" Oesterreich (c.1880-1961) was an American housewife, married to a wealthy textile manufacturer. She gained notoriety for her bizarre 10-year affair with Otto Sanhuber which culminated in the shooting death of her husband. The story inspired both a feature film, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom, and a made-for-TV movie starring Neil Patrick Harris, The Man in the Attic.

Dolly Oesterreich first became friendly with 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber around 1913 and described him as her "vagabond half-brother." The two quickly became lovers and met clandestinely at Sanhuber's boarding room or at a nearby hotel. They also arranged trysts at Dolly's home but, when neighbors began noting Otto's increasingly frequent comings and goings and alerted her husband, Dolly suggested to Otto that he quit his job and secretly move into the Oesterreichs' upstairs attic to allay any further suspicions. He readily agreed to the arrangement. Not only would this put him in closer proximity to his lover but it would also give him time to pursue his dream of writing pulp fiction stories. Sanhuber would later describe himself as Dolly's "sex slave".

Dolly's husband, Fred, remained unaware of the new "boarder", though on several occasions he came close to discovering the deception. When the Oesterreichs moved to Los Angeles in 1918, Dolly had already sent Sanhuber on ahead to await their arrival. Dolly deliberately chose a new house with an attic (somewhat of a rarity in Los Angeles) and once again Otto moved in to resume their affair.

On August 22, 1922, after overhearing a loud argument between the Oesterreichs and believing Dolly to be in danger of physical harm, Sanhuber came rushing down from the attic, a pair of .25 caliber pistols in hand. In the ensuing struggle, Sanhuber shot Fred Oesterreich three times, killing him. The two lovers then hastily staged the scene to look like a botched burglary. Sanhuber pocketed Fred's diamond watch while Dolly hid herself in a closet. Sanhuber had locked the closet door from the outside and tossed the key aside before returning to his attic refuge and this fact played a key role in frustrating police efforts to press murder charges against Dolly, despite their strong suspicions. But with no knowledge of Otto Sanhuber's long-time presence in the house, they were hard-pressed to explain how Dolly could have killed her husband while locked in a closet.

Sanhuber remained at large for eight years, eventually moving to Canada, changing his name to Walter Klein and marrying another woman before returning to Los Angeles again. In 1930, after a falling out, Dolly's personal attorney (and current lover), Herman Shapiro, revealed to police what he knew about Otto Sanhuber's involvement in the murder. Sanhuber was arrested and convicted of manslaughter but later released because the statute of limitations had run out. Dolly was also arrested but her trial ended in a hung jury (most of the jurors leaning towards acquittal) and in 1936 the indictment against her was finally dropped. Dolly Oesterreich remained in Los Angeles until her death in 1961. Otto Sanhuber disappeared back into obscurity after his release from jail and nothing more is known about him.

Portrait of Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich wearing a hat.

Photo shows Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich at a party at her home on the afternoon of August 22, 1922. That night her husband, Fred Oesterreich, was slain.

1915-Los Angeles, California: Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich being arraigned in court on the alleged charges of murdering her husband. Left to right: Detective Cline, Mrs. Oesterreich, Judge Channing Follette, and a court reporter.

Photo of Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich wearing a plain dress, standing in front of a jail cell.

Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich is seen sitting at the edge of a lounger chair.

Portrait of Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich.

Portrait of Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich.

Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich (wearing white cap) is seen sitting amongst a group of people. All are interested spectators in the Breakfast Club suit. Spectators heard charter members of the club tell how it began through fellowship of men who enjoyed horseback riding.

Standing in the hallway from left to right: Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich, Attorney Jerry Geisler, Attorney Meyer M. Willner and Attorney Lecompte Davis.

This photo was taken by a "candid camera" inside the courtroom at the trial of Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich. Photo shows Mrs. Oesterreich and Attorney Meyer M. Willner.

Shown standing inside the district attorney's office is (l-r) Attorney Jerry Geisler, Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich and Attorney Meyer M. Willner.

Chief Investigator Matthews is shown questioning Walburga Oesterreich.

Mrs. Oesterreich sits in the middle of her attorneys. Left to right: Attorney Davis, Attorney Willner, Mrs. Oesterreich, Attorney Jerry Geisler, Chief defense counsel; Deputy District Attorney Thomas Russell and Deputy District Attorney James P. Costello. Mrs. Oesterreich is charged with murder in the death of her husband eight years ago at the house where Otto Sanhuber, her secret sweetheart, lived in the attic like a "batman."

Photo shows the fine brick mansion Mr. and Mrs. Oesterreich moved into in 1914. The house located at 593 Newport Avenue was the 3rd and last Milwaukee home purchased by the Oesterreich's. Once again, Sanhuber slipped into an attic hiding place. This is the place Otto testified, had a nice attic with stairway, plastered walls and hardwood floors.

Photo shows the newly-discovered secret "nest" where Otto Sanhuber is alleged to have lived in the Milwaukee home of Fred and Walburga Oesterreich. Mrs. Nels Bergo, now living there, shows the way to the secret room through a closet.

Photo of Otto Sanhuber. He lived in the Oesterreichs' attic for 10 years.

Photo shows Otto Sanhuber telling of his overwhelming love for the woman whose rich husband, Fred Oesterreich, he says he shot to death one night eight years ago.

Photo of Otto Sanhuber, known as "the bat man." He lived in the attic of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Oesterreich, and was supposedly Mrs. Oesterreich's lover. He faces court to enter his plea on charges of slaying Fred Oesterreich.

Police document shows fingerprints belonging to Walter Klein, also known as Otto Sanhuber.

Shown is a page from the grand jury confession of Otto Sanhuber.

Photo of Otto Sanhuber in court. Nicknamed the "bat man" because he lived in the attic of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Oesterreich and was Mrs. Oesterreich's lover. Testimony regarding scientific handwriting tests was introduced by the prosecution in an effort to show that Sanhuber once had a joint bank account with Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich, wife of the man he is accused of killing.

Photo shows Otto Sanhuber as he turns his face to the sunshine and a new life of freedom. Sanhuber was convicted of manslaughter in the slaying of Fred Oesterreich, but the statute of limitations sets his conviction on that charge aside.

Photo shows Bailiff Charles Bryant (left) and Otto Sanhuber descending the jail stairs. Sanhuber is escorted by the bailiff, on his way to testify in court.

Shown from left to right: Otto Sanhuber, Baliff Chas. Bryant and Attorney Orville Rogers standing outside of the old Oesterreich home.

Otto Sanhuber sits in court with his lawyers. From left to right: Sanhuber, Defense Attorneys Orville Rogers and Earle Wakeman and Deputy District Attorney Tom Russell.

Mrs. Sanhuber is seen embracing her husband, Otto, one last time before he's whisked into the grand jury to tell his story of his strange life and the slaying of Fred Oesterreich.

Otto Sanhuber is shown standing in front of a rose bush. Sanhuber considers his past as a "ghost of the garrets" and now goes by the name of Walter Klein. Pictured with him is his wife, Mrs. Matilda Klein.

Mrs. Matilda Klein, wife of Otto Sanhuber, is shown sitting on the witness stand.

Otto Sanhuber's wife, Matilda, is seen in a court conference with his attorneys, Orville Rogers (left) and Earl Wakeman at the Oesterreich murder trial.

Deputy District Attorney James P. Costello is shown examining a number of mysterious letters which Otto Sanhuber is said to have received while living under his alias of Walter Klein.

Photo of Mrs. Flora Rawson. On the night Fred Oesterreich was slain she had a woman's premonition "something dreadful had happened" and looked out of a window of her home. She says she saw the feet of a man slinking from the dining room to the living room in the Oesterreich home next door. At the trial of Otto Sanhuber, Mrs. Rawson testified regarding the mystery of the slinking feet.

Photo of Mrs. Cora A. Norton who also testified regarding the mystery of the slinking feet. She was a guest of Mrs. Flora Rawson the night Fred Oesterreich was slain.

Portrait of John L. Oesterreich, brother of slain man, Fred Oesterreich. He testified against his brothers' widow.

Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich and real estate man Ray B. Hedrick are shown taking out a wedding license.

From left to right: Ray B. Hedrick, Mrs. Walburga Oesterreich and Attorney Charles J. Rosin. The two men are shown helping Mrs. Oesterreich out of the marriage license bureau as she is shown almost collapsing. They had to get a wheelchair for her.

Photo of Fred Oesterreich.

Photo of Fred Oesterreich, whose slaying is one of Los Angeles' most famous mysteries.

(via Wikipedia and Murderpedia)



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10