There are plenty of crazy love affair and murder stories, but you probably haven’t heard one like this before. The case of Walburga “Dolly” Oesterreich may sound like the plot of a twisted episode of a soap opera, but it really did happen. Walburga “Dolly” Oesterreich had an extramarital affair, and in order to keep it a secret from her husband and her noisy neighbors, she had her lover move into the attic of her and her husband’s home. You can’t make this stuff up.
The bizarre case happened in the early 20th century, which made it a much more scandalous case than it would be now, considering the s*xually-conservative climate of the time period. The public was appalled by the details they read in the Los Angeles Times, who were quick to print articles, month after month, on an astonishing and peculiar story that seemed like it came straight out of a pulp novel.
The “Bat Man,” as Dolly’s lover was called, was described as “an immoral s*xual deviant with a freaky penchant for attic living.” Since then, the story of Dolly and her lover has been regarded as one of the strangest love stories ever and the couple has been regarded as one of the weirdest couples ever. If you want to see for yourself just how strange this couple really was, then check out this list of 15 things to know about Dolly Oesterreich, the wife who kept her lover in the attic.
15. Dolly Was Unhappy In Her Marriage
Walburga “Dolly” Korschel, born approx. 1880, was a German immigrant who grew up living on a Midwestern farm in poverty. She managed to escape her poor plight in life after she married a wealthy factory owner by the name of Fred Oesterreich. His factory produced women’s clothing—more specifically, kitchen aprons.
The Oesterreichs seemed like a normal and happy couple, but there was a lot going on behind closed doors that others didn’t know about. Fred was a sullen man and a heavy drinker at that; and the couple quarrelled often. Moreover, Dolly wanted s*x a lot more than Fred, which left Dolly feeling unsatisfied in her marriage. After that, she started actively pursuing an affair with someone who could satisfy her needs.
14. Dolly Found A Lover At Her Husband’s Factory
The man who Dolly set her sights on to satisfy her needs was one of the employees at her husband’s factory. He was a 17-year-old sewing machine repairman by the name of Otto Sanhuber. Dolly was in her early 30’s when she found him.
One day, she called her husband’s factory to complain about a sewing machine that needed fixing and specifically asked for Sanhuber to come over and fix it. Imagine his shock when Dolly showed up to answer the door wearing nothing but a robe and stockings. Sanhuber was never good around the opposite s*x so he was probably flustered by Dolly’s appearance.
13. Dolly And Her Lover Started A Clandestine Affair
It was from then on that Dolly and Otto began a covert affair. At first, they started meeting in hotels and sometimes at Otto’s boarding house, but they later moved their flings into the Oesterreich household while Fred was at work.
It didn’t take long for the neighbors to notice how often Otto was entering and leaving the house and come to their own conclusions concerning Dolly’s fidelity. Dolly had told friends and acquaintances that Sanhuber was just a “vagabond half-brother.” Her suspicious neighbors told Fred about his wife’s infidelity, and he confronted her about it.
12. Dolly Moves Otto Into The Attic
Dolly told Otto about the nosy neighbors and their suspicions, coming to the realization that Otto could no longer come and go as he pleased. Sooner or later, her husband would discover that his wife was having an affair right under his nose and her liaison with Otto would have to come to an end.
So, she came up with an unusual idea for Otto to move into the attic of the Oesterreich home. Otto would be nearby at all times, and she would never have to deal with her nosy neighbors telling on her to her husband. It was a bizarre idea. But, strangely enough, Otto agreed to it. He was so in love with Dolly at this point that he accepted the plan wholeheartedly because it meant that he could be even closer to his lover than before.
11. Dolly Kept Her Lover Hidden
If you’ve been in the attic of your home, you might wonder how Otto Sanhuber could be comfortable living in something like that. After all, the Los Angeles Times described Sanhuber’s lodging as nothing more than a “nest.”
The only things he had in there were a mattress, a chamber pot, and an oil lamp. Otto brought with him some writing and reading materials so he could keep himself occupied when he wasn’t with his lover. He called himself Oesterreich’s “s*x slave.” But Otto wasn’t just used for s*x.
When he wasn’t with his lover, he cooked the food, swept the floors, washed the dishes, made the beds, and pretty much handled all of the domestics around the home. It was a system that worked out well for the two lovers.
10. Dolly Cared For Otto So He Was More Than Content With Living In The Attic
Otto was happy with his new living arrangements because he was “near the only person in the entire world who cared whether Otto Sanhuber lived or died.” And, he got free room and board. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to continue his job as a sewing machine repairman, but he wasn’t hung up over that.
Sanhuber had always wanted to be a writer—which was the reason why he brought writing and reading materials with him when he moved in—and his new abode gave him plenty of time to hone his skills. Dolly regularly brought him books from the library, and he wrote pulp fiction stories under a pen name, having some of his work printed in literary magazines, thanks to Dolly.
9. Dolly Kept Otto’s Secret Home A Secret From Her Husband For Ten Years
For ten years, Dolly kept Otto a secret from her husband. When the Oesterreichs made the decision to leave their Milwaukee home and move to Los Angeles, Dolly had to move her lover with them. She made sure the home she and her husband were moving to had an attic for Otto and had Otto move in first before she and Fred did. She put a padlock on the door and kept the key with her.
When Fred inquired about the padlock, Dolly said she wanted to keep her furs safe. Otto had to try and be as quiet as he could at night lest Fred hear. But occasionally, Fred would hear noises from the attic. He also noticed some of his cigars going missing, but he would have never guessed there was an occupant in his own home he didn’t know about.
8. Dolly And Otto Fell More In Love As Dolly’s Marriage Fell More Apart
As mentioned above, Dolly and Fred Oesterreich fought very often. After he and his wife left Milwaukee for the sunny city of Los Angeles, Fred’s drinking habits increased until he was drinking all the time. He was either quiet and gloomy or loud and belligerent.
Their frequent fights would sometimes escalate into violence since Fred was a man known to be vicious towards women whenever he was drunk. It was probably a good thing that the Oesterreichs never had any children to hear their heated quarrels. But as Dolly and her husband grew even more apart, she and Otto grew even closer to one another to make up for what Dolly was missing in her marriage. Otto was s*xually robust by this point, and he and his lover were more passionately in love than ever.
7. Dolly’s Husband Is Murdered
Dolly and Otto successfully managed to keep their affair a secret from her husband for ten years. But, as they say, nothing is kept under the hat forever. The Oesterreichs got into yet another awful row one evening. But this one was particularly louder than their previous ones, which caught Sanhuber’s attention. During the fight, he heard a loud thud and Dolly screaming. He thought Fred had hit Dolly but really she had just slipped on a throw rug.
It didn’t matter, however. Otto charged down the stairs with .25 caliber pistols in tow. Fred must have looked startled when he saw another man rushing down the stairs like that. He quickly flew into a rage and tackled Sanhuber, grappling with him. Either one or both of the guns went off and Otto pulled the trigger twice more, fatally shooting Fred three times.
6. Dolly And Otto Staged The Murder To Look Like A Robbery
With Fred Oesterreich dead, Dolly and Otto quickly got to work to cover up his murder. They made the scene look like a botched robbery. Otto took Fred’s fancy diamond watch and Dolly hid in the bedroom closet. Otto locked her inside and placed the key outside the door before he returned to the attic to hide.
Neighbors who heard the gunfire alerted police to the scene where Dolly told them burglars murdered her husband after he refused their demands. The detectives investigating the case were highly suspicious of Dolly—especially since Fred Oesterreich was killed by a .25 caliber pistol, a weapon that not many armed robbers would carry—but they were unable to explain how Dolly could kill her husband and lock herself in the closet from the outside, as the detectives were unaware of Otto’s presence in the house.
5. Dolly Had Multiple Lovers Throughout Her Life
After her husband died, Dolly inherited his money and purchased a new house in the neighborhood, one with a large attic for Otto to move into. Despite Fred being dead and there no longer being any reason for Sanhuber to remain in the attic, the relationship between the two lovers had morphed into one founded on dominance and submission over the years.
Dolly developed another relationship with the attorney in charge of settling her husband’s affairs, Herman S. Shapiro. She also pursued a relationship with another lover, a businessman by the name of Roy H. Klumb, who she asked to dispose of one of the guns (a neighbor disposed of the other gun for her). She told them that she possessed a gun much like the one that murdered her husband, and she didn’t want the authorities to think she was the culprit.
4. Dolly Did Herself In
No one would have figured out the truth of Fred Oesterreich’s death had his wife not made a few slip-ups. For one thing, she gave Shapiro the diamond watch which was thought to have been stolen in the robbery. When Shapiro recognized the watch her late husband wore, she told her lover that she discovered it underneath a seat cushion and didn’t think she needed to tell the police.
The police eventually figured out that Shapiro possessed the watch, and Klumb admitted to disposing one of the guns following a messy breakup between him and Dolly. Dolly was arrested, but the authorities still couldn’t explain how she was able to lock herself in the closet and the charges were subsequently dropped.
3. Dolly Was Acquitted Of Murder Charges
After Dolly was arrested, she had to undergo hearings that dragged on for months. Chief Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts and Deputy District Attorney Harold L. Davis did their best to uncover a motive for why Dolly would have murdered her husband and find an explanation for how she could have locked herself in the closet and leave the key outside the door. However, they couldn’t come up with anything. To add to that, both guns were corroded and heavily damaged, leaving it impossible to tell which one was the murder weapon—if one was even the weapon. During the lengthy hearings, Dolly was struck ill and was reported to be on the verge of death. She was released on bail and all charges against her were dropped.
2. Otto Later Remarried
During the hearings, Oesterreich told Shapiro about her “vagabond half-brother” in the attic and asked him to bring food to him, as she was unable to do so herself since she was in jail. Shapiro traveled to the Oesterreich home to fulfill his mission.
Sanhuber hadn’t talked to anyone in over ten years besides Dolly, and he was eager to have some company, so he told Shapiro all about his and Dolly’s s*xual escapades. Shapiro was understandably disgusted, and he promptly threw Sanhuber out of the house.
Otto didn’t want to be charged with murder after the newspapers picked up Dolly’s story, and her life spiraled out of control, so he fled to Canada, changed his name to Walter Klein, and married a woman there.
1. Dolly Lived Out Her Years In Happiness
Shapiro moved in with Dolly into her home and they continued their relationship. However, much like her previous marriage to her late husband, the relationship was volatile and tempestuous. The relationship continued on for seven more years until the two were forced to go their separate ways.
A bitter Shapiro told the police all about Otto Sanhuber, who just happened to have moved back to Los Angeles recently. He and Dolly were arrested and charged with murder and conspiracy, respectively. Otto was found guilty, but a year had passed since the statute of limitations had expired. So, he had to be released. Dolly’s trial resulted in a hung jury due to lack of convincing evidence.
Sanhuber disappeared off the radar after that. Dolly found another lover who she lived the rest of her life with until she died peacefully in 1961.