Stir-Crazy? At Least Your Secret Lover Didn’t Lock You In the Attic for Ten Years

Dolly Oesterreich and her lover, Otto Sanhuber, in middle age.

In the early 1900s a beautiful young German immigrant named “Dolly” Korschel (birth name Walburga) met and married her boss, Fred Oesterreich, a wealthy factory owner. Raised dirt poor on a downtrodden Midwestern farm, affluent and secure Fred was theoretically a great match for Dolly, one of the lowly staffers who worked for Fred in his Milwaukee warehouse. In reality he was a pretty disappointing partner, however, a functional alcoholic and workaholic who newspapers described as “dour,” and not overly concerned with his new wife’s needs.

A few years into the “meh” marriage Dolly met Otto Sanhuber, age 17, the repairs boy in Fred’s apron factory, when Otto was sent to fix a broken sewing machine at the couple’s home. Dolly, then 26 and apparently sex-starved, welcomed the teenager in grand pulp novella fashion wearing only a silk robe, stockings, and perfume. This presentation had the desired effect on the repair “man,” then a virgin who had never had much success with girls. This seduction of Otto by the lonely housewife then snowballed from a few trysts a week — ones which nosy Karens in the neighborhood starting asking about — and into an affair so intense Dolly moved Otto into the attic of the home she shared with Fred.

Without Fred knowing.

If you’re now picturing a chic, “featured Airbnb listing” attic apartment where Otto and Dolly had sun-drenched afternoon delights under a low, slanting ceiling, you’re doing it wrong.

This was very much a “covertly hiding my lover in the attic” situation. Otto reportedly spent his nights hidden away, reading books by candlelight and writing erotic adventure stories. The attic was furnished with an oil lamp, chamber pot, a mattress on the floor, and — once he saved enough money to buy it himself — a typewriter.

Otto’s days were considerably better, spent sneaking downstairs to brew bathtub gin and roll around in bed with Dolly. (Sometimes he helped her with the housekeeping too.) But he never left the house, had no friends, and worked no job, leaving him utterly dependent on Dolly while living in fear of being caught. Dolly even padlocked the door to keep Fred out, telling her husband it was to “keep anyone from being able to steal the good furs” if there was a break in.

The Milwaukee home where Fred was hidden in the attic.

This went on for years, even through a relocation to Los Angeles in 1918. Dolly, distressed at the idea of losing her love, had Fred purchase a Sunset Boulevard home with an attic suitable to stash Otto and Otto’s Vitamin D Deficiency in. And so the scandal continued on in sunny California right under (and above) Fred’s nose, until the disastrous night of August 22, 1922.

That evening Fred and Dolly arrived home arguing, a quarrel that escalated until it was so menacing Otto rushed downstairs with a .25 pistol in each hand to defend his love. Fred, as anyone would if their former employee who was sleeping with their wife WHILE secretly living rent free upstairs in a rental market as expensive as Los Angeles’ appeared in their bedroom, flipped out at the sight. Fred charged at Otto, Otto discharged his weapon, and when it was done Fred Oesterreich lay dead on the floor, one bullet in his head and two in his chest.

Knowing neighbors had surely heard the shots, Otto shoved Dolly in the closet and locked the door, then returned to the attic with the murder weapon. When police arrived on the scene Dolly claimed a burglar had attacked them, locking her in the closet before killing her husband and stealing valuables. Skeptical of her story but totally unable to prove her wrong, the police let her go and ruled Fred’s death part of a robbery gone wrong.

The story could end here, with Otto coming downstairs free to love his newly widowed longtime partner in captivity. But no, nope, and nah. Here things get even weirder.

THE PLOT THICKENS

Following Fred’s murder Dolly moved into a new house. And indeed devoted Otto came with her, moving — wait for it — AGAIN into the attic, STILL in secret.

This time the secret was being kept from Dolly’s new boyfriend, Herman Shapiro, the estate lawyer a “bereft” Dolly had hired to handle her recently deceased husband’s affairs.

But practicing law kept Herman away from Dolly most days and some nights, however, so Dolly went and got herself ANOTHER secret lover in addition to Otto, this one named Roy Klumb. (Newspapers would later refer to him as her “Basement Lover,” which is both clever and gross.) Roy, like Harold and Fred before him, had zero idea Otto was a few feet away, separated only by ceiling, every time he spent the night in Dolly’s bed. Our unlikely femme fatale even got Klumb to dump the gun which killed her husband in the La Brea tar pits, saying it reminded her of the murder and needed to be destroyed.

This turned out to be a poor choice for Dolly — not her first or last, but perhaps her biggest. The widow ultimately broke up with Roy a few months after the tar pit incident and, vengefully, Roy tipped off the police. They dredged the pits and did indeed find the murder weapon, corroded and damaged but none the less intact.

Upon collecting the discarded weapon, LAPD arrested Dolly.

Dolly in jail.

Dolly soon phoned Herman with what had to be THE most bizarre call he’d receive his entire life. She was, she explained, being investigated for murder, oh and P.S. would he mind picking up groceries and leaving them outside her attic for THE GROWNASS MAN living in it?

Yes, really. She didn’t mention the whole “I’m banging the grownass man living in the attic” part though, giving a flimsy excuse about poor Otto being her vagabond half-brother who’d fallen on hard times and was just passing through town. Herman brought snacks to Otto, explaining Dolly had been arrested but never mentioning what else she had said. The two began talking, and soon Otto — who at this point hadn’t had a proper conversation with anyone but Dolly in years — was pouring out the truth to a shocked Herman Shapiro.

In perhaps the weirdest turn of this entire batshit story, meeting his accused murderess girlfriend’s secret attic sex slave was NOT a dealbreaker for Herman. (An indicator of just how ethically flexible most lawyers can be.) He told Otto it was time to leave the state, bailed out Dolly, and then moved with her into the house.

Go back and read that again.

Call us prudes, but choosing to settle down and nest with the paramour who called from jail asking us to please feed the codependent sub locked in the attic definitely wouldn’t be OUR choice.

Also? Poor Otto! After ten+ years in an attic and murdering his lover’s husband for her, this man who hadn’t been outside in years was out on his ass without so much as a letter of referral. He ultimately fled to Canada, changing his name to Walter and trying to put the whole sordid nightmare behind him.

Dolly made it out of that hairy moment exceptionally well, for the record. She retained 1/3rd of her total lovers, and because the gun was too damaged to definitively link her to a crime Los Angeles dropped its case against her. All in all, not a bad showing.

But 7 years later, in 1930, Dolly’s luck ran out when she and Herman finally split. Her newest ex headed right to the police and spilled the whole story. This time Dolly and Otto were both arrested, she on conspiracy and Otto for the murder of Fred.

Once the media got word of the reopened case and the salacious new details about Otto were released, hardly a person in Los Angeles breathed who didn’t know the story of Dolly and her “Bat Man.” Readers were enthralled by “The Garret Ghost” and the “Cave Man,” just a handful of the degrading nicknames reporters bestowed upon Otto.

“Nothing in fiction is more dramatic than the story of the sudden quarrel in the hallway, the popping out of an armed jack-in-the-box, the struggle, the slaying, the locking of Mrs. Oesterreich in a closet with the key outside and the mysterious disappearance of the slayer back into his cubbyhole,” wrote The LA Times in 1930. “Yes, it must be admitted fiction has been outdone again.”

Humiliating testimony and the Assistant District Attorney’s commentary on the relationship between Dolly and Otto — who had actually met a nice woman and married her after fleeing the attic — painted Otto as an emasculated servant, cooking and scrubbing the house for Dolly in addition to being her perverted sex toy.

It is possible some details were also exaggerated by Otto’s own legal team, as his lawyers argued he committed the murder while under extreme emotional duress as a slave…an argument which may have played well in these more progressive times, but certainly didn’t in 1930s America.

Ultimately, outside of a media frenzy and months of great tabloid reading, little came of either case. Otto was found guilty of manslaughter, but with the statute of limitations up on his offense was freed after the verdict. He and his wife disappeared into obscurity as soon as they were allowed to depart L.A.

Dolly and the crack team of shark lawyers she was able to hire using her inheritance from Fred conjured a hung jury, and she too was released without any consequences. She remarried a few years after the case, keeping her second husband until her peaceful death from old age in 1961.

Dolly and her lawyers.

We true-crime-and-weird-history-lovers at Hottest Hell Tours think that all things considered a creative, persuasive, sexually liberated freak like Dolly would have been very happy, even welcome, here in our native New Orleans. Her wild story could have never happened in our city, of course — heat stroke is, like, a THING, and the chances of Otto surviving for 8 summers in the tiiiiiiny, brutally baking, termite-infested crawl spaces under a double-shotgun roof are somewhere between “nope” and “not a shot in Hell.” But we still wish this was a true crime tale NOLA could call it’s own. (Almost as much as we hope Otto found some true partnership in the second half of his life. Toxic relationships are the worst, right?)

But one thing is certain: If you thing you’ve got it bad having to hang out inside for 6 piddly weeks of quarantine? You need to grow up.

This piece originally appeared on the blog of true crime and history tour company Hottest Hell. For more utterly weird pieces of history, click here.

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Chronically chilled F.M.H.C., research assistant, nutrition witch, and hEDS/CIPO patient. You can find more of my work at www.patreon.com/chronicallychill.

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Kimberly Kaye

Kimberly Kaye

Chronically chilled F.M.H.C., research assistant, nutrition witch, and hEDS/CIPO patient. You can find more of my work at www.patreon.com/chronicallychill.

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