Walburga Oesterreich

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Walburga Oesterreich, circa 1930.

Walburga "Dolly" Oesterreich (b. Walburga Korschel June 12, 1880 in Chicago, Illinois – April 8, 1961 in Los Angeles) was an American housewife, married to a wealthy textile manufacturer Fred William Oesterreich (Dec 8, 1877 - Aug 22, 1922)[1]. She gained notoriety for her bizarre 10-year affair with Otto Sanhuber (aka, Otto Weir; aka, Walter Klein, Jul 16, 1888 - ?)[2] which culminated in the shooting death of her husband.

The story inspired the feature film The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom as well as the made-for-TV movie The Man in the Attic, with Neil Patrick Harris, and was also the subject of Investigation Discovery's series A Crime to Remember in 2017 (Season 4 Episode 6, "Guess Who?").

Dolly Oesterreich, 33 at the time, first became friendly with 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber (Jul 16, 1888 - ?) [3] around 1913 and described him as her "vagabond half-brother."[4][5] 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.[5] When the Oesterreichs moved to Los Angeles in 1918, Dolly had already sent Sanhuber 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.[5]

On August 22, 1922, after overhearing a loud argument between the Oesterreichs and believing Dolly to be in danger of physical harm, Sanhuber rushed from the attic, with .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.[5] 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. 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. 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 expired.[5] Dolly also was 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 into obscurity after his release from jail, and nothing more is known about him.


  1. ^ [https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8976 Fred William Oesterreich ]
  2. ^ Otto Sanhuber
  3. ^ Otto Sanhuber
  4. ^ Nugent, Addison (7 June 2016). "The Married Woman Who Kept Her Lover in the Attic". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 23 January 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Vagabond". Time Magazine. 1930-04-28. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hynd, Alan (1958). The Case of the Attic Lover and Other True Crime Stories. Pyramid Books. 
  • Nachaidh, Don (July 1930). "The Phantom in the House of Oesterreich". Startling Detective Adventures. 5 (26): 12–19, 95. Retrieved 2017-04-24. 
  • Winski, Norman (1965). Sex and the Criminal Mind. The Genell Corporation. 
  • Wolf, Marvin J.; Katherine Mader (1986). Fallen Angels. Facts on File Publications.