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. 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 and Dolly Oesterreich lived a normal life. Behind the scenes, Fred Oesterreich drank heavily and the couple fought a lot. 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. Sanhuber was tall, lanky, and quickly became entangled in Dolly Oesterreich’s life. 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.”
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.” 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 he used the opportunity to develop a pulp fiction writing career. 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.
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. Dolly Oesterreich never gave him any cash larger than nickels or dimes. 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.
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.