Dolly Oesterreich and her “Bat Man” were the sex scandal of 1930. The details of their affair are still bizarre enough to raise jaded modern eyebrows.
Walburga “Dolly” Korschel was born in Germany, but her family emigrated from there to America. She was raised on a poor midwestern farm, but her fortune changed when she married the wealthy owner of an apron factory named Fred Oesterreich. Atlast Obscura’s Addison Nugent combed through the old L.A. Times reporting on her case, and it sounds like the bloom was off the rose quickly:
The couple settled in Milwaukee but marital bliss was elusive—Fred drank too much and Dolly was sexually unsatisfied. “Her eyes and her appetites would bring a long line of men into her life—and send one to his death,” wrote the LA Times.
In 1913, Oesterreich sent a 17-year-old factory worker named Otto Sanhuber to his house to help Dolly with her broken sewing machine, at her request. Dolly intended for Sanhuber to help her fix a few other things around the house, and answered the door in nothing but a robe and stockings. Their affair continued in hotels and the house, but eventually neighbors began to get suspicious about the guy Dolly called her “vagabond half-brother.”
Dolly had a solution: Sanhuber would quit his job and move into the Oesterreichs’ attic. Fred never went up there and the lovers could continue their tryst safely out of sight from prying eyes. The only caveat was that young Sanhuber would have to abandon all human interaction save for the tantric time he spent each day with Mrs. Oesterreich. Sanhuber didn’t mind. He had no family to speak of and, as the LA Times reported in 1930, he said he grew to love Dolly “as a boy loves his mother.”
Aside from having sex with Dolly and moving quietly, Sanhuber passed the time writing. He was apparently obsessed with pulp fiction magazines and even had some of his work published under a pen name. Presumably, being locked in an attic as someone’s sex slave feeds the pulp writer’s imagination.
By 1918, five years later, Oesterreich was becoming suspicious. Not of Dolly, but of his own mind:
He heard inexplicable noises coming from the attic, his cigars kept going missing, and he could swear that strange shadows passed outside his bedroom door some nights. He decided to move to Los Angeles that year, not knowing that the phantom haunting his Milwaukee mansion would follow him out West.
Dolly agreed to the move on the condition that the new house have an attic. She sent Sanhuber ahead and by the time the Oesterreichs arrived, the now 22-year-old was already settled in his new home.
Once in Milwaukee, the relationship between Dolly and her husband deteriorated further. On August 22, 1922, a fight between them became violent and, fearing for her life, Sanhuber came out of his hidey-hole, grabbed one of Oesterreich’s .25 caliber rifles, and shot three rounds into his chest.
The couple decided to make the murder look like a home invasion, removing Oesterreich’s diamond watch and locking Dolly in the closet, where she screamed until a neighbor called the police. She inherited all her husband’s money and bought a new house with an even bigger attic.
Dolly continued with her life as a Merry Widow, and though she still had Sanhuber creeping around upstairs she started to date around. One of her lovers was her lawyer, Herman Shapiro. Nugent writes that that’s when she started to fuck up:
Her first[mistake] was to give Herman the diamond watch that had supposedly been stolen during the “robbery.” Herman recognized the watch as Frank’s but Dolly explained sweetly that she had found it under a seat cushion and saw no need to tell the police. According to the LA Times, which reported on the murder in 1923, that evening Dolly asked a third lover, Roy Klumb, to dispose of the murder weapons in the La Brea tar pits.
In 1923 the police found out about Frank’s watch and Klumb, following a volatile breakup with Dolly, confessed to disposing of the guns. They arrested Dolly but still unable to explain how she had locked herself in the closet, were forced to drop the charges and release her from custody. During the hearings she made another damning mistake when she asked Shapiro to bring food to her attic-dwelling “vagabond half-brother.” Sanhuber was happy to see Herman. He hadn’t spoken to another man in over a decade and regaled the lawyer with tales of his sexual exploits. Shapiro kicked Sanhuber out of the attic that very day and the terrified young man fled to Canada.
Incredibly, it was years later that Shapiro and Dolly broke it off. In 1930, he angrily went to the police to reveal the existence of Sanhuber, who had also just moved back to Los Angeles. The lovers were arrested and Sanhuber was found guilty of manslaughter. However, the statute of limitations for his offense was seven years. It had been eight years since Sanhuber popped out of his attic to shoot Oesterreich. The charged had to be dropped.
After being dubbed “The Bat Man of Los Angeles” (and not in a cool Batman comics way), Sanhuber disappeared. Dolly was acquitted and met another man whom she eventually married and lived with for 30 years. I assume he checked the attic regularly.
Image via Wikipedia.