Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Otto Sanhuber: The Man in the Attic Case

'Bat Man' on Trial

The press had a field day with the sensational case. Otto was called the Bat Man and The Ghost in the Garrett. Earl Seeley Wakeman defended Otto. Wakeman was a shrewd attorney who specialized in defending accused murderers. Otto had, of course, confessed to the killing but claimed it happened in a struggle over his guns. Otto pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Wakeman played on the jurys sympathies by saying that his client had been a tool in the hands of a much older, more sophisticated and dominant woman. The defendant in the courtroom was no longer the fresh-faced teenaged male virgin who had caught Dollys eye. He was a sallow-complexioned, small, plain-looking middle-aged man. He had a receding hairline and wore round, black horn-rimmed spectacles. He had a nervous twitch that added to the effect of making him look pitiable.

In Norman Winski's Sex and the Criminal Mind, Otto's testimony is recorded. Otto described an average day for him in the Los Angeles Oesterreich house in the years preceding the killing. I made up the beds [the couple was by then sleeping in separate bedrooms] and changed the linen about two times a week, he said. They loved to sleep clean, and I made up the beds for them, and put away their clothes, and dusted Freds clothes, because he had some beautiful things, and I would keep them in order for him and dust them, and dust his shoes, you know, so he would look neat always. And then I would wash the dishes if he wasnt home, and if he was home he would wash them, and Mrs. Oesterreich would dry them, because I couldnt then. And I would get the vegetables clean, and they were clean everybody praised her, how clean her things were; and scrubbed the floor and kept it clean, and kept the floor neat, you know she loved to have a beautiful floor and dusted it, you know. As can be seen from this testimony, Otto took pride in doing a good job in his domestic duties. His years of housework for the Oesterreichs probably made him a most efficient janitor.

His attorney asked him about the period when he came to Los Angeles ahead of the Oesterreichs and had to be away from his beloved Dolly. Norman Winski reported this testimony:

When I was away from my attic, he testified, the time was so long I didnt measure it in hours. I was frantic until I returned.

The Oedipal nature of the relationship was underlined when Otto spoke of the way he occasionally tried to manipulate Dolly. Not having anything else at his disposal, he used refusing to eat as a weapon when the two had a dispute.

It was sort of defense, he told the court. I had no other weapon. I did it deliberately. I would go in my attic and I would stay there, I would not come out except just when needed, and I would fast, I just wouldnt eat anything, that is all, and I had peace. Maybe it was foolish of me, but I did not that was my best way of doing it and she would begin to feel sorry for me, I think, and talk softly to me and bring me food, set it there. Well, now, like in that house, at that little door, you know.

Outside the door? Wakeman asked.

And then she would become, not disagreeable, but annoyed with me, and then I behaved myself.

By behaving yourself you mean you did what she wanted you to?

Yes, sir, Otto replied.

And did that have anything to do with sex? his lawyer pressed.

Yes, sir, as a rule.

The jury did not convict him of murder but did find him guilty of manslaughter. However, the statute of limitations for that offense had already expired, leaving Otto Sanhuber a free man.

Blayney Matthews and Dolly Osterreich
Blayney Matthews and Dolly Osterreich
Attorney Jerry Geisler defended Dolly. He was young and little known at the time but very skilled. The jury was unable to reach a verdict but the majority were in favor of acquittal. In 1936, the indictment against her was dismissed.

At the time The Attic Lover was published in 1958, Dolly was said to be living over a garage in a run-down section of Los Angeles. As noted by Wolf and Mader in Fallen Angels, she passed her last years living in a sort of attic.

Cecilia Rasmussen wrote that Dolly died in 1961, less than two weeks after marrying her second husband, a man she had known for 30 years named Ray Bert Hedrick. He had been her business manager. When she died, all her estate went to Hedrick because of a will drawn up in 1953. It made no mention of Otto Sanhuber.

Nothing is known about Otto Sanhubers life after his release from custody. Perhaps he plugged along as a porter or janitor, dashing off the occasional short story and seeing it published in a pulp magazine. With his gift for total devotion to a woman, it is not unreasonable to suspect that his marriage to Mathilde was a happy one. It was certainly superior to his relationship with Dolly Oesterreich in that it had no third party being wronged.

The home in which Fred Oesterreich died still stood in 1986. Wolf and Mader noted, No longer a single family residence, its now an apartment building with nine small units. One of them is in the attic.

 

 

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