Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Otto Sanhuber: The Man in the Attic Case

South Seas Dreamer

Although Otto Sanhuber lived an isolated life in confinement, with no one but Dolly for company, in his imagination he freely roamed the balmy South Seas where he enjoyed colorful adventures. He also got his fantasies down on paper while in his attic home. He would hand these short stories to his married, middle-aged girlfriend who would type them up when she had time and Fred was not around. She mailed them to pulp magazines, using a post office box for the correspondence. Like most writers, his first efforts were greeted with dispiriting form rejection slips. But Otto was tenacious, and eventually a story of his was published in a little magazine. He began publishing fairly regularly to his own joy and that of his helpful sweetheart.

Fred Oesterreich (AP/Wide World)
Fred Oesterreich
(AP/Wide World)
One evening, wrote Alan Hynd, Fred Oesterreich was pottering in his garden and happened to look up right at the window in his attic. Dolly had repeatedly warned Otto not to go near that window but he had disobeyed this once and the two men may have looked directly at each other for just a split second before a panicked Otto pulled back.

Goddamn it! Fred yelled as he raced into his home. I knew somebody was up in that attic. I just saw something moving at the window!

All right, Dolly said, Ill go up to the attic and investigate.

Ill go up, her husband said.

Ill go up, Dolly repeated. When she came down, she expressed concern for her husbands mental condition. Fred, youve been working too hard at the factory, she said in a caring voice. Youre seeing things. Promise me youll go to a doctor.

Fred told his wife that he would see a physician about his curious symptoms. He did not want to give her more cause for worry.

Go to the doctor he did. Take things a little easier, the physician advised and wrote out a prescription for a tranquilizer.

In 1910, writer and lover Otto Sanhuber had lived in the Oesterreich attic for about three years. The couple decided to move and went to check into houses. Dolly Oesterreich would only agree to a home with a convenient attic. She may have told Fred she wanted a secure place for her beloved furs.

In the new residence Otto was not directly above the Oesterreichs bedroom so he did not have to overhear the couple in their most intimate moments. Fred also did not hear Otto clearing his throat or coughing.

The Oesterreich marriage continued to deteriorate. Fred was drinking all the time. He was by turns silent and depressed or loud and argumentative. However, the seven-year-old love affair between Dolly and Otto was still going strong. At approximately 24, Otto was sexually vigorous and he and Dolly were deeply in love. He was also enjoying some success as a writer, penning stories that appeared in various pulps and that earned him and Dolly a few extra dollars.

In 1913, the odd family moved again and Otto took up residence in a fresh attic, bringing his little light, his cot and a chamber pot

The years passed with Fred becoming ever more of a grouch and his wife finding regular solace in her loving attic man.

One late evening in 1918, a confrontation occurred. The Oesterreichs were out at a German beer party. Fred and Dolly got into an argument and Fred went home in a huff, leaving his wife behind. The aging factory owner strolled into his kitchen only to find a short, slim, very pale, 32-year-old man seated at the table, placidly enjoying a nice leg of lamb.

What the hellre you doin here in my house?! an outraged Fred exclaimed as he grabbed Otto by the shoulders.

Taken by surprise, Otto weakly replied, Im hungry, sir.

So youre the ones been eatin all my meat! the homeowner shouted.

Y-y-y-yes, sir, the younger man stuttered.

Little suspecting that he was dealing with an occupant of his own house, Fred Oesterreich tossed the much smaller man onto the street.

When Dolly came home from the party, her husband related the strange story of the man eating in their kitchen. Fred had not been imagining things after all, he said. This rascal had somehow been sneaking into their house to forage through their food!

Otto spent an uncomfortable night sleeping out in the open. After his unceremonious expulsion, Otto met up with Dolly. What should they do now? he wondered. Go to Los Angeles, Dolly said. Ill give you the money from your stories.

He followed her advice. The two communicated through the post office box that had already been set up for sending and receiving Ottos literary efforts. Otto got a job as a porter in an apartment complex. He did not particularly care for Los Angeles. After spending so many years of his life in an attic, coming out only at night, the sunshine struck him with an unpleasant harshness.

In the meantime, Dolly was working on her husband, telling him that they ought to move to Los Angeles. He was eventually convinced. The couple stayed in a Los Angeles hotel while they looked for a house to buy. It was not easy to find one acceptable to Dolly because few California homes had attics. While the Oesterreichs looked for a home, Dolly and Otto commenced a more conventional sort of dalliance.

They met in various cheap hotels for trysts.

Eventually, Dolly found a large, nice home with an attic on North St. Andrews Place in an affluent area. The couple set up housekeeping and Otto moved into the attic. Later, he would say that he was willing to live cooped up in attics in order to be near the only person in the entire world who cared whether Otto Sanhuber lived or died. He resumed his life of making love to Dolly and doing housework during the day. Since it was Prohibition, the couple also made bathtub gin. At nights he continued to read and to write short stories that she would type and send off to publishers.

Unlike Otto, Fred Oesterreich adored Los Angeles. The sunny weather had a marvelous effect on him and he felt a renewed vigor. Although he had been contemplating retirement before the move, he decided he wanted to return to the working world. He purchased a new factory and spent his days running the place.



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