Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Otto Sanhuber: The Man in the Attic Case

On Film

Video cover of The Man in the Attic
Video cover of The Man in the
This very unusual case inspired an excellent made-for-TV movie called The Man in the Attic. Graeme Campbell directed it. Here the older couple is named Krista and Joseph Heldmann and they are played by Anne Archer and Len Cariou. Neil Patrick Harris plays Edward Broder. As Mike Martin and Marsha Porter noted in Video Movie Guide 2002, Good performances make it all seem plausible.

Len Cariou is sympathetic as Kristas husband, a man several years older than she. He is not depicted as a tyrannical Attila the Husband or Simon Legree as Hynd characterized Fred Oesterreich. Rather, he is a successful man who knows that, as is common among marriages of the time period, his wife did not marry him out of passion but for respectability and financial security. The audience is given to believe that, as he says at one point, he has done his best to make this marriage work on [her] terms.

Anne Archers Krista is a very loving and protective mother. All her energy and feeling is concentrated on Karl. She may even be a bit overprotective but that is, at least in part, the result of having few interests other than her maturing child. With her husband, Joseph, she is tolerant and kind but distant. She believes that she is merely an ornament to him, a pretty wife to wear on his arm, much as he thinks that she considers him a meal ticket.

Their sons death throws the marriage into a crisis. Joseph does not express emotion well and is unable to give his wife the comfort she needs after Karls death. He does not weep and Krista takes that as meaning he does not care. She feels isolated in her grief. Krista emotionally adopts Edward in his place, sometimes calling him by her lost sons name. Edward, whose parents died long ago, looks upon her as the mother he was denied. The romance between Edward and the older Krista unfolds believably and poignantly. It is, of course, a story rich in Oedipal implications and The Man in the Attic mines them beautifully. The feelings of the older woman and younger man blossom into sexual love and the movie has some steamy love scenes.

The Man in the Attic ends on a note that salutes the extraordinary sacrifices Broder made. The reporter notes that he gave up all chance for a normal life, a wife and family of his own, his freedom to move in the world, his ability to form friendships. And Id do it all again, Broder says. He would do it for love. There is indeed a sense in which the character, and the real-life individual upon whom he was based, were saintly.

However, that is only half of the story. For even as he gave up his own freedom and the opportunity for a wife and family of his own for the sake of Dolly Oesterreich, he also took from Fred Oesterreich his wifes affection, support in the form of room and board, and privacy. Finally, whether by premeditated act or during a struggle, he took Fred Oesterreichs life. It is likely that the usually passive, submissive Otto received a kind of sadistic gratification from cuckolding and living off Fred even as, on a day to day basis, he served him by pressing his suits and polishing his shoes.

Ottos sacrifices were mind-boggling and so were his thefts. Few human beings have lived a life as rich in extremes and contradictions as did Otto Sanhuber.

Shirley MacLaine as Mrs. Blossom
Shirley MacLaine as Mrs.
Another major film inspired by this case was a comedy called The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom which debuted in 1968 starring Shirley MacLaine as Dolly, Richard Attenborough as Fred and James Booth as Otto.



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