Fred and Dolly Oesterreichs’ last hope was waiting for them in Los Angeles. For Fred, the two-story house with the pleasant front porch and glittering windows was hundreds of glorious miles away from the ghost making his life a living hell. But Dolly only cared about one feature of the new LA home: the attic, which was just big enough to hide her deepest, darkest secret…
Dolly hadn’t always had secrets. In her younger years, she was known for being charismatic and funny, the life of the party. So when she married the wealthy Fred Oesterreich in 1897, they seemed to complement each other perfectly…until the honeymoon phase hit an abrupt end.
The couple settled into married life, but Fred and Dolly were both unsatisfied. Fred worked long hours, and Dolly spent most days wandering around their spacious Wisconsin home with nothing to do. After a while, the couple found some, well, destructive ways to cope.
Fred tried to drown his unhappiness in alcohol. Dolly, on the other hand, tried to drown her unhappiness in other men. Even so, Dolly would end each affair feeling more unsatisfied with her life than ever before. She got to thinking: what if she needed something a little more…permanent?
One fateful day in 1913, Dolly called Fred at work and told him her sewing machine was on the fritz. She asked if he wouldn’t mind sending over one of his repairmen to fix it. But when 17-year-old Otto Sanhuber knocked on the door, he didn’t find a broken sewing machine.
Instead, he was greeted by 33-year-old Dolly, who was wearing nothing more than stockings and a silk robe. Though their affair began in the master bedroom, it quickly moved to unassuming hotel rooms. But Dolly wasn’t satisfied with this arrangement for long, especially when her neighbors started asking questions.
Dolly’s nosy neighbors started to wonder about the skinny guy who visited the Oseterreich home at unusual hours. In early 1900s-era Wisconsin, even the idea of an extramarital affair was rife with scandal. But Dolly could only wave Otto off as her “visiting vagabond half-brother” for so long…
So, she suggested that Otto quit his job and permanently move into her attic. Otto didn’t have any family, and his occupation as a repairman was only temporary, as his real dream was to write pulp fiction stories. And an attic, he reasoned, was as good a place as any to write.
The attic was sparsely furnished, and a hard cot and a desk were the only other objects in the room besides Otto himself. Still, the arrangement suited Otto just fine. He could carry on his affair with Dolly by day and write his masterpiece by night. When Fred was home, all Otto had to do was stay silent — and out of sight.
Fred started to notice that something was off. It was easy for him to discount the faint sound of scratching during quiet moments as rodents in the walls, or small creaks on the stairs as something merely going bump in the night. But then his cigars started disappearing, only for him to smell their distinct scent hours later with seemingly no source.
When the increasingly jumpy Fred started to see an ominous shadow pass outside his bedroom door at night, he knew that something needed to be done. He had to escape whatever it was that was haunting him, and leaving was his only option. The only thing standing between him and salvation was Dolly.
But as long as their new home had an attic, she said, then she’d gladly move to LA. Fred happily complied, but it only took a few nights in the new house for Fred to come to a horrible realization: whatever he’d tried to escape in Wisconsin had followed him to LA.
The phantom cigars, the strange noises, the mysterious shadows — he still saw them every night. That’s because Dolly, refusing to give up the one thing in her life that made her happy, had simply shipped 22-year-old Otto to the LA house ahead of time, where he settled into his cozy new attic.
With that, the Oesterreichs’ marriage crumbled. Fred’s drinking hit a dangerous level, and he and Dolly fought day and night. Their fights started out as screaming matches but quickly escalated into all-out violence. And Otto, hearing it all from his attic, found that staying silent and out of sight was more difficult than it had ever been…
It was August 22, 1922, when a particularly violent fight got out of hand. Otto could hear Fred and Dolly’s harsh screams all the way up in his cramped attic space, and he listened with horror as Dolly’s shrieks of anger turned into shrieks of fear. Panicking, Otto threw open the attic door.
Otto ran into the bedroom, grabbed Fred’s two .25 caliber rifles, and burst right into the middle of Fred and Dolly’s argument. After a brief struggle between Fred and Otto, it was all over. Three gunshots rang throughout the house, the yelling stopped, and Fred lay crumpled on the floor, dead.
Dolly and Otto worked quickly. Otto took Fred’s diamond watch, locked Dolly in the closet, and disappeared back into the attic. Just like they planned, Dolly started screaming. It took a while, but a neighbor finally heard her screams and called the police. By the time they arrived, it was obvious what had happened.
Clearly, Fred and Dolly had been the victims of a home invasion. Fred’s diamond watch was gone, after all, and there were signs of a struggle. As Dolly tearfully mourned her husband, she inherited his fortune, moved into a new home…and set Otto up in yet another attic.
Yes, even with Fred out of the way, Dolly and Otto still acted as if their love was something to hide. After years of hiding, their already-unusual relationship had become even stranger: Dolly liked to be the dominant figure in the relationship, and Otto had no problem being submissive.
He didn’t even have a problem when the newly-widowed Dolly started dating her lawyer, Herman Shapiro. In retrospect, both Otto and Dolly should have thought that through. When you’re a secret criminal, inviting a lawyer into your room on a daily (and nightly) basis probably isn’t the best move…
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Dolly started to make some pretty glaring mistakes. First, she gave Herman the old diamond watch that had once belonged to Fred…and that she’d claimed had been stolen during the “home invasion.” Then, she brazenly started a relationship with another lover.
The new guy, Roy Klumb, helped Dolly dispose of the murder weapons in the La Brea tar pits not long after she gave Herman the diamond watch. Her third mistake? Breaking things off with Klumb, who immediately went to the police and confessed to destroying the guns.
Luckily for Dolly, there was one part of her “home invasion” story that the police simply couldn’t figure out. How could she have locked herself in the closet? She was released from police custody, but the police were already on to her. And in 1923, she unknowingly plunged a stake into her own coffin.
When Dolly asked Herman if he would bring food to the “vagabond half brother” living in her attic, she had no doubt that Otto would go along with the whole half-brother story. But Otto had been confined to the attic for so long that having a conversation with another man was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Otto told Herman everything. He couldn’t help but brag about his years-long relationship with Dolly, their sexual exploits, his success with pulp fiction magazines despite living in an attic, and so on. But Herman was far from impressed with Otto. Instead, he kicked Otto out of the attic, and Otto promptly fled to Canada.
It wasn’t until 1930 that Dolly and Otto were finally arrested for the murder of Fred Oesterreich. The bizarre case caused a media frenzy, and during the trial, Otto was dubbed “the Bat Man of Los Angeles” because of his attic-dwelling ways. But that was the nicest nickname Otto was given.
The public at large thought Dolly and Otto were freaks. The district attorney went so far as to call Otto a “perjurer of his own soul.” Even with the public backlash, the case ended with a fizzle: Dolly’s trial ended with a hung jury. Otto, however, was found guilty of manslaughter.
There was just one catch. It had been eight years since Fred’s death, but the statute of limitations expired after seven years. With that, Otto became a free man for the first time in decades. He and Dolly parted ways forever, but neither forgot his time as the “Bat Man”…
And when people heard about their sordid love story, some couldn’t help but be reminded of a ghastly story from fifty years earlier. Just like Dolly, even those living “perfect” lives could be harboring gruesome secrets, and in 1870s France, one poor girl found this out the hard way.
Blanche Monnier’s story begins on a high note. According to historians, the Monniers were a well-respected bourgeois family with nobility going far back for generations — Blanche had never known anything but the comfort of a heavy wallet.
Which meant she wasn’t used to hearing the word “no.” Adding to her privilege was her reported beauty, which apparently made it difficult for anyone to refuse her. Blanche was the socialite everyone knew and talked about…and the gossip wasn’t always complimentary.
Though Blanche could have had the affections of any nobleman, she fell for a “common lawyer.” Immediately, her mother, Lousie, was appalled: For the financially-minded Louise, the idea of Blanche marrying someone without money was inconceivable.
Louise argued that Blanche could never marry a “penniless lawyer,” and tensions rose between Louise and her 25-year-old daughter, threatening to come to an explosive head…but they never did. Suddenly, with no explanation at all, Blanche disappeared.
Despite frenzied searches for the long lost socialite, she was nowhere to be found. None of her friends had any clue where she’d vanished to, and her beloved lawyer was also in the dark. Of course, the police then turned their attention to Blanche’s family.
But Louise and her son, Marcel, made it clear that they were just as confused as everybody else. Despite the tension between Louise and Blanche, Louise’s grief for her lost daughter was palpable: After all, her only daughter was missing…and presumed dead.
The years turned into decades, and though France went through extensive societal change during this time, Louise and Marcel’s lives stayed relatively the same. They lived the quiet lives of people who had lost something precious…and yet, something was off.
Who exactly noticed that something was “off” about the Monniers is uncertain, but in May of 1901 — 25 years after Blanche’s disappearance — the Paris Attorney General received an anonymous letter, and what was written sent a chill down his spine.
“I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence,” the anonymous author began. “I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house.” What the mysterious letter-writer described next was shocking, even by today’s standards.
“[The spinster is] half starved and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years — in a word, in her own filth.” This is all the police needed to make a surprise visit to the Monnier household. They bounded up to the attic until they came to a padlocked door.
What they saw was worse than anything they could have imagined. Immediately, their thoughts went to Louise. How could a noblewoman who was once honored by the Committee of Good Works for her generosity and kindness do something so monstrous?
And “monstrous” is the only word to describe what the police saw when they forced open the attic door. As described by a police officer, Blanche was completely naked and surrounded by rotten food, cockroaches, and excrement.
“The air was so unbreathable…that it was impossible for us to stay any longer to proceed with our investigation,” one police officer described. Still, one thing was clear: The emaciated figure on the bed with long, unkempt black hair was Blanche Monnier.
She was 50 years old and around 50 pounds, but miraculously, she was still alive. For a quarter of a century, Blanche wasted away in the attic room while those searching for her lived in peace, unaware that she was right under their noses.
The Blanche everyone once envied was gone. The socialite had been without companionship, without proper hygiene, without clothes, even without sunlight for half of her life. The police were understandably filled with questions, and one stood out among the rest.
Why did Louise commit such an unfathomably horrible crime? It didn’t take long for them to get their answer: Louise, clearly driven to desperation by Blanche’s disobedience, took matters into her own hands and incarcerated her daughter in the attic.
The police’s next move was obvious. They arrested Louise, and as word quickly spread about what she had done, she watched an angry mob form around her home as she was taken to prison. For an image-obsessed noblewoman, this sight left her broken.
Blanche’s resilience clearly didn’t come from her mother, as Louise died of a mysterious illness 15 days after she was arrested. As for Marcel, who was arrested for aiding Louise in her crimes, he was eventually declared mentally incapacitated…and walked free.
Of course, the ultimate question is: What happened to Blanche? Despite being rescued, she was diagnosed with anorexia, schizophrenia, and various other mental disorders, and she died in 1913. If anything good is to come of Blanche’s story, it’s her legacy of resilience. Somehow, despite being missing for so long, Blanche survived.