The first mistake Carlene Buschkopf made was deciding that killing her husband, Theodore, for the insurance money was a good idea.
The second, and the one that ultimately took her down, was involving a near-stranger in the plot. The plan of Carlene and her lover, Arthur Lucas, would never have succeeded anyway, but Lucas really messed it up when he expected his alibi witness, a casual bar friend who actually thought Arthur was a creep, to stand up to a police interrogation.
Not only did Judy Baker tell investigators everything she knew about 10 minutes into the interview, she agreed to help the Winona, Minnesota, police put the Closed stamp on this case of murder for money.
In 1983, Carlene, 33 years old at the time, was the manager of a failed restaurant that Lucas, 45, owned. The Buschkopfs were drowning in debt and appeared to be going down for the third time. They were borrowing money from Ted’s parents just to survive. In June, 1983, the Buschkopfs’ land contract on their home was cancelled and the couple was subsequently evicted from the apartment they had rented. On the day of the shooting, July 25, 1983, the Buschkopfs owed $50,000 on a signature note, were facing a tax lien of $4,700, and many judgments and creditors’ claims.
Lucas was in no better shape: He owed more than $82,000 in connection with his business by the day of the shooting, was obliged on additional debts of over $6,000, and was behind on his rent.
Testimony at Carlene’s trial showed on the day of the shooting, besides the clothes on her back, the only thing Carlene owned was half a pack of cigarettes.
Naturally the situation created troubles for the couple and that is how Carlene came to be Arthur’s lover.
“I always wanted a hug and kiss in life,” she testified at her trial. “Money never meant nothing to me. That’s why Art Lucas meant something to me.”
Things were looking up, or so the conspirators thought: Ten days earlier, Ted, 32, had changed his life insurance policies to make Carlene the primary beneficiary. The value of the life insurance was $80,000 — barely enough to make a dent in the debts. Prosecutors presented evidence at Lucas’s trial that he and Carlene planned to use the money to reopen the bankrupt eatery.
Carlene and Arthur had been planning Ted’s murder for some time before the actual event, investigators said, and tried several times to kill him.
The most interesting attempt is what became known at the trial as “The Shive Road Incident.”
Enlisting the help of some friends, Carlene offered Patricia Balk and her boyfriend Peter Fraley a quarter of the insurance proceeds for their help.
One night shortly before the shooting while they were out driving, Carlene asked her husband to take a back road for a change. There they came across Balk lying in the middle of the road and a van parked nearby. Ted stopped the car and went over to Balk, assuming she was hurt. As he was bending down to render aid, Lucas and Peter Fraley left the van, intending to knock Ted out with a baseball bat. Their brilliant plan was to place Ted’s unconscious body in his car and leave it on some railroad tracks, where a train would finish the job.
Fraley changed his mind at the last moment, and according to testimony at Lucas’s trial, put the bat in Ted’s car. Lucas, however, was not ready to give up. He took the bat and hit Ted over the head.
At that point the plot fully collapsed. Rather than rendering Ted unconscious, the blow merely stunned him and his attackers fled in the van. The next day at work, Ted, an engineer at a plumbing company, told a coworker of the incident and showed him the lump on the back of his head. Ted put it down to a failed robbery plot.
Two days later the conspirators tried again and this time they would have more success.
Early on the morning of July 26, a guest at a Winona motel called the manager after hearing another guest moaning and calling for help. The manager summoned police, who arrived moments later to find Carlene lying in the doorway of a motel room, clutching her stomach and claiming to have been coshed over the head.
In the bed police found Ted, unconscious from a .22-caliber bullet wound to the head. When medical personnel arrived, they found that Carlene had been shot in the lower back and had a knot on her head. The bullet had traveled into Carlene’s abdomen and surgery was necessary to remove it.
Ted never regained consciousness and died in mid-August, but by that time the entire plot had come undone. Both Carlene and Arthur were advised while they were already in jail that the charges had been upped from attempted murder to first degree murder.
At her trial for killing her husband, Carlene told her version of what happened that morning.
“I was hit on the head,” she told the jury. “Well, I tried to get my head up but there was a pillow on my head. I laid there and then I heard a wrestle in the room. I didn’t actually see anything.”
She claimed that a man’s voice told her to stay still and when she called out for Ted, “I heard like a kid’s pop gun.”
Trying to save her own skin, Carlene threw Balk and Fraley under the bus, claiming the entire crime was their idea and that she and Lucas were merely pawns.
Carlene said Balk and Fraley frequently threatened her before the shooting and that Balk was trying to blackmail her because of her affair with Lucas. That blackmail, she claimed, was why Lucas’s restaurant folded in the first place. He was making the payments from his daily receipts.
She also claimed that “If I didn’t, they would kill me,” and said on the night of the Shive Road incident, Fraley had threatened her with a gun.
For their part, facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder, both Balk and Fraley claimed it was they who had been threatened if they did not cooperate.
But what really broke the case wide open was the evidence provided by Judy Baker, a bartender at the place where Lucas liked to drown his sorrows.
Lucas tried to use Baker as his alibi, telling police that on the night of the shooting he had been at the bar with Baker and had accompanied her home. At first Baker tried to provide the excuse Lucas needed, but when her story failed to match his, she admitted she was lying. Then it all came out.
She said she first met Lucas in May of that year. Some time in June of 1983 he began telling her of the financial problems he and Carlene were having. In mid-July Carlene, whom Baker knew by sight only, visited Baker at her home. Carlene also told Baker of marital and financial problems during the visit, but said she hoped to have those problems taken care of soon.
Sometime during the week of July 10, Lucas told Baker that he and Carlene had a plan to get out of their financial problems by “getting rid” of somebody, but that previous attempts to carry out the plan had failed. He also told her that the motive to get rid of this person was to collect insurance money. On July 23, he asked Baker to help him with an alibi and offered her $1,000 if she would be seen with him on a particular evening.
Two days later, on July 25, he called her at the bar where she worked, again asked for her help, and said he would be coming by the bar. She hung up and said to a co-worker, “Oh, God, that man is coming up here.” He arrived around 7:30 and asked to spend the night with her. She agreed, but said she never saw him again after he left around 9 p.m.
She received two phone calls from Lucas, however. She said he called her at about 6:30 on the morning of July 26, and said “It’s happened, it’s over, it’s done.” He went on to tell her that she should tell the police he had been with her between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. that morning.
Police asked Baker to make some phone calls to Carlene and Lucas where they each made incriminating statements. In one, Lucas admitted being at the scene of the crime, but he minimized his participation by denying that he fired any shots. His sole purpose for being there, he said on the tape, was to dispose of the gun.
Carlene and Lucas were both arrested on Aug. 1, 1983 and subsequently convicted at separate trials and sentenced to life in prison. For their role in the crime, Balk and Fraley each received three years.
In 1984 Carlene walked away from the women’s prison where she was doing time and managed to stay on the lam for a week. At a 1992 parole hearing, prison officials said that she was “not a model prisoner” and had apparently become involved in an on-going feud with another inmate.
She died of a lung disease in 2010. Lucas, now in his 70s, remains behind bars.
The first mistake Carlene Buschkopf made was deciding that killing her husband, Theodore, for the insurance money was a good idea.
For years Fred Oesterreich was convinced he was hearing strange noises in his house but was always reassured by his wife, Dolly, that it was either his imagination or just some frisky mice.
It was odd, Fred thought, considering that the unexplained bumps in the night had followed him and Dolly not only through four houses in Milwaukee, where Fred operated a large apron sewing company, but to three more in Los Angeles, where the Oesterreichs moved in 1918.
Fred was apparently neither a superstitious nor a very curious man, because while he may have grumbled about the noises and the occasional disappearing item or empty humidor, he did nothing about it.
Dolly, whose given name was Walburga, felt neglected most of the time because Fred was always at his factory. As bad as being spurned felt, Dolly often preferred the loneliness to Fred’s company as he was a drinking man who like to get violent with his women when he was besotted. In 1913, the Oesterreichs were a childless, very wealthy and quite unhappy couple about to celebrate their 15th anniversary when the events that would culminate in Fred’s killing a decade later began.
It started innocently enough in Milwaukee on an average day when Dolly told Fred that her sewing machine was broken. Fred sent over one of the factory mechanics, a young man named Otto Sanhuber, described later in the memoirs of Beverly Hills Chief of Police Clinton Anderson as “a rather small man in horn-rimmed glasses.”
Another reporter was more descriptive, although it is a safe bet that the writer was operating with a bit of poetic license: “Little Otto stood just a smidgen under five feet, had a receding chin, buggy eyes and suffered from a severe case of acne. More often than not, his nose dripped.”
As is typical in stories like this, Dolly was attracted to the naive 17-year-old and soon Dolly was teaching Otto skills beyond sewing machine repair. He became a regular sight around the Oesterreich property, fixing Dolly’s frequently broken machine and performing other chores around the place for Fred.
“He had been popular with Mr. Oesterreich, too, until he took a trip to St. Louis with Dolly,” wrote Anderson. “After that, Oesterreich ordered Otto to stay away from both his door and his Dolly.”
As far as Fred was concerned, when Otto vanished after the confrontation the matter was closed. He and Dolly resumed their gloomy relationship, moving several times throughout their time in Milwaukee.
Near the end of the Great War, Fred looked to the west and opened another apron factory in Los Angeles. In 1918 he and Dolly settled in Southern California, upsizing their living arrangements as the business expansion proved more and more successful.
Fred occasionally complained about the cost of living in Southern California, as his grocery bill jumped significantly after the couple’s move from the Midwest. Dolly simply shrugged her shoulders and dismissed it like she did with his grumbling over the noises that she said were either mice or a settling house.
In August 1922, Beverly Hills police were called to the Oesterreich home by neighbors after a series of gunshots and a woman’s scream cut through the night. There officers found Fred lying on the floor of his living room, dead from three shots of a .25 caliber automatic. The autopsy showed that the gun was fired at very close range.
“The expensively furnished room showed evidence of a fierce struggle,” Anderson wrote. “An open French window, with the screen unlatched, suggested that the murderer had left the house hurridly.”
Locked in a walk-in closet, with the key on the ground in another room, was Dolly. She told investigators that she was hanging clothes in the closet when she heard a fight downstairs. As she turned to investigate, the closet door was slammed shut and locked. She could not provide any description of the killer or killers.
Further investigation revealed that while the house was disturbed, nothing was missing except Fred’s diamond-studded watch. Police were also confused about why a burglar would carry such a small firearm, “a gun more likely to be found in a lady’s purse,” one newspaper account said. Equally curious were the accounts of neighbors that they heard the Oesterreichs involved in a heated argument when the couple returned from an evening out.
Rigorous interrogation of the newly widowed woman yielded no leads. She acknowledged that she and Fred fought — frequently and loudly — but denied she had anything to do with his murder. Over the next few weeks police ran down their few leads, concentrating on discovering any secrets in Dolly’s background. There were none. No one who knew the couple or was friendly with either Fred or Dolly could shed any light on the possibility of a love triangle turned deadly. They had a reputation for bickering in public, but were never violent when others were around.
With no weapon, their main person of interest with a pretty solid alibi, and no sign of a lover, police let the case percolate — hoping for something helpful would brew up.
The Fates intervened about a year later when Captain Herman Cline, a Beverly Hills cop, dropped in on Herman Shapiro, the attorney handling Fred’s $1 million estate, to go over the facts of the case one more time. On Shapiro’s desk Cline saw a glittering, diamond-studded wristwatch. Shapiro confirmed that Dolly had given him the watch.
“Shapiro remembered a diamond studded watch had been taken from slain Fred’s wrist,” wrote crime reporter Max Haines. “When he mentioned this to Walburga, she smiled and said she had been mistaken.
“She found the watch under a cushion in the living room and simply wanted Shapiro to have it as a gift.”
Chief Anderson recalled in his memoirs that Dolly “had not considered it important enough to bother the police about.”
Of course the newspapers trumpeted the development, which prompted two informants to come forward independently with even more damning evidence against Dolly.
Each man had disposed of a small-caliber pistol at Dolly’s request, they both said. One of guns was later recovered in the La Brea Tar Pits, while the other was found beneath a rose bush at the man’s home.
Again, Dolly had a ready — if unbelievable — excuse:
“She explained the guns were old things kept around the house for many years,” Anderson said. “She had decided to get rid of them because, under the circumstances of her husband’s death, their presence in her home might prove embarrassing.”
It proved much more than awkward for Dolly. Although the newspaper reports do not say whether either gun was the murder weapon, their mere existence was good enough for the cops. In July 1923, Dolly was arrested for killing her husband.
“The District Attorney’s investigators hacked away tirelessly at her story, but without success,” Anderson wrote. “After they had tested and discarded every possible theory which might link her to the crime, the murder complaint against the widow was dismissed.”
Seven years passed and the case was all but forgotten when the Beverly Hills police received a strange phone call from attorney Shapiro. He and Dolly had apparently had a falling out and the attorney decided to tell police what he knew about Fred’s death. The attorney announced that he had a client who wanted to confess to the killing.
Investigators hurried to Shapiro’s office where they were met by the attorney and his client, Otto Sanhuber. The story he told borders on the incredible, but savvy readers who have been keeping track of the clues probably have an idea just what happened that August night in 1922.
It began back in 1913 when the broken sewing machine helped ignite a passionate affair between the handyman and the boss’s wife. When Fred fired Otto after the trip to St. Louis, Dolly was not prepared to give up her lover. Instead, she secretly installed him in a living space beneath the rafters in the attic of her home.
The arrangement continued for 10 years, through seven moves, including one across the country.
“Sanhuber ticked off four attics in Milwaukee and three in Los Angeles in which he lived before the murder ended his rent-free existence,” Anderson wrote. “When the family moved to Los Angeles in 1918, Otto had wanted to get out and join the army, but Mrs. Oesterreich wouldn’t hear of it.”
Sex and affection were the primary reason for the bizarre arrangement, but the relationship between Dolly and Otto evolved into something akin to a marriage.
“Through the years, every morning after the straight man of the house left for work among the aprons, Sanhuber would descend from his garret hideaway and help Mrs. Oesterreich with her housework,” according to one newspaper account. “At night he would steal back into his attic and read newspapers and magazines by candlelight until bedtime.”
One report — not confirmed in any other paper — said that Otto earned a small income by writing fiction for magazines: “To pass the time when he wasn’t performing at his specialty, Otto wrote adventure stories. Walburga typed them and sent them off to the pulps.” This should be taken with a grain of salt as the reporter also calls Dolly “a gorgeous woman with a figure that could wake a corpse,” and claims Fred was “filled with more holes than your average Swiss cheese.” The official account indicates Fred was struck three times.
Occasionally Dolly would join him in his strange studio apartment.
Otto said that on the night of August 22, 1922 it was business as usual in the Oesterreich house, which meant an argument between the drunken Fred and his wife while Otto hid in the attic.
This night, however, would start violent and escalate into killing. In his confession Otto said he was listening to Dolly and Fred argue when Fred became physically abusive. Enraged to the point of irrationality, Otto burst from the attic and shot Fred to death.
Dolly immediately took command and set the stage to look like a burglary. She then told Otto to vanish.
In the ensuing years Dolly moved out of her mansion to a luxury apartment where she lived comfortably managing her investments. Otto finally moved out, married, and got a job as a janitor. Eventually, the guilt of his crime made him contact Shapiro.
Dolly was again arrested for her husband’s murder and jailed awaiting trial.
Otto went on trial first in 1930, and tried to back away from his strange confession without success. However, the case would hold one final twist.
The jury did not take long to convict Otto, but instead of finding him guilty of murder, he was convicted of manslaughter. At the time the statute of limitations on manslaughter was seven years and Fred’s killing occurred eight years before Otto’s trial.
Otto’s attorney argued that he could not be convicted of manslaughter and thus could not be punished. The district attorney did not object and the judge ordered Otto freed.
Dolly went on trial several months later, defended by one of Hollywood’s elite attorneys, Jerry Geisler, who defended such notables as Errol Flynn (statutory rape), Busby Berkeley (murder), Benny (Bugsy) Siegel and Charlie Chaplin. Dolly took the stand in her own defense and put the blame all on Otto. The jury was unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared. The DA opted not to try the case again.
After the trial Dolly and Otto went their separate ways (Otto’s wife had vowed to stay with him through thick and thin). She lived in luxury to the ripe old age of 75, dying in April 1961. She left her multimillion dollar estate to her business manager whom she married two weeks before her death.
Otto’s fate is unknown.