Warning: This story contains abuse of a corpse, necrophilia, and images that accompany it.
Carl Tanzler was born in Germany on 8 February 1877. He grew up in Imperial Germany ended up emigrating to the United States in 1926. His sister was already in Florida which is where he would settle and be joined later by his wife, Doris Schafer, and two daughters.
However, he left his family in Zephyrhillis in 1927 when he took a job as a radiology technician at US Marine Hospital in Key West, under the name Carol Von Cosel.
To say he was an eccentric character would only be putting it lightly, as well as claiming to falsely be not only a doctor and a count, Carl claimed that throughout his life he had been experiencing visions. In these visions, Carl would claim that a long-dead ancestor, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, revealed the face of his true love, an exotic dark-haired woman, to him.
Three years later a Cuban-American woman by the name of Maria Elena Milagro De Hoyos, was brought to the hospital by her mother for examination. Tanzler became enamored with her, and took an overly keen interest in her care, despite not having any idea on how to treat tuberculosis.
He would smuggle expensive equipment to her home, as well as performing experimental tonics and plant extracts (tinctures) to save Elena. Throughout the time before her death, Tanzler would continually profess his love for her, as well as showering her with gifts and adoration.
Elena NEVER returned the sentiment. In fact, she had a husband who had left her after she suffered a miscarriage.
Despite his efforts, Elena succumbed to her disease on 26 October 1931. Tanzler paid for the funeral and then with the permission of the family, he commissioned the construction of an above-ground mausoleum in Key West Cemetry.
The family most-likely saw this as a kind and thoughtful gesture, not realising that he had made sure that he was the only person who had a key.
They most certainly didn’t expect Tanzler to visit the grave. Visit every night. They more than likely didn’t imagine that one night in April in 1933, he would creep through the cemetery and remove Elena’s body from the grave, in a toy wagon and transported it home.
He reportedly said that Elena’s spirit would come to him when he would sit by her grave and serenade her corpse with a favorite Spanish song. He also said that she would often tell him to take her from the grave.
Once Elena was at his home, he wanted to take ‘care’ of her. I am using the term in quotation marks here because in today’s age of understanding consent. To do this he used piano wire to attach the bones together and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin decomposed, he replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of pairs. He used the hair that fell out of her head to fashion a wig for her. To keep the form, he filed the chest cavity with rags. Finally, he dressed it in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, used copious amounts of perfume, and kept it in his bed.
This is the way he chose to live for 7 years.
In October 1940, rumors started to circulate that Tanzler was sleeping with Elena, in an act of necrophilia. The rumors got back to her sister, in which she confronted Tanzler at his home. It was there that Florinda discovered the unsettling truth, she notified authorities, and Tanzler was arrested and detained.
He was given a psychiatric examination where he was found to be mentally competent to stand trial. He was charged with wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorisation. After the preliminary hearing, held on October 9, 1940, at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West, Tanzler was held to answer to the charge.
Throughout the trial, the public mood was sympathetic to Tanzler. He was viewed by many as an eccentric ‘romantic’. This is why I mentioned consent earlier. There is nothing romantic about this, years after the trial, in 1972, it was discovered that at the 1940 autopsy, recalled a vaginal tube had been inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse to allow for intercourse. That today, would be classed as rape.
As no evidence was presented at the trial back in 1940, only coming to light in 1972; and that there is no photographs that ‘prove’ this — some people say it is questionable.
Unfortunately, the charges were dropped and he was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.
Elena’s body was returned to Key West Cemetery where she now rests in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, to prevent further tampering.
What happened to Carl?
In 1944, Tanzler moved to Pasco County, Florida where he wrote his autobiography that appeared in 1947. His home was near his wife, who helped support him in his later years.
Separated from Elena, he used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of her, and lived with it until his death on July 3, 1952.