In 1930, a man named Carl Tanzler was living in Key West, Florida when he met Elena Hoyos.
Elena had checked into the United States Marine Hospital where Tanzler was working as an X-ray technician. It was determined she had tuberculosis, a diagnosis that was, at that time, often a death sentence.
As a child, Tanzler had had a dream where a dead relative showed him a woman he’d meet one day. When he met Elena, he was certain she was the dream girl.
Elena was a 21-year-old Cuban woman whose husband had left her, though they were still legally married until her death. Tanzler was 55, German, and had left his family in another part of Florida to live alone in Key West. He greatly exaggerated his accomplishments and called himself Count von Cosel (he wasn’t a count).
Tanzler was obsessed with Elena, and tried desperately to cure her disease. He ignored the hospital’s protocol and the boundaries of his own job description, playing doctor with at-home treatments and homemade medicines.
Meanwhile, he smothered her with love offerings and marriage proposals, though it’s doubtful she reciprocated his feelings. You know, because he was a huge creep and she was just trying to survive the disease ravaging her body.
Not surprisingly, Tanzler’s inappropriate advances and unauthorized cures didn’t work, and Elena died in 1931. Tanzler personally bought a mausoleum to house her remains. Unbeknownst to her family, he was the only one with the key and would visit her at night. He also apparently had a telephone installed in the mausoleum so they could talk.
Two years after Elena’s death, Tanzler secretly removed her body and towed it to his home in a child’s wagon. He later claimed that through one of their conversations, Elena had instructed him to do so.
Tanzler filled Elena’s rotting corpse with rags, secured her bones with wire, and mended her skin with wax and plaster.
He dressed the body in her own clothes and a wig of her own hair. He inserted glass eyes and disguised the smell of decay with perfume. And most upsetting of all, he made a makeshift vagina from a paper tube so he could have sex with the corpse.
Tanzler also bizarrely intended to use the airship shown below to launch Elena’s corpse into space, which he thought would resurrect her and turn back the clock on her body’s decay. Uh…okay, moving right along…
In 1940, suspicious that something weird was going on, Elena’s sister Florinda went to Tanzler’s house. She found the disturbing scene and contacted the police.
Tanzler was arrested for grave robbing, but he ended up walking free because the statute of limitations on the crime had already passed.
The body was removed and placed on view for the public at a local funeral home. The scene was a giant spectacle, attracting over 6,000 people, including the press. Many chose to romanticize the story, seeing Tanzler as a man entwined in a tragic love tale.
For the rest of his life, Carl Tanzler longed for Elena. He actually had the gall to ask for her corpse back, but it was buried in an unmarked grave by this time so he’d never be able to find it.
When he died in 1952, he was found with another horrifying creation…a life-size doll wearing a plaster death mask of Elena!