People fall in love. People become infatuated. People become smitten. It happens to almost everyone; however, sometimes it goes too far. For some people, it goes WAY too far. Carl Tanzler, a German-born, maried doctor fell in love with a woman and was unable to overcome his feelings…even after her death.
Born in Germany on February 8, 1877, information about Tanzler was hard to come by for a few years due to his practice of using a menagerie of names, his birth and death certificates read Carl Tanzler, he used Georg Karl Tänzler on his German marriage certificate, his American papers were signed Carl Tanzler von Cosel, and hospital records were signed with the regal-sounding Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel. Despite his oddities – paranoid and eccentric – Tanzler married Doris Ann Shafer in 1920. Together, the couple had two daughters (one of whom passed away from diphtheria) and moved to the United States in 1926. Their ship landed in Cuba before quickly moving to Florida and opening a radiology clinic.
Tanzler had often made claims of being visited by his dead ancestors, but no visit was more prominent in Tanzler’s life than that of Countess Anna Constantina Von Cosel who apparently revealed to Tanzler the face of his true love. Unfortunately for his wife, the revelation was not her face. It was, it turns out, the face of Maria Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos, a patient who walked into Tanzler’s clinic for an x-ray. Elena was diagnosed with tuberculosis and Tanzler treated her with many different techniques; however, treating her illness was not Tanzler’s only intentions. He showered Elena with gifts and proclaimed his love for her. This love, it would seem, was not returned and was certainly not appreciated by Tanzler’s wife.
Elena Hoya died of her sickness on October 25, 1931 and Tanzler insisted on paying for her funeral. The doctor visited Elena’s grave nearly every night until April 1933 when visiting just wasn’t enough. The twisted man stole Elena’s corpse from her grave and transported it to his home where he claimed her spirit visited each night. Sewing her bones together with wire, placing glass eyes, a wig, and making skin coverings with silk and plaster, filling her chest cavity with rags, adorning the corpse with jewellery and abundant amounts of perfumes, Tanzler kept the body and created a sick life with it.
It wasn’t until 1940 that rumours regarding the doctor’s odd sleeping partner caused Elena’s sister to take action. She confronted the man and the body was quickly discovered by Florida police who arrested Tanzler. Tanzler stood trial, but the case was thrown out due to the statute of limitations expiring on the crime of “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.”
After inspection by many officials, Elena’s body, fitted with Tanzler’s modifications, was put on display at the Dean-Lopez funeral home where it was views by nearly 7000 curious people. Eventually, Elena’s remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Key West Cemetery.
There was some evidence released in the ’70s suggesting necrophilia, but that has never been officially confirmed.
In 1944, Tanzler moved to Pasco County in Florida and used a home-made death mask to create an effigy of Elena. He lived with this chilling figure until his death in 1952. Information about Tanzler’s wife is scarce and all that is really known is that his body was found three weeks after his death alone on the floor of his home.
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