May 8, 2022

Carl Tanzler // 110 // Count Carl Von Cosel // Part 1

Carl Tanzler // 110 // Count Carl Von Cosel // Part 1

Carl Tanzler is known as Count Carl Von Cosel.  He worked as a radiology technician at a hospital in Key West, Florida.  He became obsessed with one of his patients, Elena Milagro de Hoyos and she died from Tuberculosis.  Carl's obsession carried on after her death, he took her body from the mausoleum, and he kept her corpse for 7 years.

Óscar Chávez - Boda Negra lyrics + English translation (

Undying Love: The Shocking True Key West Story of A Passion That Defied Death: Harrison, Ben: 9781736460443: Books

Von Cosel: Tom Swicegood: 9780595656899: Books


Until death do us part. This is typically something we hear about during wedding vows, to signify a promise to love one another for the rest of their lives, but in this story, things were taken much further. Carl Tanzler was born February 8th, 1877, in Dresden, Germany. He says he grew up in a haunted family Castle. He was interested in electricity, chemical experiments, astronomy, and the human body. When he was young, he knew that he had a soulmate out there. Around the age of 12, he dreamed of a woman that would leave an impression on his life forever. She revealed her face to him in his dream and Carl knew at that moment that he would find this woman someday and marry her. He wrote about how the Countess Anna appeared and told him that she wanted to show him his future wife. Another woman appeared next to Countess Anna and Carl said that he was completely spellbound by her beauty. As we know, things don't always pan out the way you think they will when you're young. Carl tried to find the woman he dreamt about. He claims that his quest lead him all over the world. In a cemetery in Genoa, he saw a marble statue of a beautiful girl who looked strikingly similar to the girl that would be his future wife. He learned that the girl had died when she was just 22 years old and her name was Elena.

He wrote:

As if under a spell I kept repeating that name, Elena, Elena. And it was then that all of a sudden the figure of a live girl in the same white dress seemed to detach itself from the statue and slowly walk past where I stood, looking at me. There was no doubt in my mind that she was indeed the apparition of my youthful days and that she was alive.

Carl believed that it was destiny that lead him to Germany. He felt that he was supposed to see that statue. In 1901, he says he started living in Australia and he would have been 24 years old at this point. He claims he passed 9 exams at a university, like he got 9 separate degrees. He also says he invented a seaplane with a 100 and ten foot wing span and two five hundred horsepower diesel engines. So, he's either lying, or a genius. But he says that there was a new apparition of his future bride. He saw a woman with long black hair and dark eyes, showing through a veil. He wrapped his arms around the woman and felt that he could stay in this embrace forever. This time, the apparition was different than the other two times. This one stayed with him for 7 days. She followed him around during his daily work and stood by his bed as he slept at night. When she finally disappeared, he wrote:

I have no words to describe my sorrow over her loss; may it suffice to say that mental depression brought my health to a very low state, so that a fortnight thereafter I found myself in a hospital and remained there for more than three months, unconscious most of the time, under a combined attack of typhoid and malaria fever.... 

Carl would have been 35 at the beginning of the First World War and he claimed he was taken into custody. He was picking up mysterious monthly checks from the post office later in his life, which could have been pension for his military service, so this may be true. 

In 1920, he married a woman named Doris Schafer and they had two kids, Ayesha and Clarista. This didn't really satisfy Carl and he felt disappointed that he never found the woman of his dreams. 

In 1926, he emigrated to the U.S. From Germany and he settled in to Florida. He decided to Americanize his name, so he changed it from Karl with a K to Carl with a C. His wife and children joined him soon after, but he ended up leaving his family about a year later. A priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church sent a letter of recommendation to a Marine Hospital on Carl's behalf.

My dearest friend,

Most of my morning has been occupied with a German immigrant, a staunch Catholic. He uses the appellation Count Carl Tanzler Von Cosel – If you can handle that! I suppose he has a right to call himself whatever he pleases, although his real given name seems to be plain Karl Tanzler. He's persisted in telling me strange tales. He claims to have been born in a castle, educated in Germany, kidnapped in Cuba, smuggled to North Africa, traveled through Asia, and interned in Australia during the Great War. After hearing all of that from him I asked myself, why should I believe this man? And then I asked, why not? Tanzler may well be one of those people who roam the earth always having larger than life experiences. He appears to have a scientific background. Knowing you need someone to fill your radiology opening at the hospital, I'm sending this fellow to you for consideration.”

I'm sure this letter was a bit intriguing, so Dr. Lombard did call Carl in for an interview. He said he was born in a castle and graduated from the university with final degrees in mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, biology, philosophy, music, painting and psychology. Dr. Lombard was like, ok those are subjects that you take, you couldn't have possibly gotten a degree in all of them. Carl said he certainly did get 9 degrees and he graduated with honors in all of them. In fact, he could prove it if all of his papers hadn't been stolen in Australia. Dr. Lombard flat out told Carl that he thought he was incredibly delusional, but they needed someone to fill the position.

He got the job as a radiology technician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida. While he worked at the hospital, he finally found his soulmate. The Marine hospital that he worked at was intended primarily for seafarers which is someone who regularly travels by sea or is employed to work on a marine vessel. They were able to do pretty advanced procedures and they also did a lot of experiments there too. 

Carl wrote:

In the middle of my routine work, I received a call from the head office to go and take a blood test from a young senorita who as an outpatient, had come for examination. I hardly looked at the patient as I entered the room. The first thing I noticed of her personality as I bent down to take a drop of blood from one of her fingertips, rather than one of her ears which were too exquisitely lovely to mar, was that her hand was unusually small: its long tapering fingers the loveliest I had ever seen. As the needle struck, the hand twitched a little and it was then that from my kneeling position, I raised my head for the first time to say, I'm very sorry to have caused you pain, forgive me please. Her face had been hidden by her hand, so that I had hardly seen it as I first entered the room. But now she withdrew her hand to answer me and I looked into a face of unearthly beauty, the face of the bride which had been promised to me by my ancestor forty years before. I was so thunderstruck, I hardly heard her saying: It didn't hurt much. Excuse my nervousness. Her voice was soft and sweet and childlike. It reminded me of a mockingbird's song in spring. She spoke with a Spanish accent, yet her English was cultured and quite good. Having performed the duty for which I had been called, I had no excuse to stay any longer in the room. Feeling very shaky, I arose and, much too confused to say anything, I merely bowed myself out, not knowing whether I was walking or dreaming.

Carl couldn't contain himself. Before he left, he said, You really are beautiful, so lovely! 

Just to really set the scene, it wasn't the two of them alone in a room when he's acting like this. The doctor, a nurse, and the woman's mother were all there too. Once the patient left the office, the nurse and doctor joked around with Carl about his behavior and mentioned how far apart they were in age. Carl didn't care and said that's the woman he had seen in his dreams so many times. They let him know that not only was she less than half his age, she was married, and very sick with Tuberculosis. Carl decided he would be the one to cure Elena and she would be so grateful for everything he's done. 

When he was processing the blood sample, he looked at the top of the record sheet and saw that it said MRS. Elena Hoyos. It was true, she was married. He wrote:

So she belonged to somebody else. Was there a curse upon me that after this search of four decades had come to an end, I should lose her again at the very moment I had finally discovered her, my promised bride? Even so, I felt indescribably happy. What, after all, did it matter if she belonged to another; hadn't I also belonged to another years ago? 

Elena had a follow up appointment so that she could get some x-rays done the following day. This is the one chance for Carl to be alone with her because he was the xray technician and no one else is allowed in the room during this. He proceeded to tell Elena that he has loved her since before she was born. She was extremely uncomfortable, said she didn't know or trust him, and she wanted to go back to her mother. He asked her if she was married and she said yes. She was in love with her husband, but she got pregnant, lost the baby, and then her husband left her for another woman when she got sick. But, since she was without her husband, Carl had hope again. 

After reviewing the x-ray, it was determined that Elena was in stage 2 of tuberculosis or TB and she likely had a year or two left to live. At this time, they didn't have the medical knowledge that we have now, so a TB diagnosis was terminal. The type of TB Elena had was called hasty consumption because the disease consumed people quickly. The doctor broke the news to her mother and Carl was going to tell Elena. Instead of telling Elena about how much time she had left, Carl said he was positive he could cure her and he said he wasn't willing to lose her. Since he couldn't convince her, he went to her mother and explained that he could order all the equipment needed to cure Elena and it wouldn't cost them anything. He would need to go to their house though. The mom was obviously desperate to save her daughter, so she agreed. 

At first, the family was thrilled that someone was willing to help Elena. They welcomed Carl into their home and had hope that he could cure her. Their feelings soon shifted over the next several weeks. Carl was ordering tons of equipment such as electrical coils, high-voltage spark-generating gadgets, and various other items for his experiments. Elena's mother was very worried and demanded that he better not use any of that stuff on her daughter and he better not burn their home down with it. Up until this time, Carl had been sending part of his checks to his wife and children, but now his main focus was to cure Elena. The checks became very sporadic and eventually just stopped all together. As he spent more time with Elena, he kept mentioning that he wanted to marry her and she rejected this and kept reminding him that she was a married woman. She was separated from her husband at the moment, but would remain faithful to him and hoped he would return to her. Carl figured he could eventually wear Elena down and she would fall for him. He was more than obsessed with her. In his spare time, he was working on building an airplane and he named it Contessa Elaine.

The locals say that Elena often wore a red rose in her hair. She had a beauty that was so unusual that tourists would often stop to take pictures with her. She had fair skin, dark brown eyes, black hair, full of life, and she was infinitely kind. Her household was always busy. Family members and friends were constantly coming over, cooking, and celebrating together. 

One night, after Carl had spent all day with Elena and her family, he told her that if she became his wife, he would always take care of her. Elena explained that it will never happen because she was 21 and he was in his 50's. She wasn't comfortable with that kind of age difference. He said,

Elena, I can give you so much more than someone your age. I can give you my science, my experience, my capacity to save your life...all of this and more. I will give you my undying love.”

Carl handed her a ring and her parents freaked out and said he needed to leave their family alone. He didn't leave them alone, but the family made sure that he was never alone with Elena, she was chaperoned anytime Carl showed up. I think Elena's message to Carl got a bit confusing at this point. She was saying they were just friends and she didn't want anything more, but she started wearing his engagement ring when she was around him. She said she wanted him to know she was wearing it and they were just really good friends, but it gave him a sliver of hope again.

Carl ended up getting sick and was in the hospital for close to 6 weeks, but he did recover. When he got out, the first thing he did was show up at Elena's house, but the family had moved out and someone else was there. Carl went door to door, trying to find her and no one would tell him anything. He buried himself in work, but would search each night by wandering through the town and looking through people's windows. He searched for days and finally found a woman who happily gave the families new address to him and she said Elena had told her to do it. Carl was delighted when he finally found Elena, but her condition had rapidly taken a turn for the worse. She was still wearing the engagement ring, but it was too big for her now because she lost so much weight. She was longer able to keep food down.

Over the next few months, Carl tried every contraption, device, or medicinal cocktail that he could dream up for Elena. It got to the point where his employer warned him that he was taking things too far and they may need to let him go. He didn't care about his job though. So, he brought a new machine over to Elena's house. It had an 8 inch glass tube that goes down the patient's throat and the tip of the tube builds up with an electric charge. Bursts of energy are pulsed through in ultra-violet light and it's supposed to slow or stop the growth of tubercular bacteria. Carl always convinced Elena to try any of his experiments and he even started bringing her to church and got her baptized, but they did this secretly because her family wouldn't be happy if they found out. 

Carl seemed to obviously be obsessed with Elena and tried all medical treatments that he could, but her parents were on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. They didn't really believe in lots of medicine, they stopped bringing her to the hospital for treatments, and would have people over to the house daily to party. I think they were trying to keep Elena's spirits up? But everyone would sing and dance around her and they would also smoke and drink.

Carl was getting frantic with worry and wrote a letter to Elena:

Darling, if you have any willpower left, please use it in the right direction, concentrate everything on your health. Please, do come over for treatment before it is too late. Let me see you again, Elena, I implore you. So often you have said that I am too old for you, but listen, darling, I never count my year, neither do I count yours. If you were a mummy, five thousand years old, I would marry you just the same. I swear; it's not for selfish reasons that I want this marriage but because I can do so much more than a boy your age....Oh darling, I would take you to my South Sea Island or to the big cities of Europe or wherever you want to go. Only, do come and let me care for you again.

Elena's parents did start to realize that her condition was getting much more serious, so they eventually took her to other medical doctors and all they could offer were pain killers to make her more comfortable. Carl was wildly upset when he found out they took her to other doctors behind his back. When he went back to the house to begin her treatments again, he would shower her in gifts, then they did electrode therapy where electricity would surge through her body which would make her jolt and scream. 

In Carl's memoirs, he claims that Elena did have a conversation that he took as a wedding vow. He wrote how Elena said that if she died, all she can leave him is her body and she just can't marry him when she's this sick. She asked if he would take care of her body when she's dead and he promised. This was the most sacred promise Carl had ever made and they sealed it with a kiss. He considered this a marriage vow.

Soon after this marriage vow incident, Elena played a song for Carl that was called La Boda Negra which means The Black Wedding and she translated the story for him. Keep in mind, I don't speak Spanish, so I looked up the English translation and it's possible that something could be slightly off. I saw a few different versions, but the jist of the story is still the same.

Listen to the story I was once told

by the old gravedigger of the region

It was about a lover who by ungodly luck

had his sweet beloved taken by death

Every night he went to the cemetery

to visit the tomb of his sweet beloved

The townspeople secretly whispered

that he was a dead man who escaped the pit

On a horrendous night he shattered to pieces

the abandoned marble tomb;

he dug the earth and carried in his arms

the rigid skeleton of his beloved

And there in the sand and gloomy room

he mourned under a feeble flame

He sat beside her cold and rigid bones

and celebrated his wedding with his dead beloved

He tied her bare bones with ribbons

her rigid skull he crowned with flowers

he covered her decaying mouth with kisses

and proclaimed his love to her with a smile

He took his bride to their soft wedding bed

lying next to her, in love

and he remained asleep forever

while embracing her rigid skeleton

Carl loved the song and the story and he considered this to be “their song”. 

As Elena got worse and worse, she started to worry that her mom and grandma were planning to send her to the asylum for the terminally ill in Cuba. She begged Carl to help her and make sure they didn't ship her off. Carl drafted up a letter and put it inside Elena's pillow and said if anyone tries to take her, she must give them the letter. It said,

To Whom it may concern,

This is to testify that Elena Hoyos is my wife. Her mental status is normal. She is perfectly sane and under the medical care of Dr. Lombard and myself. I will not tolerate any interference or her removal to any institution or asylum.

Carl Von Cosel, Pathologist P.H.S.

Elena was pleased with the letter and placed it in her pillow. She told Carl that she's afraid to die because she doesn't want to buried in the ground with worms. She made Carl promise that he would take care of her. Take care of her body after death. He promised. Unfortunately, the treatments didn't work and Elena passed away on October 25th, 1931. She had dressed herself up in her new silk dress and jewelry that Carl gave her. She got in her father's car and he drove her around town so she could wave at all her friends, but no one realized it was going to be her last moments.

Carl went to her house about an hour later and he did actually attempt to revive her, but it was too late. Elena's family had already taken the fancy dress and jewelry off of her and she was now wearing an old shirt. This felt like a blow to Carl. They were taking away all of the gifts from him. Her family didn't have much money and they were not able to pay for a funeral, so they told Carl he could plan the entire thing if he paid. He chose not to have Elena embalmed and he gave her a Catholic funeral. He actually believed that Elena might not be dead and waited next to her to keep checking for her breath. The funeral was quite extravagant. At the very last moment, before the casket was closed, Carl kissed Elena goodbye and placed a note in her casket. It said:

Elena, my darling Elena:

My love for you is greater than ever. You are now free from all of your fetters, and you are free to go where you wish. Elena, please come to me sweetheart. I long so much for you to tell me, what shall I do? As I cannot live without you, will you have me darling? Then take me or you come to me and stay with me until I can go with you, my sweetheart, Elena.

Your own Carl

It was a very long procession of vehicles that followed Elena to her resting place. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was playing and Carl wrote about feeling as if this was a wedding, not a funeral. He could feel Elena's presence surrounding him and realized that finally, no one could take her away from him. A man that no one knew did show up and started shouting things a caused a scene. He ended up falling in the hole and landed on top of Elena's casket. 

Carl spent a lot of time at Elena's grave and was worried about the rain flooding the graveyard. He inquired about this and was told that yes, water can seep into coffins if they get a lot. Also, hurricanes can wash the coffins away. He decided to visit Elena's family and discovered they had started to burn her possessions. They believed they needed to get rid of the TB germs, but they didn't realize that it was too late. Her father and mother already had it. The family was not able to afford rent, so they were going to be moving. Carl said he could pay rent to live in Elena's old room so they could stay and the family agreed. Carl ended up taking care of the family since they were so ill, but he did spend way more time at the cemetery because he had a plan. Carl was going to build a mausoleum to keep Elena's body safe. He hired some men to dig Elena's coffin back out and he had to pay extra because he forced them to do this during a rainstorm.

Carl decided that Elena must look perfect when she was laid to rest in her tomb. He retrieved her jewelry from her family and he also took back her hair. Elena's mother wanted to keep her daughter's long black hair, so they had it cut off. Carl was very prepared when it came to moving Elena to her new casket. He brought new sheets, pillow, sterile cotton, gauze, chemicals, and sprays. He even brought an incubation tank just in case. Once the lid of the casket was opened, Carl sprayed diluted formalin all over her body. This is used for disinfection and also to harden the body tissues. When the undertaker was getting ready to transfer Elena's corpse, the smell became overwhelming. The undertaker and Carl tried spraying deodorizer spray all over the coffin, but it didn't work. So, they went grabbed a few beers to wash their throats, then they went back to finish the job. Unfortunately, the coffin had been slightly crushed on the side where Elena's head was, so the silk lining had become attached to her face. The undertaker said it was practically glued to her and if he pulled it off, it would rip away chunks of flesh. They carefully cut the silk away so the coffin could be opened and it was moldy, full of water, and infested with termites and maggots. Once her body was ready, she was lifted into her new coffin and then that coffin went into an outer metal coffin. 

Carl felt like he wanted to keep Elena's body clean. He had actually done some drawings of a tank that would circulate fluids and give her a constant bath, but the caretaker said that was a terrible idea. So, he tells the mortician that he needs some time alone in the embalming room and they agreed. He would go to the morgue to pull Elena out of the inner coffin and place her in his incubator tank. He would pour a solution in the top that had something to nourish your cells and it also had antiseptic. Carl hired people to help him and they began working on constructing the mausoleum which took 3 months to complete. This really consumed all of this time and his work began to suffer at the hospital and some days he just didn't show up. They told him he better get his shit together because there were other people that wanted his job and he was 57 year old, Carl wouldn't just easily find another job if they fired him. It was difficult for him to focus on anything outside of Elena because she was talking to him. Carl could hear her voice all the time and she would ask him questions about if she was dead and she would tell him to stay with her. The kids in town would go by the cemetery to make fun of Carl because they saw him talking to himself on a daily basis. The kids were actually torturing Carl. They taunted him, threw rocks at his head, and they would bang on the mausoleum when he'd visit Elena.

It's rumored that he may have installed a telephone so he could call her when the weather was too bad to visit, but he was faithful and showed up almost every night. One night, he was in the mausoleum and he fell asleep. A loud crashing noise woke him and he realized that all 50 locks on the metal casket has sprung open. He actually thought it felt like a funny joke, like Elena was playing one of her tricks on him. Then, he heard something different. It was a sound like a finger scratching on metal. He quickly pulled the keys out of his pocket, opened the remaining locks and opened the outer casket. He put his ear against the inner coffin, but couldn't hear anything more. When he opened the inside casket, he could smell a very familiar chemical that is found in human blood. He believed that Elena was coming back to life. 


Óscar Chávez - Boda Negra lyrics + English translation (

Undying Love: The Shocking True Key West Story of A Passion That Defied Death: Harrison, Ben: 9781736460443: Books

Von Cosel: Tom Swicegood: 9780595656899: Books