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 (lyricstranslate.com)
RECAP of part 1: Carl had a dream around age 12 about a woman that would someday be his wife. Over the years, he began searching for her and would see apparitions. When he was in his 50's and working at a hospital, he met a woman named Elena and knew she was the one he had been dreaming about. Elena was only 21 years old, she was married, and dying of Tuberculosis. Carl decided he could cure her, they would fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. He spent months tying every experiment he could think of, but the treatments didn't work and Elena passed away on October 25th, 1931. Since Elena's family didn't have any money, they were unable to pay for a funeral. The family agreed that Carl could make all decisions for the funeral if he paid for it. He chose not to have Elena embalmed and gave her a Catholic funeral. He spent most of his time at Elena's grave each day, but he also moved into her home and was staying in her old bedroom.
He eventually decided that Elena's body wasn't safe being buried and he wanted to keep her clean, so he built a mausoleum for her instead. One night, Carl fell asleep in the mausoleum and was jolted awake when he heard a loud crashing noise. He realized that 50 locks on Elena's casket had sprung open. When he put his ear against the inner coffin, he couldn't hear anything, but he could smell human blood. Carl believed that Elena was coming back to life and that is where we left off.
The more Carl went to visit Elena, the more he felt that she was getting stronger. He could hear her voice talking to him and she began to sing songs to him as well. He wrote:
Everyone thought it was the end, didn't they?
We knew, didn't we, that it was only the beginning.
Now, in death, no one can take you from me. I know how relieved you were when I removed your coffin from the ground.
I knew you weren't safe from the torrential rains. I couldn't stand to have your beautiful form perish from the ground water.
It's hard to believe that I have been visiting you here for almost two years. When I put my hands on your casket it always feels warm.
It feels as though electricity is passing through my arms. Do you like this little house I built for you?
At some point in Carl's life, he visited a fakir (fa-keer). This is a member of an Islamic religious group and they are defined by many as Muslim scholars. The fakir told Carl that to be cured of a disease, a person needs to die for a year. This lead Carl to believe that Elena's body was actually being cured and she would heal and come back to life. He started showing up to the mausoleum with books and would read to Elena and he left the radio on for her. During his conversations with her, Elena started begging Carl to set her free. She didn't want to be in the coffin any longer. She wanted to go home with him. Carl was going to become a grave robber.
He spent time planning the whole thing and he decided on a day right before Easter. He went to the mausoleum and removed the inner coffin from the outer one and loaded it on his wagon and covered it with blankets and put a crucifix on top.
Carl wrote: I was prepared to risk my life, and to face any danger which would cross my path this night. There was no half way, this was clear to me. Once it started, it had to be carried out to a finish....This was my resolve. Besides, I did not know of a single person whom I could ask for help. Not a single human being I could trust who would be reliably discreet. And she would have to come out, if ever I was to take proper care of her.
He wheeled the coffin to the fence, moved some of the planks to pull it through, then he went to some abandoned houses. He was going to push the coffin through a window, but the ground broke when he lifted it up. His feet dropped through a bit, it twisted his ankles, he fell, and the coffin dropped on top of him. When Carl came to, he realized that he was tasting his own blood, he was pinned to the ground by a coffin and a liquid was oozing out of the coffin and was all over him. He was able to eventually get the coffin inside the house and then it was moved to his airplane soon after. He had an airplane he was fixing up that sat right next to the hospital he worked at.
He sponge cleaned Elena as soon as he had a chance, then he filled the coffin with water and carbolic acid to kill the maggots and the odor. He dressed Elena in a bridal gown, jewelry, wedding ring, and a tiara, put perfume on her, and added her long hair back on. The odor was no longer an issue because Carl made a small incision on Elena's left side to remove her intestines, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, bladder, liver and lungs. He had learned that this was a critical part of preservation. He followed the procedures from Ancient Egyptians where you remove the organs and dry them in table salt, baking soda, and trace minerals, then you seal them in jars. Carl filled Elena's abdomen with sterile cotton and absorbent linen packets. He also had to patch up all the holes that larvae caused to Elena's body. Also, Elena's eyes were gone, so he had to put in glass replacements. Her fingers and toes were wired and bandaged to delay the disintegration.
He put splints on Elena's nose that were kept in place with bandages. He also needed to straighten out her arm which had been folded across her body in the coffin. He used a counterweight with a cord over a pulley on the ceiling and it was fastened to a bandage on her wrist. This would apply gently tension to slowly move the arm back into place. He also made what has been referred to as the death mask. Carl made a plaster cast of Elena so he could have a permanent record of her face. He did several copies to make sure it was perfect. He put a fine silk over her face for protection, but it accidentally got glued to her. He realized that this would be a good way to keep the bugs away from her though, so he ended up completely covering her body in the fine silk.
Carl was convinced that Elena needed to be hydrated and he could use electricity to resurrect her. He wanted Elena to get stronger and that means he had to give her food. He would put broth in his mouth, put his lips to hers and spit it in like a baby bird. He felt that Elena was calling to him, begging for sex....so he did it. He slid a tube in her vaginal cavity and it was filled with cotton to catch the semen. Carl was actually fired from his job that day, totally unrelated to the necrophilia and he was told that he had 3 days to move his wingless plane off the property. A police officer actually spoke to Carl about the plane and said there was a beachfront property that belonged to the city and he could put the plane there. Carl loved the idea and agreed to have it moved that weekend and the officer said that's perfect, we will have a parade. So, Elena's family towed the plane with their car and obviously had no idea that their daughter's body was inside. The whole town joined in and enjoyed the parade, they just didn't realize what was really going on in that plane.
Around this time, Carl's daughter, Clarista, ended up dying from diptheria and she was only 10 years old. His real wife, Doris, wrote a letter to him and expressed that she needed financial and emotional support. She wanted him to attend the funeral, but he flat ignored the letters. He didn't go to the funeral or send any money because he was too consumed with taking care of Elena.
Once he was settled into his new location, he got right to work. He bathed Elena as often as he could and he weighed her. When he was pushing food and liquids in her, the weight on the scale obviously went up and Carl believed her body was healing. He would fill her coffin with plasma solutions for her body to float in, but it became difficult because people were showing up at the beach and would throw rocks and debris at his plane. This time, it wasn't kids, it was grown ass adults and they busted the windows of the plane. He decided to live full time in the plane to protect Elena and he actually had someone living outside the plane. There was a building that the two men were fixing up and Carl lived in this location for almost two years. He found out that the city was going to use dynamite to demolish the building and he was told he had to go. Carl went to visit a lawyer, but there was obviously nothing that could be done. The city owned the property he had been living on. He thought his luck had finally run out, but that wasn't true.
The lawyer offered Carl a deal. He had some offices that were vacant and squatters were staying there. If Carl could keep people out of the building, he could stay there, rent free and his plane could be on the land. Carl, Frank, and Elena, moved into the office buildings. Carl was finally able to keep Elena out of the coffin full time and he engaged in a lot of necrophilia. On certain occasions, he genuinely believed he could see Elena's hands move and he thought she was coming back to life. He was so giddy, he wanted to contact the newspapers and tell everyone! Now, there was actually another man that saw Elena. He was inside the building and slipped into Carl's room, then shouted that there was a dead woman in the bed. Carl explained that her spirit was very much alive and he was trying to resurrect her. The man seemed ok with this explanation and occasionally stopped by to see how Elena was and wanted Carl to tell him when the resurrection process started.
This may have given Carl some confidence, because he pretty much stopped hiding Elena after this and his roommate, Frank did see her. The two men started fighting all the time after this. Not about Elena, just everything else, I think they were avoiding the topic. Elena's parents both ended up dying from TB just a few years after their daughter. The family also sent word to Carl that someone was trying to break into Elena's mausoleum. The family insisted that they wanted Elena's tomb opened so they could make sure her body was unharmed, but Carl kept saying no. There were so many rumors floating around town that Carl had been doing weird things at the cemetery, so the family stayed firm on their demands. Open the vault. After a verbal and physical fight, because Elena's sister hit Carl, her family said they would call the police if he didn't let them see Elena's body.
Carl said he would show them, but they must go to his place to talk first. Elena had been dead for 9 years at this point and Carl lead the family to his room to see her lying on his bed. It didn't take long for the family to call the police and they took Carl into custody and they took Elena's body. On October 7th, 1940, the door to a small funeral home opened and anyone who had ten cents, could see Elena. Two men stood near her body with fly swatters and would swat people's hands if they tried to touch Elena or take anything off her. This story blew up in the newspapers and everyone had a different take on the story. The French portrayed Carl as a great lover, Germans celebrated him for being a scientist, and others said that Carl and Elena were star-crossed lovers.
An officer that Carl knew for many years stopped by his cell to speak with him. He said that he was furious when he originally realized that Carl took Elena. He found out about it years prior and that's why Carl had been fired from his job and the officer had relocated him and his airplane to a new location that was kind of off the grid. The officer tried to tell the family about his suspicions, but they didn't believe him and said Carl was just playing around with masks or something. The officer felt that Carl was genuinely trying to take care of Elena, so he just left him alone.
Carl's previous wife, Doris Tanzler, sent a letter to the police when she heard about everything that happened. It said:
I note in the papers that Carl Tanzler is in custody. He is my husband and we have been separated for eleven years. His mind is troubled on account of many ways. It was impossible for us to live together. If my testimony as to his sanity is desirable, I will gladly tell all I know.
Mrs. Doris Tanzler
Carl was evaluated and it was determined that he was not insane. An autopsy was performed on Elena and they found out that her natural organs had been removed. She was in varying states of decay, but her body was held together with coat hangers and wire. The chest cavity contained cotton and other absorbent materials and she had been covered with silk and her face was essentially painted on. The people in town had always been against Carl because they thought he was strange, but the story actually made them want to help him. People were sending in letters saying he should be free and he should get to keep Elena because their love was so strong. People also felt strongly that he was a scientist who was working on experiments. They didn't feel that he should be punished for doing that. The town also figured out how to come up with the bail money for him. One man put his restaurant on the line and another put his motel up. They volunteered to send property bonds so he could be free. Townspeople stopped by his barred window and would offer him food and said that his friend, Frank was going to guard the house and they would be feeding him as well.
Ladies from all over, thought this story was so romantic and they wanted to meet Carl. There wasn't enough space inside for the crowd, so the jailers had to bring him outside to the yard to greet them. On October 7th, here's the headline that was printed in The Miami Herald by Earl Adams:
Dead Girl's Highly Educated Lover Sees No Wrong In Removing Her From Crypt
Holder of nine University degrees sits in jail dazed by events; tells of trying to restore life.
During the trial, Carl told the judge that he resurrected Elena and her spirit gave him advice. He wanted to protect her and without her, he would feel lost. He knew she could still hear him and that's why he placed the organ right next to her, so he could play music for her every night. He testified for a half hour about his love for Elena. He was adamant that he wanted her body back. The judge said that absolutely wasn't happening and he said her body would be buried and only the relatives would be told where the grave is.
Carl said, “I was thunderstruck. This was not fair, this was monstrous. She to be buried again after all my work? Elena nothing to me? She, who was everything to me. All I could stammer was:
It is the end of everything for me. I protest against the inhuman decision. You cannot do this. It means her utter ruin and a break of faith to my Elena. If I cannot have her back, I will abide by your decision, but I will carry on my fight to the highest court of the land to annul this decision.
Letters started pouring in from all over the country and people wanted Carl to go free.
On October 29th, 1940, the jury decided that there was insufficient evidence that a crime had been committed. One of them read:
Will you please bring this letter to the attention of the proper authorities. Relative to Karl Tanzler von Cosel, we feel that the very fact that he preserved a human body for the period of seven years is proof of his ability as a scientist; furthermore, his investigation into extreme research should be considered as a valuable human experimentation and not as a criminal case...
In these times, with the world's lust to kill and destroy, it is no more than expected for the mob to unjustly crucify
but if, by miracle, a person, such as professor von Cosel, could succeed in restoring to life a deceased person, the greatest discovery of all ages would have been made.
Even if the chances be a million to one against his chances of success, it was worth the try...
Past history reveals that most of our great scientist have been unjustly labeled by the majority who could neither follow nor comprehend, which, in reality, was an inner, hidden grudge against anyone who had the courage and intelligence to further the progress of the world...
We feel that not only should he be liberated, with compensation, but also, that he should be permitted to carry on with his subject with the permission of the subject's custodians.
Signed, Jack Harman Linton and Mrs. Nettis Linton, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Mrs. M Sellman, of New York City.
Once the sheriff gave the funeral home permission to pick up Elena's body, things got a little complicated. Her body didn't need refrigeration or embalming, so, what do they do with her? Also, where did her remains belong? Elena's family wanted her buried, Carl wanted her back, and law officials didn't want anything to do with the body. Who was going to make the payment? Carl was in jail and her family didn't have a lot of money. That's when the funeral home decided to do a viewing. People streamed in to see Elena in a glass case, like Sleeping Beauty. You could see her for only 10 cents and the manager of the funeral home says 6,850 showed up.
When Carl was released, people from every state were stopping by to see him. They took pictures in his airplane and the women would beg him for tiny pieces of Elena's bridal dress or for something from his lab, such as a nail or a screw. Carl didn't have a lot of money left, so he started charging people a quarter to take a tour. He ended up putting Key West on the map as a tourist place and for months, they were seeing record amounts of traffic on the highways and toll bridges. At first, Carl loved the attention, but it grew old and he didn't want to be there without Elena. He decided to move so he could find a quiet place to write his memoirs and he was going to keep Elena's casket, the plane, and the organ.
One night, he got dressed up in a black suit that he used to wear when he would visit Elena in her mausoleum. He walked in the dark to the cemetery and used his key to slip inside the mausoleum. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he took out sticks of dynamite and he wedged them above the wooden doorjamb and he set the timer for 24 hours. Carl left town and headed to his sister's place to stay with her awhile. About three hours after he left, the mausoleum blew up.
Carl did end up writing his memoir. Coincidentally, the town his sister lived in, was the town where his previous wife and child lived. They didn't ask for this, but their name was drug through the mud with his and they were still technically married. Even though he deeply hurt his family, Mrs. Tanzler showed him great compassion. When Carl ran out of the money he made from the book deal, his wife would meet up with him every week and they would sit on opposite ends of a park bench. They would talk for awhile and she would give him money. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough for him to get food.
Neighbors always saw Carl out walking and looking around, as if he was searching for his Elena. In July of 1952, when they hadn't see him for awhile, they stopped by to check on him and noticed that there was unopened mail on his porch. They called the sheriff and Carl's body was found in his home, lying next to Elena's casket. The flowers in the vase by the plaster death mask of Elena were dried up and the petals had fallen onto the table. He was buried next to his daughter. After Carl's death, his airplane that was never finished, was moved into a neighbor's yard and they used it as a toy for their children to play in.
20 years after Carl's death and 32 years after his hearing, a magazine article was released after interviewing the doctor that performed the autopsy on Elena. Dr. DePoo said, “The breasts really felt real. In the vaginal area, I found a tube wide enough to permit sexual intercourse. At the bottom of the tube was cotton, and in an examination of the cotton, I found there was sperm. Then I knew we were dealing with a sexual pervert.”
The doctor was never forced to disclose the results of the autopsy because Carl was never brought to trial. If he had revealed this information in court, it most likely would have changed everything. The two doctors that did the autopsy, said there was a reason they kept their mouths shut. In 1940, people didn't talk about these things. They thought they were protecting the public and the families of those involved. This case has been studied numerous times over the years because it's truly bizarre. It's believed that some of Carl's ideas about romance may have come from his German education. The movement in German Romanticism is heavily focused on death and romanticizing necrophilia.
You're probably wondering what happened to Elena's body after everything was said and done.
Three people were entrusted with Elena's burial and they all vowed to never, ever reveal the location of her grave. To make Elena difficult to find, they intentionally started a rumor that she could be anywhere in the graveyard......even in the middle of the graveyard path. Some people believe that Elena was buried in the old cemetery, but others say she was buried behind the oldest home in Key West. Her remains could be under a brick fireplace, or she could be buried behind a Catholic Church. Some people even wonder if she was buried close to the cemetery office, so someone could always keep an eye on her.
Elena's body was placed in a baby coffin and she may be buried near her own baby. The one she lost during the pregnancy before she got sick. Elena's body was left visible in the funeral home until 3:30 PM on December 17th. They didn't want the public to know when her body would be moved. Without any announcements, Elena's body was removed from display. The three men that moved her, discarded her coffin in a location that they all swore to never reveal. One of the chosen men was Ben Sawyer, the mortician from Lopez Funeral Home. The second is Otto Bethel, the Key West Cemetery Sexton, who is responsible for burials. The last person is Assistant Chief of Police Bienvenido Perez. All three men had agreed to certain responsibilities.
The cemetery sexton would guide the group to the secret burial site and he brought the tools: a pick, pry bars, shovels, and a shaded utility lamp. The mortician would cut Elena's bones and place them in the box. The Assistant Chief of Police was responsible for making sure there were no eyewitnesses. This was how it was supposed to play out, but things didn't go according to plan. There was an unexpected death in town and that took place the day prior to the day that was planned for Elena's burial. So, the mortician had a funeral ceremony around the exact time they were going to move Elena and they obviously needed the guy that would bury this person as well.
The police officer was the only one left and he didn't see any reason to sit around and do nothing, so he did all the prep work and dismembering on his own. He said that he started pulling at the wax and it just came off in chunks. That part was easy, then he sawed all the bones. Is it possible that the three men never buried Elena that night though? The officer claimed he did everything on his own and placed her in the small box and nailed it shut. Carl says that the officer faked it by putting an urn and a sheet inside the box and that he actually gave Elena back to him. Carl was just sworn to secrecy this time. When Carl died, some people believe he was buried next to his first wife, Doris. Others believe he was buried with Elena.
Either way, when the three men met up in the middle of the night, to bury the small coffin that may or may not have had Elena's remains, they found the spot to bury the box and they said, third times a charm.