The Man Who Fell in Love With a Corpse
Carl Tanzler was born in 1877 in Dresden, Germany. During his childhood, he claimed to have seen visions. Specifically, he was visited by an old ancestor — Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel (1680–1765) — who showed him the face of his future true love: a beautiful, dark-haired woman.
Tanzler left Germany in 1926. After initially travelling to Cuba, he settled in the United States. Here he worked as a radiologist in the city of Zephyrhills, Florida.
On April 22nd, 1930, he met a twenty-two-year-old patient called Elena Milagro Hoyos. Immediately, he recognised her as the beautiful, dark-haired woman from his childhood.
The mad doctor
Elena was suffering from tuberculosis, which was a life-threatening disease at the time.
Tanzler rapidly became obsessed with his new patient and did all he could to save her. He attempted to treat Elena with both a variety of medicines and X-ray equipment.
Elena was also treated to many gifts. Tanzler bought her jewellery, clothing, and told his patient that he loved her. But despite his best efforts, Elena died on October 25th, 1931.
Devastated by the loss, Tanzler offered to pay for the funeral. But this wasn’t an ordinary funeral. He paid for a mausoleum to be built in Key West Cemetery and then preserved the body using formaldehyde.
Tanzler continued to visit the mausoleum long after the funeral and spoke with Elena’s corpse. Even while he was away, he would leave a phone in the mausoleum so he could continue talking to her.
Elena comes home
In April 1933, Tanzler took his obsession to the next level. In the dead of night, he sneaked into the cemetery, removed Elena’s body from the mausoleum, and transported it back home in a wagon.
Despite the use of formaldehyde, Elena had started to deteriorate. As such, Tanzler tampered with the body still further. As well as tying her bones together with piano wire, he replaced her rotted eyes with glass ones and created new skin and a death mask using wax, silk, and plaster of paris. The mad radiologist also made a wig before dressing the corpse in a bridal gown.
Most disturbingly of all, he inserted a tube between her thighs to serve as a vagina for when he wanted to make love to her.
A final dance
Seven years later, Tanzler’s crime was finally discovered by Florinda Hoyos (Elena’s sister). Having heard rumours that the radiologist was sleeping with her sister’s corpse, she went to Tanzler’s house to investigate.
Where such rumours came from is unclear, but Florinda soon realised the truth when she saw Tanzler dancing with the corpse through a window. Horrorstuck, Florinda contacted the police at once.
Tanzler was arrested, but luckily for him, the statute of limitations had expired on his crime of grave robbing. He was set free with no punishment. Elena was then reburied at an unmarked grave.
Rather than staying near Elena’s family, Tanzler moved to central Florida and made money selling postcards of his beloved one. When he eventually died in 1952, he was found clutching a large doll wearing the same death mask he had made for Elena’s corpse all those years ago.
Undying Love: The True Story of a Passion that Defied Death (2001) by Ben Harrison
Ghosts of Key West (1998) by David L. Sloan