Carl Tanzler

True Crime

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photo credit:

Nola Plennert, Writer

Carl Tanzler, also known as Count Carl von Cosel, was a German radiology technologist at the Marine-Hospital Service in Key West, Florida. While working in a hospital, he met a tuberculosis patient named Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos. He soon became obsessed with her, and felt a true bond. When she died in 1931, he paid for her whole funeral. Two years after her death, his obsession with the woman did not go away. One night, he went to her mausoleum, dug her body up, and took her home in his wheelbarrow.

He soon noticed her body decomposing, and decided to do something about it. He tied her bones back together with piano wire, replaced her eyes with glass eyes, and covered her skin with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. When her hair started to come out, he made her a wig made out of her own hair that his mother had given him prior to her death. He filled the corpse’s abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed her remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed with him. He also used large amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents to mask the odor and try to pause the effects of the corpse’s decomposition.

Elena’s sister Florinda soon heard rumors about Carl keeping Elena’s body in his home when he was supposedly seen dancing with her body in front of an open window. She confronted him, and told the police. He was soon arrested and detained, where he was psychiatrically examined, and was surprisingly found mentally competent to stand trial on the charge of “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.” Tanzler was held to answer on the charge, but the case was eventually dropped and he was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.