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Carl Tanzler

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Carl Tanzler
Tanzler in 1942
Karl Tänzler or Georg Karl Tänzler

(1877-02-08)February 8, 1877
DiedJuly 3, 1952(1952-07-03) (aged 75)
OccupationRadiology technologist
SpouseDoris Tanzler

Georg Carl Tänzler, also known as Count Carl von Cosel (February 8, 1877 – July 3, 1952), was a German-born radiology technologist at the Marine-Hospital Service in Key West, Florida. He developed an obsession with a young Cuban-American tuberculosis patient, Elena "Helen" Milagro de Hoyos (July 31, 1909 – October 25, 1931), that carried on well after her death.[1] In 1933, almost two years after her death, Tanzler removed Hoyos' body from its tomb and lived with the corpse at his home for seven years until its discovery by Hoyos' relatives and authorities in 1940.[2]

Early life[edit]

He was born as Karl Tänzler or Georg Karl Tänzler on February 8, 1877 in Dresden, Germany.

Tanzler grew up in the German Empire but, at some point, wound up in Australia just before the outbreak of World War I. The following "Editorial Note" accompanying the autobiographical account "The Trial Bay Organ: A Product of Wit and Ingenuity" by "Carl von Cosel" in the Rosicrucian Digest[3] of March and April 1939, gives details about his stay in Australia before his internment during the Great War, as well as his subsequent return to Germany after the War:[4][5]

Many years ago, Carl von Cosel travelled from India to Australia with the intention of proceeding to the South Seas Islands. He paused in Australia to collect equipment and suitable boats, and to become acquainted with prevailing weather and sea conditions. However, he became interested in engineering and electrical work there, bought property, boats, an organ, an island in the Pacific—so that he was still in Australia at the end of ten years. He had just begun to build a trans-ocean flyer when the war broke out and the British military authorities placed him in a concentration camp for 'safe-keeping' along with many officers India and China who were prisoners of war. Later he was removed to Trial Bay to a castle-like prison on the cliffs, and there the work in this narrative was accomplished. At the end of the war no prisoner was permitted to return to his former residence, but all were shipped to the prisoner's exchange in Holland. When Carl von Cosel was released he set out to find his mother from whom he had not heard since the beginning of the war. Finding her safe, he remained with her for three years, witnessing the chaos that followed in the wake of the war. ... Finally, she suggested that her son return to his sister in the United States ...

Tanzler's account of Trial Bay Gaol, his secret building of a sailboat, etc., is confirmed by Nyanatiloka Mahathera, who mentions that he planned to escape from the Gaol with "Count Carl von Cosel" in a sailboat, and provides other information about the internment of Germans in Australia during World War I.[6]

Around 1920, following his return to Germany, Tanzler married Doris Schäfer (1889–1977). Together they had two children: Ayesha Tanzler (1922–1998), and Clarista Tanzler (1924–1934), who died of diphtheria.[7]

Tanzler emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1926, sailing from Rotterdam on February 6, 1926 to Havana, Cuba. From Cuba, he settled in Zephyrhills, Florida, where his sister had already emigrated, and was later joined by his wife and two daughters. Leaving his family behind in Zephyrhills in 1927, he took a job as a radiology technician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida under the name Carl von Cosel.

During his childhood in Germany, and later while traveling briefly in Genoa, Italy, Tanzler claimed to have been visited by visions of a dead, purported ancestor, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, who revealed the face of his true love, an exotic dark-haired woman, to him.[1]

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos[edit]

Elena Milagro Hoyos

On April 22, 1930, while working at the Marine Hospital in Key West, Tanzler met Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos (1909–1931), a local Cuban-American woman who had been brought to the hospital by her mother for an examination. Tanzler immediately recognized her as the beautiful dark-haired woman revealed to him in his earlier "visions."[8] By all accounts, Hoyos was viewed as a local beauty in Key West.[1][8][9]

Elena was the daughter of local cigar maker Francisco "Pancho" Hoyos (1883–1934) and Aurora Milagro (1881–1940). She had two sisters, Florinda "Nana" Milagro Hoyos (1906–1944), who married Mario Medina (c. 1905–1944) and also succumbed to tuberculosis; and Celia Milagro Hoyos (1913–1934). Medina, Nana's husband, was electrocuted trying to rescue a coworker who hit a powerline with his crane at a construction site.

On February 18, 1926, Elena married Luis Mesa (1908–1974), the son of Caridad and Isaac Mesa. Mesa left Elena shortly after she suffered a miscarriage of the couple's child and moved to Miami. Elena was legally married to Mesa at the time of her death.

Elena was subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease typically fatal at the time and which eventually would claim the lives of almost all of her immediate family. Tanzler, with his self-professed medical knowledge, attempted to cure Elena with a variety of treatments, remedies, X-rays, and other medical equipment that were brought to the Hoyos' home.[1][8] Tanzler also showered Elena with gifts of jewelry and clothing, and allegedly professed his love to her, but no evidence has surfaced to show that Elena reciprocated any of his affection.[1][8]


The corpse of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos (1909–1931) encased in wax and plaster circa 1940.

Despite Tanzler's best efforts, Elena died of tuberculosis at her parents' home in Key West on October 25, 1931.[1] Tanzler paid for her funeral, and with the permission of her family, he then commissioned the construction of an above-ground mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery, which he visited almost every night.[1][8]

One evening in April 1933, Tanzler crept through the cemetery where Elena was buried and removed her body from the mausoleum, carting it through the cemetery after dark on a toy wagon,[citation needed] and transported it to his home. He reportedly said that Elena's spirit would come to him when he would sit by her grave and serenade her corpse with a favorite Spanish song. He also said that she would often tell him to take her from the grave.[1]

Tanzler attached the corpse's bones with piano wire and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of Paris. As the hair fell out of Elena's decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from her hair, which he had previously obtained from her mother.[8] Tanzler filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Elena's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves and kept the body in his bed. Tanzler also used copious amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents to mask the odor and forestall the effects of the corpse's decomposition.[10]

Carl Tanzler's release, Associated Press on October 12, 1940

In October 1940, Elena's sister Florinda heard rumors of Tanzler sleeping with the disinterred body of her sister. She confronted Tanzler at his home, where Elena's body was eventually discovered (he was also caught dancing with her corpse in front of an open window). Florinda notified the authorities, and Tanzler was arrested and detained. Tanzler was psychiatrically examined and found mentally competent to stand trial on the charge of "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization."[1] After a preliminary hearing on October 9, 1940, at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West, Tanzler was held to answer on the charge, but the case was eventually dropped. He was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.[1][8]

Elena Hoyos corpse on display at Lopez Funeral Home

Shortly after the corpse's discovery by authorities, physicians and pathologists examined Elena's body and put it on public display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home, where as many as 6,800 people viewed it.[9] Elena's body was eventually returned to the Key West Cemetery where the remains were buried in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, to prevent further tampering.[1]

The facts underlying the case and the preliminary hearing drew much interest from the media at the time (most notably, from the Key West Citizen and Miami Herald) and created a sensation among the public, both regionally and nationwide. The public mood was generally sympathetic to Tanzler, whom many viewed as an eccentric "romantic".[1]

Though not reported contemporaneously, research (most notably by authors Harrison and Swicegood) has revealed evidence of Tanzler's necrophilia with Elena's corpse.[1][8] Two physicians (Dr. DePoo and Dr. Foraker) who attended the 1940 autopsy of Elena's remains recalled in 1972 that a vaginal tube had been inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse that allowed for intercourse.[1][8] Others contend that since no evidence of necrophilia was presented at the 1940 preliminary hearing and because the physicians' "proof" surfaced in 1972, over 30 years after the case had been dismissed, the necrophilia allegation is questionable. While no existing contemporary photographs of the autopsy or photographs taken at the public display show a tube, the necrophilia claim was repeated by the HBO Autopsy program in 1999.[10]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1944, Tanzler moved to Pasco County, Florida, close to Zephyrhills, where he wrote an autobiography that appeared in the pulp publication, Fantastic Adventures, in 1947. His home was near his wife Doris, who helped to support Tanzler in his later years.[1] Tanzler received United States citizenship in 1950 in Tampa.

Separated from his obsession, Tanzler used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of Elena and lived with it until his death at age 75 on July 3, 1952.[10] His body was discovered on the floor of his home three weeks after his death. He died under the name "Carl Tanzler".

It has been recounted that Tanzler was found in the arms of Elena's effigy upon discovery of his corpse. Still, his obituary reported that he died on the floor behind one of his organs. The obituary recounted: "a metal cylinder on a shelf above a table in it wrapped in silken cloth and a robe was a waxen image".[11]

It has been written (most notably by Swicegood) that Tanzler had the bodies switched (or that Elena's remains were secretly returned to him) and that he died with the real body of Elena.[1]

The story of Tanzler and Elena would be reproduced in pulp magazines in the years following his death, with various parties adding new details to the case.[12][13] An article written by Michelfelder in 1982 tells of how renovation workers found a note allegedly written by Tanzler, confessing to have killed Elena by poisoning her:[13]

She died because I gave this to her mercifully. I mixed the root of wolfsbane (monkshood) with aconite diluted. It was palatable and my loved one departed this miserable world on October 25, 1931. Suffer no more sweet Elena. I have sent you to the angels with my golden elixir...

Perez also claimed Tanzler had once told him that he "would kill Elena if necessary to fulfil [his] destiny".[12] The poison confession letter article was also cited by historian David L. Sloan on episode 44 of the NightMerica podcast.[14]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Portions of the original memorial plaque commissioned by Tanzler and affixed to Elena Hoyos's mausoleum have been reassembled and are on display at the Martello Gallery-Key West Art and Historical Museum in Key West.
  • True Crime Kent Podcast Episode Karl Tanzler


  • Fantastic Adventures Tanzler von Cosel, Karl (September 1947); "The Secret of Elena's Tomb"
  • “A Haunted History of Pasco County (Haunted America)” by Madonna Jervis Wise; Arcadia Publishing


  • In 2001, Tomahawk's eponymous debut album featured the track 'Sweet Smell of Success,' written from the imagined perspective of Tanzler when realizing that the preserved body of Milagro de Hoyos could not be restored.
  • In 2003, two bands released their musical interpretations of the Tanzler story, And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's The Secret of Elena's Tomb album, and Sleep Station's Von Cosel album.
  • In 2007, the band The Black Dahlia Murder released a song titled "Deathmask Divine" on their Nocturnal album which tells the story.
  • In 2008, the Swedish band ChansoNoir released the EP Count Von Cosels Obsession, with the B-side A Cemetery Serenade presenting an instrumental piece reenacting Carl Tanzler's organ playing in the tomb.
  • In 2009, Mike Glendinning released two songs inspired by Tanzler's story, "Elena" and "Dust Off My Bride," on his "Psychotic America: Lullabies & Necrophilia" album.
  • The 2010 song "Wax and Wire" by Portland-based band Loch Lomond is inspired by the story of Tanzler and Elena.
  • In 2015, a Japanese artist, "Kanon69" (奏音69) released the song "The Bride of the Necro" (ネクロの花嫁) which was also based on the story of Tanzler.
  • In 2013, Sharon Needles released the single "Dead Girls Never Say No" inspired by Tanzler on her album PG-13.
  • In 2021, the Polish sludge/doom metal band Las Trumien released an EP titled "Więcej Śmierci" ("More Death"), which contained the song "Lekarstwo na Śmierć" ("Cure for Death") describing the story of Tanzler.[15]
  • The 2022 song "Cupiditate" by the Norwegian band Sinfonia Borealis is inspired by Tanzler's story.
  • In 2024, a collective of artists (New York-based jazz metal trio Kilter, Swiss vocalist Andromeda Anarchia, Growlers Choir from Montreal, and New York string quartet SEVEN)SUNS) release "La Suspendida", an opera that tells Tanzler's story from Maria Elena's point of view. William Berger, who wrote the libretto, also released the book "The Story of María Elena and KILTER’s Jazz-Metal Opera La Suspendida".


  • In 1999, the program Autopsy 6: Secrets of the Dead profiled the Tanzler case in a segment titled "The Strange Obsession of Dr. Carl von Cosel."
  • In 2000, the History Channel program Haunted History: Key West detailed the "Elena Hoyos / Carl Tanzler" case.
  • In 2010, an episode of the science-fiction TV drama series Fringe entitled "Marionette" aired, which appeared to be loosely based on the Tanzler story.
  • On October 24, 2013, the case of Carl Tanzler was featured on Mysteries at the Museum season 4, episode 10.
  • In 2014, the NBC series The Blacklist featured a plotline in the twentieth episode of its second season that resembled the Tanzler incident. A smuggler is revealed to have been pilfering corpses from graveyards and using them in a "corpse mail order bride" business as part of an alleged Chinese tradition involving unmarried decedents. Remains found in the smuggler's facility closely resemble the corpse of Hoyos after its retrieval from Tanzler's residence.
  • In 2015, Tanzler and Elena Hoyos's story was featured in an episode of the Investigation Discovery series True Nightmares, entitled "Overstay Your Welcome."
  • In 2020, Tanzler's story was featured on an episode entitled "Cryptic Messages" of the Travel Channel show True Terror with Robert Englund.


  • In 2018, the musical "It Happened in Key West" made its debut in London's Charing Cross Theatre.[16] The show is a comedic retelling of the events of those discussed here.


  • In April 2017, the podcast And That's Why We Drink covered the story in episode 12, "The 300-Year-Old-Drama Queen and the Bitchy 7th Grader" [17]
  • In September 2019, the podcast My Favorite Murder covered the story in episode 186, "Sprankers".[18]
  • In October 2019, the podcast This is Criminal covered the story in episode 126, "A New Kind of Life".[19]
  • In March 2020, the podcast Morbid covered this story in Episode 142.
  • In January 2021, the podcast Ain't it Scary? with Sean & Carrie covered the story in episode 19, "Count von Cosel & His Mummy Bride".[20]
  • On July 4, 2022, the podcast "I could murder a podcast" covered the case in their spooky stories sector as "The Creepiest love story ever" [21]
  • In August 2022, the podcast Respect The Dead covered the case in episode 13, "Carl Tanzler" [22]
  • In February 2023, the MrBallen Podcast covered the story in episode 107, "The Obsession". [1]
  • In November 2023, The Last Podcast on the Left podcast covered the story in episode 554, "Necrophilia".


  • In October 2022, British author Heather Parry's debut novel, "Orpheus Builds a Girl," was heavily inspired by the Elena Hoyos and Carl Tanzler case.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Swicegood, Tom (2003). Von Cosel. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-74652-1.
  2. ^ "A Macabre Love Story". Crime Library. Archived from the original on August 27, 2006. Retrieved August 24, 2006. Radiologist Carl von Cosel, 56, became obsessed with one of the tuberculosis patients at the sanitarium where he worked. Her name was Maria Elena de Hoyos and she was a beautiful, 22-year-old woman.
  3. ^ "Rosicrucian Digest". Supreme Council of the Rosicrucian Order. November 21, 2017. Archived from the original on October 30, 2021. Retrieved November 21, 2017 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "The Trial Bay Organ: A Product of Wit and Ingenuity". The Rosicrucian Digest. March 1939. pp. 54–58.; "The Trial Bay Organ: A Product of Wit and Ingenuity". The Rosicrucian Digest. April 1939. pp. 92–96.
  5. ^ Harrison, Ben (2001). Undying Love: The True Story Of A Passion That Defied Death. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-97802-0. Tanzler left Germany, a country that was dispirited and defeated after the First World War, and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, ...
  6. ^ Nyanatusita, Bhikkhu; Hecker, Hellmuth (2008). The Life of Nyanatiloka Thera. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. pp. 53–54. ISBN 9789552403187. OCLC 801558128.
  7. ^ "Ayesha T. Bucey". St. Petersburg Times. December 31, 1998. p. 8. Ayesha T. Bucey (Ann), 76, of Zephyrhills, died Sunday (December 27, 1998) at East Pasco Medical Center. She came here 71 years ago from her native Dresden, Germany. She was a waitress and homemaker. She was graduate of Zephyrhills High School and a member of the Zephyrhills Alumni and Friends. She was Methodist. Survivors include her daughter, Susan McKee, Zephyrhills; two sons, Jon Clendening, Portland, Oregon, and Gary Clendening, Hallowell, Maine; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Whitfield Funeral Home, Zephyrhills.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Harrison, Ben (2001). Undying Love. St. Martin's True Crime. ISBN 978-0-312-97802-0.
  9. ^ a b Sloan, David (1998). Ghosts of Key West. Phantom Press. ISBN 978-0-9674498-0-7. Archived from the original on October 30, 2021. Retrieved October 17, 2016. A German citizen, his real name was Carl Tanzler, and though he was well-read in many subjects, it is doubtful that he had any real schooling in the various ...
  10. ^ a b c "Autopsy 6: Secrets of the Dead - The Strange Obsession of Dr. Carl Von Cosel". HBO.com. 2005. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
  11. ^ Key West Citizen. July 24, 1952. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ a b Perez, Bienvenido (n.d.). "The Mad Scientist of Key West". Men True Adventure. pp. 28, 67–69.
  13. ^ a b Michelfelder, William (1982). "Florida's Dr. Frankenstein and His Laboratory of Love". Detective Cases. pp. 7–9, 54–61.
  14. ^ Sagers, Aaron (February 3, 2021). "The Living Doll of Key West: Elena Hoyos & Count Von Cosel". Archived from the original on January 23, 2021. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  15. ^ "Las Trumien - Więcej śmierci". Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives.
  16. ^ It Happened in Key West - 2018 Original London Cast, retrieved May 19, 2023
  17. ^ "Episode 12: The 300-Year-Old-Drama Queen and the Bitchy 7th Grader". And That's Why We Drink. April 23, 2017. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  18. ^ "Episode 186: Sprankers!". My Favorite Murder. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  19. ^ "A New Kind of Life". This Is Criminal. Retrieved June 6, 2023.
  20. ^ "Ep. 19: Count von Cosel & His Mummy Bride". Ain't It Scary? with Sean & Carrie. Retrieved February 15, 2023.
  21. ^ "Spotify". open.spotify.com.
  22. ^ "Respect The Dead". Spotify.