Carl Tanzler was a German immigrant with a wife and two daughters in Zephyrhills, Florida. But when he took a job as an x-ray technician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West in 1927, he called himself Count Carl von Cosel and lived as a single man. Tanzler met a tuberculosis patient less than half his age named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos and fell deeply in love. Despite Tanzler’s best efforts, Maria Elena died, and was interred in a mausoleum the Count bought for her. At least for a while. Unbeknownst to Maria Elena’s family, Tanzler retrieved her body from the mausoleum and took it home with him.
Over the years, Tanzler kept Elena “alive” using wire hangers to preserve her frame, stuffing her abdominal cavity with rags, routinely reapplying wax to her face, replacing her decaying scalp with real hair, and constantly dousing her in disinfectants and oils to mask the rotting smell of her body. While attending to the physical demands of his moldering bride, Carl attended to her material needs as well, purchasing her clothing and perfume, and even installing a curtained cloth veil for privacy on the bed they shared (apparently feminine modesty was a prerogative for a man who routinely saw Elena’s innards). This domestic Ed Gein’s style bliss went on for seven years.
Everything was going great, until people inevitably started asking questions. The combination of Carl’s habit of routinely buying women’s clothing, his absence from the mausoleum, and a local boy’s sighting of him through a window dancing with what appeared to be a giant doll, aroused some serious suspicion. The rumors began to swirl that Tanzler was keeping Elena in his house.
Find out what happened to Tanzler, and to what was once Maria Elena, when the story became public at Atlas Obscura. Be warned that the story is gruesome and may be disturbing.
(Image credit: Flickr user Florida Keys Public Libraries)