Friday, January 3, 2014

The Dark Obsession of Carl Tanzler

German-born Carl Tanzler (aka Georg Karl Tanzler and Carl Tanzler von Cosel, frequently affixing the title of "Count" to the latter) worked as a radiologist at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, FL when he met a young Cuban-American woman named Elena Milagro de Hoyos. Milagro de Hoyos, who went by "Helen", suffered from tuberculosis. It was while she was sick that Tanzler developed his obsession for the young woman--an obsession that carried on for many gruesome years after her death.

In the spring of 1930, Helen's mother brought her to the Marine Hospital for an examination whereupon Tanzler first set eyes on the young woman who, by many accounts, was quite striking. Moreover, she seemed to trigger a powerful memory in Tanzler. As a child in Germany, the boy claimed to have been visited by an ancestor named Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel who showed him that his one true love would be an exotic, dark-haired woman.

Once learning she had caught the oft-fatal tuberculosis, Tanzler threw all his medical knowledge at the problem of saving the young beauty. He even brought medical equipment from the hospital to the family's home. Tanzler doted upon Helen, showering her with jewelry, clothing, and other trappings courtship. But, as best as anyone can discern, the feeling wasn't mutual. Helen held no attraction for the strange German.

It seemed doomed anyway and on October 25, 1931, Helen passed. Tanzler paid for her funeral and had constructed a mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery, which he visited nightly thereafter. Tanzler would later say that her ghost would visit him as he sat by her grave and sung her favorite song.

He went on this way until April of 1933 when he skulked like a ghoul through the darkened cemetery and took her body from the mausoleum. Once safely home, Tanzler attached the corpse's limbs and other loose parts with wire and coat hangers, replaced her eyes with glass ones, and replaced the rotting skin as needed with wax-soaked silk and plaster. He made a wig from her own hair and replaced it atop her head. He stuffed the body's chest cavity with rags to keep its shape and then redressed the corpse to which is frequently applied liberal doses of perfumes, disinfectants, and preservatives. This, along with a rumored paper tube inserted strategically to allow for intercourse, is how the body lay in his bed for 7 years.

In October of 1940, Helen's family caught wind of Tanzler's deeds. How isn't clear, but soon the authorities were called and the body was discovered in the man's home. Arrested and found mentally fit for trial, Tanzler nonetheless avoided any legal action since the case was dropped because of the statute of limitations on his initial crime of tampering with the body.

Helen's body was, after a brief public display in a local funeral home, returned to an unmarked grave in the cemetery where the family hoped she would remain undisturbed.

Tanzler moved to Pasco County, FL in 1944 where he fashioned a life-sized effigy of Helen from a death mask he must have, at some point, cast. It was his companion until his death in the summer of 1952.

You're reading The Dark Obsession of Carl Tanzler by Cullan Hudson, originally posted on If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the blog.


YONKS said...


Alisha H. said...

Dear Goodness That's Disturbing