Before I get started with today’s post, I want to give a warning to my younger readers and those who may be sensitive to certain topics. Today’s post will include grave desecration, necrophilia, and pictures of a dead body. Do not continue if this will trigger you or if your underage.
In Monday’s post, I talked about going to Fort East Martello Museum to see Robert the Doll. In the same room as Robert was a huge horse-drawn funeral carriage from Dean-Lopez Funeral Home. As excited as me and my sister, Magan, were to see Robert, we were stunned to realize we were looking at a piece of history that we had grown up hearing about from our dad and the television shows we watched with him. It was a part of an incredibly sick and twisted love story.
This “love” story starts on February 8, 1877, when Georg Karl Tänzler was born in Dresden, Germany. Much of Tänzler’s early history is unknown. Over the years, he made many claims, such as being born in a castle, breaking free from an internment camp in Australia in a homemade rowboat, and going to medical school. Another claim of his was that as a child, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel came to him in a vision to tell him that he was her descendant, which made him a Count. She also said that his true love would be a young, exotic woman with dark hair.
Despite knowing that his true love was still out there, Tänzler married a local woman named Doris Schäfer in 1920. They would have two children, Ayesha and Clarista Tanzler. In 1926, Tänzler and his family emigrated to the United States to live with his sister in Zephyrhills, Florida. The following year though, he left his family behind as he moved to Key West. There he attempted to find work at the US Marine Hospital as a doctor named Carl von Cosel. The hospital wasn’t able to confirm his credentials, so they offered him a job as a radiologic technologist instead. He took the job under his new name. He also started working on a wingless plane that he kept near the hospital. Carl spent the next few years living in the Key West, working at the hospital, and slowly restoring the airplane.
On April 22, 1930, his life changed. On this day, while assisting patients, he was told to get an X-ray of a young Cuban-American woman named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. Elena had come in complaining of a cough that had persisted for a while. When Carl first saw Maria, he knew instantly she was his true love as foretold by Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel. Unfortunately, Elena was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis. Carl immediately offered to help cure Elena. Elena’s family was appreciative of the offer as they could not afford Elena’s medical bills.
Carl often came to Elena’s parent’s house under the guise to offer treatment to Elena. He brought fruit, blessed wine, and vitamin shots to try to cure her. When that didn’t work, he brought X-ray machines and electrical machines to provide shock treatments to various parts of her body. During his visits, he would bring gifts of clothes, chocolates, and flowers. He would confess his undying love for Elena. Elena, though, did not feel the same towards Carl. In fact, Elena was still legally married to a man named Luis Mesa. Luis had left Elena shortly after she had a miscarriage and moved to Miami.
For over a year, Carl visited Elena with gifts and various cures. Unfortunately, none of it worked, and Elena passed away on October 25, 1931. Carl convinced Elena’s family to allow him to pay for her funeral and to build an above-ground mausoleum. She was interred in the mausoleum in Key West Cemetery. Carl had the only key to the mausoleum and would visit Elena’s body. For almost two years, Carl went to visit Elena’s resting space. He said that her spirit would talk to him and sing him Spanish love songs.
In April 1933, Carl said that Elena’s spirit started to become unhappy in the mausoleum and began begging him to take her to his home. Still hopelessly in love with her, he did as her spirit wanted. One night he brought a toy wagon to the cemetery. He used it to cart Elena’s body back to his airplane. The airplane was large enough to allow him to work on Elena’s body and close enough to his laboratory at the hospital to get supplies quickly. At this point, her body was pretty deteriorated. Carl tried to salvage as much of her body as possible by wiring her bones together with piano wire and wrapping her body in silk cloth that had been soaked with wax and plaster of Paris. He had also ordered glass eyes to insert into eye sockets. With most of her hair falling out of scalp due to decompensation, he gathered it and made it into a wig. To stave off further decompensation, Carl would douse Elena’s fragile body with disinfectants and formaldehyde. To combat the stench that a decaying body gives off, he would soak her in perfume.
After two years of working on Elena, Carl was let go from the hospital. He was forced to move the plane and her body. He eventually moved to a house on Flagler Ave, where he brought Elena’s body to stay. He dressed her in wedding attire complete with stockings, a veil, and flowers in her hair. He spent the next few years happy that he was finally able to live with his true love and sleep beside her body every night.
Carl’s happiness lasted until late 1940 when his neighbors began talking about how they saw him dancing with Elena’s corpse through an open window. Key West is a tiny town, and it wasn’t long until Elena’s family heard the rumors. Elena’s sister, Florinda, demanded that Carl take her to see Elena’s body in the mausoleum. When he refused, Florinda confronted him at his house. This time she brought the local police with her. The police searched his home and discovered Elena’s body in his bed. Carl was then arrested for destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.
Before his trial could start, he was psychiatrically examined to see if he was mentally competent to stand trial. Surprisingly, they found him competent, and the trial commenced. The trial didn’t go on for very long though, because the statute of limitations had run out five years earlier. The court case soon got the attention of many news outlets, and Carl’s story was quickly national news.
While all this was going on, Elena’s body was displayed at the Dean-Lopez funeral home. I mentioned earlier the horsedrawn funeral carriage that was used to display her body to over 6,000 strangers from all over who came to Key West to view it. Surprisingly, most people didn’t find what Carl did to Elena’s body disgusting. Instead, they thought he was extremely romantic to try to be with the love of his life even after she had died.
After the public viewing had taken place, an autopsy was performed. The depth of Carl’s work was revealed. It would later come out that Carl had gone as far as to install a tube in Elena’s genitals to allow him to have sex with her body. The physicians also noted that he had stuffed her abdominal cavity and chest cavity with various rags to help preserve her shape. After the autopsy, Elena’s body was dismembered so that she could be placed in an eight-inch metal box. Elena’s family then had the box buried in an undisclosed place to rest in peace finally.
But this is not where our “love” story ends. Carl continued to live in Key West in his house on Flagler Ave. He spent the next few months entertaining visitors who wanted to hear his story. He charged 25 cents to each of these visitors for his story and to tour his home. After about six months, he grew exhausted of the fame he had found and moved back to Zephyrhills. Coincidentally, the same day he left for Zephyrhills, Elena’s mausoleum exploded. Carl was not proven to be the cause of the explosion, but it is safe to assume he did it.
While in Zephyrhills, Carl wrote his life story for a magazine, Fantastic Adventures, and continued to work on his plane. In 1950, he became a United States citizen. While the fame around his story had died away, Carl had not forgotten about his true love. He had constructed a life-size stuffed dummy of Elena, complete with a death mask. He lived with his “companion” until his death on July 3, 1952. His death wasn’t noticed until three weeks after he had died when neighbors grew concerned that they hadn’t seen him. He was found lying on the floor of his house.
It is safe to say that I don’t find this a romantic story. It’s thoroughly creepy how far this man went to be with someone who didn’t return his affection while she was alive. Hopefully, Elena can find peace now and is enjoying her afterlife. Let me know what your thoughts are about this story in the comments below. Do you think it was romantic? Do you think someone would be able to get away with what Carl did and for as long as he did today?
Some of y’all have messaged me about restarting the Facebook group. I have done that. You can join it here. It will be a fun place to discuss all things paranormal, get the latest information about the blog, and special group only giveaways. I hope to see y’all there.
2 thoughts on “The Love Story Of Count Carl Von Cosel”
Wow! I’m so glad you followed my blog, to lead me to yours. This is fascinating, especially to someone who loves to rewrite fairy tales. This plays right into part of the Bluebeard trope.