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Carl Tanzler and his Corpse Bride
Carl Tanzler (1877 – 1952), was a German-born radiologist at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida who developed a morbid obsession for a young Cuban-American tuberculosis patient, Elena Milagro “Helen” de Hoyos (1909 - 1931), that carried on well after the disease had caused her death. In 1933, almost two years after her death, Tanzler removed Hoyos’s body from its tomb, and lived with the corpse at his home for seven years until its discovery by Hoyos’s relatives and authorities in 1940.
On April 22, 1930, while working at the Marine Hospital in Key West, Tanzler met Hoyos, a local woman who had been brought to the hospital for an examination by her mother. Tanzler immediately recognized her as the beautiful dark-haired woman that had been revealed to him in his earlier “visions.”
Hoyos was eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis, a typically fatal disease at the time. Tanzler attempted to treat and cure Hoyos with a variety of medicines, as well as x-ray and electrical equipment, that were brought to the Hoyoses’ home. Tanzler showered Hoyos with gifts of jewelry and clothing, and allegedly professed his love to her, but no evidence has surfaced to show that any of his affection was reciprocated by Hoyos.
Despite Tanzler’s best efforts, Hoyos died. Following Hoyos’s funeral, which Tanzler paid for, and with the permission of her family, Tanzler commissioned the construction of an above ground mausoleum that he visited almost every night.
One evening in April, 1933, Tanzler crept through the cemetery where Hoyos was buried and removed her body from the mausoleum 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.
Tanzler attached the corpse’s bones together with wire and coat hangers, 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 the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos’s hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial. Tanzler filled the corpse’s abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Hoyos’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.
Seven years later, Elena’s sister, Florinda heard rumors of Tanzler sleeping with the disinterred body of her sister, and confronted Tanzler at his home, where Hoyos’s body was eventually discovered. Florinda notified the authorities, and Tanzler was arrested but the case was eventually dropped and he was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.
Shortly after the corpse’s discovery by authorities, Hoyos’s body was put on public display where it was viewed by as many as 6,800 people. Hoyos’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. A fact that was not released with the original story was that Tanzler engaged in necrophilia with Hoyos’s corpse. Two physicians who attended the 1940 autopsy of Hoyos’s remains recalled in 1972 that a paper tube had been inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse that allowed for intercourse.
Still obsessed with Hoyos, Tanzler used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of Hoyos, and lived with it until his death in 1952. It has been recounted that Tanzler was found in the arms of the Hoyos effigy upon discovery of his own corpse.