Carl Tanzler's Obsession With Elena de Hoyos Went Way Too Far Beyond Death
True love---or at least, true obsession---conquers all. In this case, it even conquered death. In 1933, Carl Tanzler was so head over heels for 21-year-old Elena de Hoyos that after she passed away, he stole her body and took it home, where he lived with the young woman's mummified corpse for the next several years. Tanzler would have continued his sick ruse until the end of his life, but he was caught in dramatic fashion by Hoyos's sister, leading to one of the strangest cases of grave-robbing and necrophilia of the 20th century.
Carl Tanzler was a mystery
Source: (florida keys public library)
The German-born radiologist came to Key West, Florida after leaving his wife and children in 1926. Once in Florida, he presented himself as a count and claimed to be a former submarine captain who moonlighted as an inventor. The next year, he took a job as a radiologist at the United States Marine Hospital.
Tanzler kept to himself, but when he met a patient named Elena de Hoyos, he came out of his shell. Supposedly, Tanzler had been dreaming of a woman with dark hair, and Hoyos fit the bill. He was immediately enamored with the young woman, and he continued to lavish attention on her as she grew more and more ill.
Tanzler tried to save Hoyos's life
After visiting Tanzler for medical advice, Hoyos was diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was essentially a death sentence at the time, but Tanzler wasn't about to let his dream woman get away from him. He disregarded all hospital protocol and attempted to save Hoyos through tonics, elixirs, and pilfered x-ray equipment that he brought to her home. At the same time, Tanzler told the object of his desire how he felt, expressing his undying love for the young, sick woman. (It's important to note that, while it's unclear exactly how Hoyos felt about Tanzler, we know for certain that she didn't reciprocate his romantic feelings.)
Unfortunately, Tanzler couldn't save Hoyos. She passed away from complications of tuberculosis on October 25, 1931. Tanzler paid for her funeral out of pocket as well as her internment in a stone mausoleum---a building to which only he had a key.
Hoyos was surreptitiously moved to Tanzler's apartment in 1933
Two years after Hoyos's death, Tanzler snapped. He lost his job and suddenly stopped showing up to Hoyos's place of rest, which he'd visited every night since her internment. Her family found it strange that he'd begun ignoring the woman to whom he'd shown such devotion, but they didn't dig into why he suddenly made himself scarce.
But Tanzler didn't stop visiting Hoyos because he fell out of love with her---it was because he decided he needed to spend more time with her than his nightly visits would allow. Tanzler loaded up her decaying corpse into a toy wagon and moved it to a makeshift lab in the shape of an airplane, where he mummified her body with plaster of Paris, wires, mortician's wax, and glass eyes. It was then that he felt she was ready to move in with him.
For the next several years, Tanzler lived with Hoyos's corpse in what he must have felt was something of a spousal relationship. This became difficult as the years went on and Hoyos's body degraded further and further, but Tanzler used everything from wire hangers to prop her up to rags to stuff the empty cavities of her body. He continually applied wax to her face and disinfectants to her body to keep the smell of her corpse from overpowering his apartment. Tanzler also bought Hoyos's body perfumes and gifts as if they were in a normal relationship. He even fashioned a wig from what was left of her hair to keep her pretty.
Tanzer was observed dancing with Hoyos's body
After a while, people started to talk. It was clear from the gifts he was seen purchasing that Tanzler had someone special in his life, but no one had ever seen her. After a young neighbor boy spotted him dancing with what looked to be a life-size doll, they started suspecting that the woman who had caused Tanzler to forget about Hoyos was, in fact, Hoyos.
When Hoyos's sister finally went to Tanzler's apartment to confront him in October 1940, her worst fears were confirmed. She called the authorities, and after her sister’s body was removed from the premises, they discovered that Tanzler hadn't just rebuilt Hoyos's body until she was more doll than woman, he'd also inserted a tube inside her body, apparently to facilitate sexual intercourse.
Tanzler was arrested, but the charges didn't stick
Obviously, Tanzler was arrested immediately after he was found to be living with a corpse. He was put on trial for "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization," and the case became a local sensation. Strangely enough, many locals took pity on Tanzler. Some local women even thought that the whole thing was romantic.
If it wasn't clear from the grave-robbing and mummification, Tanzler wasn’t doing well mentally, and while on the stand, he claimed that he planned to bring Hoyos back to life through intergalactic means. He explained that he wanted to take Hoyos "high into the stratosphere so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena's tissues and restore life to her somnolent form." Tanzler was cleared of all charges only because the statute of limitations had long since passed for his crimes.
Elena's body was put on display after the trial
Following the trial, the weirdness continued. Rather than put Hoyos back in her crypt, the state of Florida put the young woman's body on display at a local funeral home for anyone who wanted to stop by and check it out. Once public interest in the case died down, she was reinterred, although she was buried in a new, unmarked grave in order to keep copycat vandals---or Tanzler---from causing the family any more grief. Her former admirer had the gall to ask if he could have her body back at the end of the trial, but his request was denied. Supposedly, he lived until 1952 with a life-size doll of Hoyos that he crafted from her death mask. Tragically, this was not illegal.
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