There are many types of stories about love, some about unrequited love, others about mutual but tragic love. This is none of those stories, or maybe it is a bit of both. However, one thing is certain, it’s definitely a story about obsession, an obsession that defies death: Karl Tanzler obsession for Elena Hoyos.
Karl Tanzler becomes Carl Von Cosel
Karl Tanzler left his wife and children in 1927 and moved in Florida. There, he changed his name to Carl Von Cosel and started working in a hospital where patients with tuberculosis were treated. He also claimed that during his childhood he had visions of his dead ancestor Countess Anna Constantina Von Cosel (one of the reasons why he changed his name) who told him that his true love will be a dark haired exotic woman. Whether that claim is true, we do not know, but he did meet his exotic love.
Meeting Elena Hoyos
It all started when Elena Hoyos was committed to the hospital, suffering from tuberculosis; she was known to be a great beauty and Von Cosel was one of those who fell in love with her. This was the beginning of his struggle to keep her next to him, no matter what the consequences were. He tried all the treatments possible to save her, even unorthodox treatments like herbal medicine, X-Ray treatment, and other types of treatment that involved electrical equipment. One of his most unusual treatments involved a potion that contained gold flakes but he also administered electric shocks to her. On a more personal level, he did his best to please her and make her happy, showered her with gifts, but it seems that she didn’t return his affection. However, he hoped that if he managed to cure her terrible illness she would eventual come to love him.
The death of Elena Hoyos
In 1931, just before Halloween, Elena died and was buried in an above-ground mausoleum ordered by the doctor, because he thought that groundwater would have contaminated her body. He would regularly go to her grave and take care of it, which didn’t alarm her family since they trusted him and knew his special connection with her. Little did they know that he was trying to take Elena’s corpse from the grave as his connection with her was more than anyone could possibly imagine. During his visits to Elena’s grave he had long conversations with her and he even installed a telephone so that he would feel close to her even when he was away. Apparently, he also had seen her ghost telling him that he needed to take the corpse and he was also trying to preserve her body with formaldehyde.
When obsession becomes pathological
In 1933, he stole her body from her tomb and brought it home after losing his job from the hospital. He attempted to preserve her body the best way he could using big amounts of preservatives; this proved difficult since she was already dead for two years but he used a lot of perfume to conceal the smell of her rotting flesh. Piano wires were used to string her bones together and keep her skeleton intact somehow, her eyes were replaced with glass replicas because they had also gone rotten, he also created a type of skin for her made from a mixture of silk with wax and plaster, and used rags when her insides became so putrefied she had lost her shape. He continued this process to preserve what was left of his dead obsession, including making a wig for her when her hair was almost gone. All this led to the creation of a macabre doll with some remains of her that was meant to give him some comfort through the illusion that she was still somehow with him. He spent his days talking to her while she was placed on a large bed and wrapped in cloth veil, acting like they were together and playing music for her on the organ, adding to the creepy scenery. What’s even most shocking is the fact that after the discovery of her body, the doctors also discovered during the autopsy that he had created a tube that somehow resembled a vagina, so he also had sexual intercourse with Elena’s dead body. After his arrest one of the doctors who performed the autopsy declared:
I made the examination in the funeral home. The breasts really felt real. In the vaginal area, I found a tube wide enough to permit sexual intercourse. At the bottom of the tube was cotton, and in an examination of the cotton, I found there was sperm. Then I knew we were dealing with a sexual pervert.
The discovery and arrest
Elena’s sister wasn't seeing doctor Von Cosel at the tomb anymore and there were also some rumors that he was behaving bizarre, so she began to believe that something might have happened, especially since he showed a morbid obsession since the beginning. She asked the authorities to open the tomb and was surprised to see that the body of her sister wasn’t there anymore. When confronted Von Cosel, he invited her inside and she was obviously shocked at the sight of the sinister image created by him. He was soon arrested and found mentally capable to stand trial on the charge of "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." However, the case was dropped and he was released. Elena's body was showed to the public, almost 6,800 people, before her last burial.
Later life and death
He moved in Pasco County, Florida in 1944 where he apparently used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of Elena. It has been speculated that he had taken the body of Elena even after his arrest but there was no evidence that the effigy he created contained any human material. However, his morbid obsession continued until his death in 1952 as he lived the rest of his life with the second doll that resembled Elena.
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A short documentary about this case: