The Real Corpse Bride

They say love never dies. Carl Tanzler took that to heart, maybe too literally. When his beloved patient, Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, died in 1931, he couldn’t bear it. After two years of visiting her in her tomb, he stole her decaying body and brought it home, where he did his best for seven years to preserve it. So as I say, lets take a trip back in time and start at the beginning.


Carl Tanzler immigrated from Germany to the United States in 1926 with his wife and his two children, their youngest child died of Diphtheria in 1934, whom he would abandon, as they didn't fit in with his new life. Carl Tanzler had escaped from an Australian internment camp during WWI by building a makeshift sailboat after secretly studying engineering books. 

He decided to make himself over in America claming to have aristocratic blood he changed his name and his career. 

He started calling himself, Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel. The reason he took that name was because while visiting Italy as a child he claimed to have a vision from an ancestor that had passed on long ago. Her name was Countess Anna Constantia Von Cosel who revealed to him the face of his one true love and she would be an exotic dark haired woman. 

The Countess had an interesting story herself, being the mistress of 18th century King Augustus II of Poland. When the King grew tired of the feisty and headstrong Countess, he had her exiled, and she stayed that way for 49 years until her death. Historically, the Cosel family seemed to be haunted by bad luck.

However Carl Tanzler was not a Count, nor was he a Doctor. He claimed to have 9 academic degrees (which he didn't) he took a position as a Radiologic Technologist at the US Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida. 

Part of his duties at the hospital was in the tuberculosis ward. Tuberculosis or consumption as victorians called it, was very fatal at the time, they would describe it as an illness that heightened  the elegance and refinement of its victim, and that it was tragically beautiful to waste away with pallor and fragility.

 Dr Tanzler worked fearlessly day in and day out with all of his patients. Dr Tanzler known to keep to himself as he was described as a quiet man and who preferred to research different treatments for his patients alone until the wee hours of the night.. However one fateful day in April of 1930, a chance meeting would change his world, and it would never be the same. 

On that night Dr Tanzler heard a faint knock at his office door which was located in the basement of the hospital. As he opened the door the most beautiful woman he had ever seen stood before him, and her name was Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. She was 22 years old and suffering from Tuberculosis, she had heard of Dr Tanzler's work and had hoped that he could save her from the fate that most of her family had already met. 

From all acounts Elena was a very attractive woman who was known for the red rose she wore in her hair dark hair drawing the attention of many strangers who desired to photograph her and sought to make her theirs. At 16 she was married to a man named Luis Mesa who abandoned her after she miscarried their child. Dr Tanzler could not believe his eyes, this was the woman who had appeared to him in his visions and he couldnt help but let out a gasp, as he could hardly believe she was standing right infront of him.

It was love at first sight for the Dr and at 53 he was obviously far older than her but he knew, in that instant he would do whatever it took to save her, and then make her his own. It was right then in that moment that she would become his obsession in life. (and in death) Although the feeling was not mutual Elena knew that the Dr would make every attempt to heal her. In his efforts he was granted permission by her family to use off the books methods which were not approved by the hospital, some of which included which included homemade remedies, x-ray treatments. 

Dr. Tanzer was not only passionate about his treatments for Elena but he was just as passionate about making her fall in love with him. 

He would spoil her with expensive gifts and profess hus undying love for her. Just as passionate as Dr. Tanzer was about Elena she was just as passionate about living, buuuuuut thats about as far as her admiration went.   

Despite Dr. Tanzer's best efforts Elena passed away on October 25th, 1931. 

Before she died, Carl wrote in his journal how he “had hopes that, despite the extensive damage, the lesions would heal again. I had hopes that, when Elena was out of danger, we would get married. As long as she lived I never abandoned hope.”

Dr Tanzler then aked her family for permission to build and above ground mausoleum, paid for by him of course. So Dr Tanzer decided that the love of his life would not escape him through death, it was then he decided to have electric lighting installed and you guessed it, a two way telephone system installed on the other side inaide of her corpse, on the off chance Elena needed anything from the underworld, according to him its to communicate with Elena every night when he visited her. I mean of course, you have to fill her in on your day!!!  

He would spend hours outside of her crypt proclaiming his undying love for her, he also spoke of her ghost appearing to him when he was inside the vault. If the smell of her rotting flesh became to much he would reluctantly use the telephone intercom. As time went by he spent more and more time with Elena and his obsessive love grew even stronger. According to Dr. Tanzer they would spend hours talking and he even proposed marriage to which he said she would act coy and dismiss the topic. 
After missing so much work he was eventually let go from his position at the hospital, and maybe it was partly due to his odd behavior. Low and behold after two years of nonstop dating, Elena began asking Dr. Tanzler to take her away from the mausoleum . To which he happily called all of his friends and let them know that Elena finally said yes and they were to be married. 

On late evening in April of 1933 he arrived at her mausoleum with a cart, Elena had told him she would come to him and beome his betrothed. 
The reports are that he then saw her ghost appear from her resting place and he took his new bride away from the dark lonely place that was the cemetery, to begin her new life beside him as his wife. 
Dr. Tanzler had prepared for this exact moment and in doing so he created a special lab just for her in an old airplane that he romantically named after her, and this is where he had planned to bring her back to life. 

Dr Tanzler tried many time in vein to bring his beloved back to life and with each attempt failing her decided to bring her back to his home and into his bed. Due to the smell of her rotting and decomposing flesh Dr Tanzler was forced to use heavy perfumes strong disinfectants and and several preserving agents to cover the smell. 

Once he had that situation under control he would then move on to something to make Elena feel more comfortable and sensual in bed. Elena was given a most elegant gift only meant for the eyes of her husband. It was a beautiful silk nightgown and matching silk stockings. Dr Tanzler removed Elenas burial clothes and delicatly dressed his beautiful bride. 

As her once beautiful face was starting to decay Dr Tanzler rebuilt it with cloth that had been soaked in mixture of wax and plaster of paris. 
As Elenas hair fell out Dr Tanzler had a wig made from her own hair that he had been gifted by Elena's mother after her burial in 1931. Elena's bones were held together with wire and coat hangers, he then filled her abdominal wall and chest cavity with rags to hold her original shape, and of course her eyes were replaced with glass ones. 
Dr Tanzler and Elena shared their marital bed for 7 years and remained very happy in doing so. It was reported during her autopsy in 1940 that her rotting vagina had been fitted with a paper tube to better manage intercourse for the good Dr. 

There were many rumors that a certain Dr had a deciesed woman rotting away in his bed, after some digging Elena's sister confronted Dr Tanzler to find out indeed it was her sister, and Elena's body was discovered. Elena's sister called the police immediatley and Dr Tanzler was quickly arrested.   

Dr Tanzler was evaluated by psychiatrists he was given a battery of tests eventually he was charged with wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.

The case was eventually dropped because the statute of limitations had run out and he was released.

To add insult to injury Elena's corpse was put on public display at the Dean-Lopez funeral home where over 6,800 people viewed her, I'm not sure who thought that was a good idea but none the less there she was in all her glory. Spectators came to gawk at the macabre spectacle, paying $1 each for the privilege. After this, Maria was finally laid to rest at Key West Cemetery in an unmarked grave, to deter Carl from disturbing her eternal rest.

Oddly enough, the public found Carl to be a sympathetic figure, a tragic romantic who had lost his beloved to cruel fate. They either ignored or were unaware of the necrophilic aspects of the “relationship.”
In 1944 Tanzler moved to Pasco County Florida to be, you guessed it, close to Elena's grave. He then went on to write an autobiography that appeared in the pulp publication Fantastic Adventures, in 1947. 
He spent the next eight years painting pictures of Elena and telling the story about his one true love to anyone who would listen.

Dr. Carl Tanzler died in his home on July 3rd 1952.

He was not discovered for 3 weeks. His obituary read: "a metal cylinder on a shelf above a table in it wrapped in a silken cloth and a robe was a waxen image."

Carl wrote in his memoirs:

Elena, my darling, we are alone on this shore. He who has given you to me, will not reject our souls, united as they are in His undying love.”

In his final diary entry, Carl had written:

“Human jealousy has robbed me of the body of my Elena, yet divine happiness is flowing through me for she has survived death. Forever and ever, she is with me.”

 In the end ( just as he would have wanted) he was found naked and on top of the life sized replica of Elena that he had made out of wax.

From 1930 to 1952, he had endlessly obsessed over this woman. For nearly 22 years, she had been the focus of his life, alive or dead.