Graveyard Shift
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The Crazy Story Of Carl Tanzler And His Messed Up Relationship With A Corpse

Updated September 23, 2021 355.6k views15 items

There are stories of everlasting love, the sort of bond that transcends space and time. And then there's the story of Carl Tanzler's corpse bride, Elena Hoyos. Even the most romantic individual would have to admit his tale is downright chilling.

The German-born Tanzler moved to the United States in 1926 and began working at a Key West hospital. There, he met Cuban-American Maria Elena "Helen" Milagro de Hoyos and became instantly infatuated. Hoyos was suffering from tuberculosis, and despite Tanzler's efforts, she passed at 22 years old. That's when things took a turn for the macabre. The still-besotted Tanzler dug up her body, fitted it back together, and lived with her body in his home for seven years.

Needless to say, this is not a love story. Whatever the man may have thought or felt, Hoyos was not Carl Tanzler's wife. One could argue that he didn't even truly love her - she was nothing more than a symbol to him, and that Tanzler's attempts to preserve their relationship - and her corpse - were his way of controlling her, even in death. However, one could also propose that Tanzler simply couldn't let go and wanted to memorialize his ill-fated love.

  • Tanzler Likely Had Relations With Hoyos's Corpse

    Evidence suggests Tanzler had physical relations with Hoyos's corpse, though it was not discussed or recorded when the authorities made the grisly discovery. Two doctors who attended the 1940 autopsy of Hoyos's remains stated in 1972 they observed a paper tube inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse. However, their claims remain unproven, as photos weren't taken during the autopsy.

    Yet in Ben Harrison's 1996 biography documenting the events surrounding Tanzler's tale, medical examiner Joseph C. Rupp indicated the likelihood of post-life relations: "This is by far the most bizarre case of necrophilia I have come across."

  • Photo: DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0

    He Claimed To Have Had Visions Of Hoyos As A Child

    Tanzler's obsession with Hoyos began long before he laid eyes on her. He claimed when he was a little boy in Germany, one of his ancestors contacted him from beyond the grave. This Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel revealed the image of a beautiful dark-haired girl to Tanzler and told him she was his one true love. According to excerpts from Tanzler's journal, he had "a vision, of a very beautiful girl in a white dress" at age 12.

    Tanzler never forgot the dazzling image, even after he married and had children. He never appeared very engaged in his family life; he moved to Zephyrhills, FL, and when his wife and kids eventually followed, Tanzler abandoned them. Apparently, he was holding out for his dream girl - and Hoyos seemed to be his fantasy come to life.

  • He Stole Hospital Equipment And Conducted Experimental Treatment On Hoyos

    Tanzler was convinced saving Hoyos's life was his destiny, and he did everything in his power to do so. The hospital allowed him to try experimental treatments on her, as tuberculosis was seen as something of a final sentence. He administered homemade elixirs, tonics, and mixes of herbs. He went to great lengths to obtain the equipment he believed was needed to "cure" Hoyos. Desperate, he even resorted to taking hospital equipment without authorization, including an X-ray machine that he set up for Hoyos in her family home.

    According to Tanzler's journals, he refused to let Hoyos go:

    I 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. 

  • He Did Everything He Could To Preserve Her Corpse

    Tanzler's medicinal attentions continued after Hoyos passed. He began visiting her corpse in its tomb and unbeknownst to her family, began to dose it with chemicals in an effort to preserve it. Once Tanzler secretly moved Hoyos's body to his home, he was able to try more invasive means of reversing the decay.

    He tried embalming chemicals and perfume to cover the scent of rot. He used mortician's wax - and eventually prosthetics - to shape the face, eyes, and body. Tanzler held Hoyos's bones together with wire hangers and stuffed the body cavity with rags. He even made it a wig of Hoyos's own hair.