Love After Death: The Story Of Carl Tanzler And Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos

CULTURE | November 6, 2019

Carl Tanzler and his beloved. Source: (the13thfloor.tv)

Traditional wedding vows usually contain phrases such as “until death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live,” but for a deranged doctor named Carl Tanzler that wasn’t good enough. His love for his patient, Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, was so strong that he could not let her go, even after she died.

His full name was Georg Karl Tanzler and he was born in Dresden, Germany, on February 8, 1877. According to Tanzler, it was during his childhood that he first became aware of his beloved. He claimed to have been visited by the spirit of a deceased relative, who revealed the face of his one true love. It would be years later before he would meet the real Elena. First, he had to travel the world, spending most of World War I in an internment camp in Australia.  

Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel at his building on Flagler Av. C 1940. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Having reached his forties without meeting his fated lover, Tanzler married a woman named Doris Shafer instead and had two daughters with her. He eventually left them and traveled to the United States in 1926 where, after a brief stop in Cuba, he lived in Zephyrhills, Florida. His wife and daughters joined him in Florida only to have him leave them again, this time to Key West, Florida, less than a year later. It was while working at a U.S. Marine hospital in Key West as a radiological technician under the name Carl von Cosel that he finally met the real Elena.

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. Source: (americanhauntingsink.com)

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos was born on July 31, 1909, in Key West, Florida. She had married at a young age, but her husband left her shortly after she suffered a miscarriage. To make matters worse, she soon fell ill and on April 22, 1930, her mother, Aurora de Hoyos, brought her into the Marine hospital. Elena was diagnosed with tuberculosis which was, at that time, incurable. However, Tanzler immediately recognized her as the girl from his childhood vision and was determined to save her.

Tanzler obtained permission to try several experimental treatments, many of which were homemade elixirs, in his attempts to cure Elena. At the same time, he attempted to woo her with expensive gifts, though there was never any indication that his feelings were reciprocated. Despite all of Tanzler’s efforts, Elena died on October 25, 1931. Tanzler insisted on paying for the funeral expenses and even purchased a stone mausoleum to house her corpse. Elena’s family mourned her but eventually moved on. Tanzler, however, did not.

Elena’s mausoleum. Source: (13thfloor.tv)

The doctor continued to make regular visits to the mausoleum for the next two years. Eventually, rumors regarding his obsessive behavior cost him his job. Then in April 1933, after allegedly hearing Elena’s spirit begging to be rescued from her tomb, Tanzler removed her body from the mausoleum and used a toy wagon to bring it home with him. In order to preserve her body, he used wire to keep her skeleton intact, replaced her eyes with glass orbs, filled the body cavities with rags, and replaced decayed skin with plaster and fabric. He even made her a wig from her own hair and used perfume and disinfectant to mask her smell. He lived with her body for seven years, keeping her in his bed, and allegedly working to build an aircraft which he believed would fly him and Elena to the stratosphere where she would be rejuvenated Frankenstein-style.

Elena’s body as found by investigators. Source: (beingstuart.com)

In October 1940, Elena’s sister, Florinda, heard rumors that Tanzler was sleeping with her sister’s corpse. She contacted the authorities and Tanzler was arrested merely for gravesite desecration as there was no specific law against stealing a corpse. There was no proof at the time that he’d engaged in necrophilia, but later examinations indicated it to be a possibility. Tanzler stood trial for gravesite desecration and even confessed to keeping the body but was acquitted due to the statute of limitations had passed. 

Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel with Dr. DePoo and attorney Louis Harris. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately, Elena’s body was reinterred in an unmarked grave, but not until after it had sat on display at the local funeral home where people paid to see it. Tanzler returned to Zephyrhills and even published an autobiography. He died in July of 1952, but first, he created a life-size doll in Elena’s image. His body was not found until three days after his death and the doll was allegedly found nearby.

Tags: Carl Tanzler | Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos

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Penny Chavers


Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.