Friday, February 14, 2020

A Love Undying


A Midsummer Night's Dream - Act 1, Scene 2.

Carl Tanzler
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
Normally, when a person has an odd dream, it's put down to an
experience you've had that day or something you've eaten. So if you had a dream where an (alleged) ancestor of yours turned up and revealed to you the face of your one true love, you'd be very unlikely to take it seriously. After all, it's just a weird dream. Shame nobody told Carl Tänzler that when, as a child, he dreamt that Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel came to him in a vision and showed him the face of the woman he was destined to one day marry. Tänzler was born in Germany, in the February of 1877. His parents would name him Georg Karl Tänzler, but this would eventually change when, in 1927, after emigrating to Florida, he got a job as a radiology technician at a U.S Marine Hospital in Key West, giving his new employers the name of Carl Von Cosel. With a good job, a wife and two daughters, he seemed to be living a very happy life, but the problem is that he'd never forgotten that dream. So when Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos (also known as just Elena) was bought to the hospital, Carl's happy marriage went straight out the window. He was convinced that the ailing girl was the one from his dream. It was fate, it was destiny, it was one-sided love at first sight. For Maria, acquiring a boyfriend old enough to be her father was the last thing on her mind and even if she hadn't been told by a doctor that she had tuberculosis, she still wouldn't have been interested. Carl had no intention of letting this stop him, he was determined to cure the woman of his dreams and spend the rest of his life with her. He introduced himself to Maria and her family as a renowned doctor and a Count, gaining their trust to the point where they eventually allowed him to take over the girls treatment. During this time he also showered her with gifts, in an attempt to win her heart.

The Nightmare Begins
Maria, sometimes known as Elena.
Floria Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
If this was a fairy tale then he would have succeeded, Maria would have got better and would have been charmed by this gentleman. Carl would have triumphantly swept her off her feet to live happily ever after, once his divorce had been finalised. However Maria had TB and despite the stories he had told her and her family, Carl wasn't a doctor, he wasn't a Count and he hadn't the foggiest idea what he was doing. X-ray equipment and other such gadgets soon filled the Hoyos' home, along with a variety of medicines as treatment began. Today we're lucky, TB isn't as common and can be treated, but in the 1920's? It was a death sentence. Even with treatment and experienced doctors, you didn't really stand much of a chance and the fatality rate was through the roof. In a lot of cases, all doctors could do was prolong the inevitable. Maria only had Carl to rely on. She didn't stand a chance and died on the 25th of October, 1931. It is also worth noting that during the time she was treated by Tänzler, she didn't return his romantic feelings once but Carl was oblivious to this.
Despite everything, the Hoyos Family was still charmed by the man, even accepting his offer to pay for Maria's funeral and a lavish above ground tomb. Carl would then visit this tomb every night and everyone thought this was very sweet and romantic. At this point in our morbid tale, we can now add two more things to our list of Things Carl Tänzler Was Not; a skilled taxidermist and an experienced grave robber. Carl had become convinced that Maria's spirit had been visiting him and had been begging him to free her from her tomb. His nightly visits were actually an excuse to see her, both in spirit and in the flesh, thanks to the spare key he had to her final resting place. He'd had been sneaking into the tomb at night to preserve Maria's corpse. This went on for some time until one night he took Maria home with him. Using a child's toy wagon. Once in the privacy of his own home, he set to work on rebuilding Maria's mouldering corpse to the best of his abilities. Like a budget Frankenstein. Long absent eyes were replaced with glass replicas, her chest and abdomen were filled to bursting with rags to rebuild her body, a dark haired wig replaced her lost hair and wire helped hold the bones together, allowing her to be posed much like a doll. As her skin decayed, Tänzler replaced it with wax dipped silk and plaster. He bought and dressed her in the best clothes he could, and doused her in perfume, preservatives and disinfectant in an attempt to hide the stench. It must have been horrific to witness, but Carl Tänzler was in love and oblivious to the horror of it. People had seen him buying women's clothing and toiletries, initially they thought he'd found himself a new lady friend to dote on and were happy for him.

Maria's tomb, for which Carl held the only key.
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)

A Horrific Discovery
Soon macabre rumors began to circulate. A young boy living in the neighbourhood had witnessed Tänzler dancing with what looked like a life sized doll. Some people suspected it was just that; a large doll made by a broken hearted eccentric. Other people, however, jumped to the correct conclusion that it was Maria herself. These rumours spread fast, finally reaching the ears of Maria's sister, Florinda, in the October of 1940. Not wanting to believe what she'd heard, but wanting to know the truth before the rumours reached her parents, Florinda paid Carl a visit. She was welcomed into his home, but wasn't there for long before she discovered her sisters body, sitting in it's usual resting place. Carl's bed. Florinda did the most sensible thing anyone in that situation could do. She ran screaming from the house. The police were called immediately. Tänzler made no attempt to escape as he genuinely didn't believe he'd done anything wrong. While detained, he was examined by Psychiatrists who claimed he was mentally competent and able to stand trial, where he would be charged with "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." Despite being declared mentally competent, Carl was clearly anything but. He'd been living with Maria's crumbling body for seven years, keeping her together with DIY, like some budget Frankenstein's monster. His plan was to somehow take her up into earths stratosphere so that he could soak her with cosmic radiation. This, he believed, would bring her back from the dead. Ultimately the case was dropped because the statute of limitations for Carl's crimes had expired.
Carl's first act as a free man? To ask if he could have Maria's body back. Funnily enough, the answer was a resounding no.

The Aftermath.
Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyo,
after Tanzler's DIY taxidermy attempts.
You'd think that Maria's ordeal would be over by this point, that she could finally be laid to rest by her shocked and grieving family. But you'd be wrong. Maria's body was thoroughly examined by physicians, who wanted to know what Carl had been up to. When they had finished with her, they put her on display in the nearby Dean-Lopez Funeral Home instead of laying her to rest. Here she was gawped at by over 6000 curious people like she was a sideshow attraction, before finally being returned to her family, who re-buried her in the Key West Cemetery. This time, she was buried in an unmarked grave, for fear that Carl would come back with his little cart and try to steal her again.
And Carl? He moved to Pasco County, in the State of Florida. Despite his disturbing crimes, the public actually showed pity for him and some considered what he'd done to be romantic. Carl even wrote an autobiography, which was published in 1947, in a pulp magazine known as Fantastic Adventures. He died on the 3rd of July, 1952, at the age of 75. After his death it was discovered that he'd used a death mask he'd made of Maria to construct a second life sized doll of her. Official reports say that his body was discovered lying on the floor of his home, other less reliable reports claim he was discovered in his creations arms, after dying in his sleep. And this story didn't die with Carl, instead becoming one of the most well known tales of obsession and grave robbery in the world. There is even the conspiracy theory that the second doll Carl made was not a recreation at all, but Maria herself, either returned to him or stolen again.

And so ends The Strange Ways first ever morbid true crime post! I hope you enjoyed it. There was no way you'd ever find a normal Valentines Day blog here, although next year I may consider a spooky gift guide for the lovers of the macabre in your life. I've been wanting to write about Carl Tänzler for ages, and I was fascinated by the horror of his crimes and obsession, but hadn't been able to find a good time to do so. I've a fascination for bizarre true crime, so expect more in the future. In the mean time, if you have any comments then pop them into the comments section below, or tag me on Twitter.