The Strange But True Story of Carl Tanzler & His Corpse Bride

(Carl Tanzler. Photo credit: birdinflight.com)

This is one of those stories that you would be forgiven for thinking was just a made up tale online but it's shockingly true. I've written about various true crime cases on this blog as well as mysteries and in my opinion, this story falls into the true crime category with somewhat of a horror twist.

I'm talking about the shocking story of a man who was so obsessed with a woman that when she died due to illness, he stole her corpse and lived with her dead body in his bed for nearly a decade. Some of the details I'm about to share in this post will be a bit disturbing so please be prepared for that.


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So, let's begin.

A strange fellow from Germany who went by the name of Carl Tanzler (as well as Count Carl Von Cosel even though he wasn't a Count) was born in Dresden, Germany on the 8th of February 1877. Carl had a difficult time dealing with reality and as he got older he would claim that he was a Doctor as well as many other professions.

He immigrated to the Key West in Florida and worked as a Radiology Technologist at the Marine Hospital Service. He was estranged from his wife and two children and carried on living in his dream world until one day, a beautiful young Cuban-American woman by the name of Elena Milagro De Hoyos came to the hospital. Fifty Three year old Carl was transfixed with the 21 year old brunette with striking features, he couldn't help but remember the dream he had when he was a child. Carl claimed that one of his ancestors came to him in a dream when he was a little boy and revealed to him the future face of his one true love.

For the rest of his life, through his marriage, even up to that moment, he never forgot that face or that dream and here was Elena before him, she looked exactly like the face in the dream and he was determined to be with her, he saw it as destiny.

Unfortunately the young Elena was not interested in Carl in that way and the sad truth emerged that she was suffering with the disease Tuberculosis and this was at a time when there was no vaccine for it. Carl was devastated and became obsessed with finding a cure. He led the family to believe that he was a Doctor and would come to their house bringing all kinds of medicines and formulas that he prayed would work but none of them did. He constantly told Elena how much he loved her and showered her with gifts but she still didn't feel any sort of way about him. I'm sure she and her family were grateful for his help but other than that there was no closeness there.

(Elena Milagro De Hoyos: Picture credit: the13thfloor.tv)

Despite Carl's tireless efforts, Elena sadly passed away on the 31st of July 1909. Carl was distraught and insisted to Elena's family that he pay for her funeral as well as burial.

Carl organised for Elena's body to be put into an above ground mausoleum which was quite elaborate. Carl was the only one who had a key to the mausoleum and Elena's family thought nothing of it at the time. They knew that he had a fondness for her when she was alive but they thought it was harmless.

(The mausoleum of Elena Milagro De Hoyos. Picture credit: atlasobscura.com)

What nobody knew was that Carl was sneaking into the cemetery at night and spending time with Elena's body, he'd talk to her and sometimes he'd be there all night. He had a phone installed in the mausoleum so that Elena could call him anytime she wanted and he would regularly inject her body with Formaldehyde. This craziness went on for two years until things took and even more sinister turn with Carl feeling that Elena was calling for him from the grave.

(Carl Tanzler and Elena Milagro De Hoyos. Picture credit: mind-blowingfacts.com

So one night he decided to remove Elena's corpse from the mausoleum, load it onto a child's wheelbarrow and took it home. It was also around this time that he was fired from his job at the hospital, maybe they found out about him stealing medicines etc to take to Elena's house?

Once he got Elena's body home, he realised that her body was in bad shape despite his efforts to delay decomposition so he set to work on trying to bring Elena back to life and repair her body.

He removed her eyes from their sockets and replaced them with glass ones. He covered her body in perfume and oils to help get rid of the smell. Put her skeleton and bones back together using piano and coat hanger wire. Her body was covered in plaster and fabric and her insides were stuffed with rags. He made a wig out of her own hair and glued it to her head as well as inserting a tube in between her legs so that he could have sexual intercourse with her. He put her clothes back on the body when he was finished doing this constant daily routine of covering the body with perfume and he would often be seen out in the town buying women's clothing which raised a few eyebrows.

(The disturbing image of Elena's corpse after years of decomposition and Carl's constant attempts at preserving her remains. Picture credit: imgur.com

Elena's body, which now resembled more of a doll was kept in Carl's bed, when he wasn't sleeping beside it, he would talk to her, play music on his organ for her and was said to have enjoyed picking her corpse up and dancing around with it (a neighbour later reported seeing him doing this in one of the windows).

Seven years this went on and rumours were all over town that creepy Carl had a dead body in his house. Elena's family became very concerned and started putting two and two together. Elena's sister had her suspicions for a while and marched over to Carl's house and pushed herself in through the door despite his attempts to keep her outside and sure enough, there Elena was on his bed. Her sister thought that he had just made a doll of Elena but nonetheless, she contacted the authorities and Carl was arrested.


He was charged with grave robbing and desecration of a corpse but because of the amount of time that had passed he somehow got away with it and the charges were dropped. As soon as they took the handcuffs off and told him that he could leave, he asked them for Elena's body back, they of course refused.

Elena's body was sent to a funeral home where it caused a stir. The poor woman's badly desecrated corpse was put on display for all to see and over 6000 people flocked to see the famous ''Corpse Bride''. It's a wonder what her poor family must have thought. Imagine the trauma of losing your loved one and then finding out that the nice (but creepy) old man who paid for the funeral and tried to help, was actually living with your dead relative's corpse for seven years and got away with it.

The people of Key West couldn't believe the story and some of them even saw Carl as some sort of hopeless romantic, that this was some kind of love story. The reality was that this was a very sick man who stole a young woman's body for his own gratification, there was no love story, it was all in his head. Elena was never interested in him but she didn't have a choice.

Elena was finally given the proper burial that she deserved in an unmarked grave somehwere in Key West. To this day nobody knows where and that's a good thing.

Carl lived out the rest of his days still fixated on Elena and created a mask of her face which he put onto a life size dummy. He kept the dummy in his bed until he passed away on the 3rd of July 1952. Some sources say that he was found in the arms of the dummy, others say that he was found near his organ with the mask on, whatever the situation, this story was bizarre in itself so it wouldn't surprise me if the ending was also strange.


RIP Elena.


Thank you for checking out my latest post, see you in the next one x


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Check out some of the true crime cases I have covered previously:

Victim of The Porn Industry or Con Artist? The Shelley Lubben Story (2 Part Series)
















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