In 1931, Dr. Carl Tanzler fell in love with a patient he was treating for tuberculosis. This love made him determined to keep his patient alive, which he attempted to do quite literally by removing her corpse from the mausoleum it was housed in and holding it together with coat hangers, wax, and silk.
Born in Dresden, Germany in 1877, Tanzler reportedly studied weather patterns in Austria in 1910, staying there until the end of World War I. Upon returning home, Tanzler married and had two children in 1920, and the family emigrated to Zephyrhills, Florida. Tanzler quickly abandoned his brood after accepting a position as a radiologic technician in Key West, where he worked at the U.S. Marine Hospital under the name Count Carl von Cosel.
When a Cuban-American woman named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos walked into the hospital, the doctor saw before him an actual dream come true.
Born in Key West in 1909, the daughter of a cigar maker and a homemaker, Hoyos was raised in a large family and was brought to the hospital by her mother after becoming ill.
As a young boy in Germany, Tanzler would often have visions of a stunning, dark-haired woman who was predestined to be his one true love. The 22-year-old beauty resembled his childhood premonitions so closely that he immediately became convinced that their love was meant to be.
Unfortunately for them both, Tanzler’s prognosis for young Hoyos was not great, having diagnosed her with tuberculosis, which was still considered to be a fatal disease in the early 1900s. Despite the lack of qualifications needed to treat a tuberculosis patient, Tanzler was determined to save Hoyos and used a variety of specially-made tonics, elixirs, and medicines in an effort to do so.
Tanzler administered these treatments in Hoyos’ family home, showering her with gifts and declaring his love all the while.
Despite his best efforts, Hoyos succumbed to her illness in October 1931, leaving her family — and newly-obsessed caretaker — heartbroken. Tanzler insisted on purchasing a pricey stone mausoleum in Key West Cemetery for her remains to lay, and with her parents’ permission, hired a mortician to prepare her body before locking her inside.
Hoyos’ family didn’t realize that the only key to the tomb would remain in Tanzler’s possession. Tanzler would quickly take advantage of this privilege, which would result in one of the most macabre tales of all time.
Tanzler visited Hoyos’ grave every night for nearly two years, a habit that stopped abruptly after he lost his job for reasons unknown. While her family did consider this drastic change in behavior to be a bit strange, they could not have imagined the reasoning behind it.
In April of 1933, Tanzler removed Hoyos’ body from the mausoleum, no longer requiring him to make his nightly visits to the graveyard as she would now be housed in his own home.