Carl Tanzler – Sleeping with the Dead
- Post Mortem Practices
- Carl Tanzler (known by many different versions of his name: Georg Karl Tanzler, Carl Von Cosel and Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel), was a well travelled and educated man. Born in Dresden, Germany he travelled a lot in his early adult years, making it as far as Australia through the years of World War One.
His time in Australia was not fantastic, as like many Germans, he was placed in a concentration camp to keep him out of trouble. He was not too happy with this arrangement, as he was to soon make off in his trans-oceanic flyer when he was ‘arrested’.
Tanzler had plans for an escape from the Prison at Trial Bay, New South Wales, through the use of a secretly constructed sailing boat, but soon enough the war was over and Tanzler was free.
After the war and his release Tanzler moved back to Germany, where he married and had two children. Post-war Germany was not the greatest of places to live, and he in 1926, made his way to the United States where his sister had earlier emigrated.
The following year he left his family and took up a job as a radiologist at a military hospital in Key West, Florida. It was here that he would meet the woman of his dreams (literally), and the rest of this macabre story would play out.
In April 1930 Tanzler first met 21 year old Maria Elen Milagro de Hoyos. For him, love was instant, as he had seen her a number of times in his dreams. During his younger years he had been visited several times in his dreams by a dead ancestor, who revealed to him the face of his true love. Maria was a perfect match.
Maria had been brought into the hospital to have a scan done, due to suffering poor health at the time. The diagnosis was Tuberculosis which, at the time, had a high mortality rate. Tanzler was not going to lose his one true love, and set about attempting to cure Marias affliction.
Tanzler went to extreme measures in treating the tuberculosis, including taking medical equipment from the military hospital to the Hoyos home, such as heavy and expensive x-ray machines.
Tanzler also courted Maria at this time, showering her with gifts and affection. However, Maria did not reciprocate these feelings. She had been married a short time earlier, but her husband had left her after she miscarried their child. It is thought she probably still loved her husband.
On the 25th of October 1931 Maria Hoyos died in her home, and the grief stricken Tanzler paid for her funeral and an expensive above ground mausoleum. Tanzler visited her grave nearly every night and attempted to preserve the corpse with different methods. Soon, he began to see visions of her ghost, which expressed love for him and a want to leave the mausoleum, to go home with him.
In 1933 the ‘ghost’ of Maria Hoyos got her wish. In the middle of the night Tanzler stole Maria’s body, and carted it through the cemetery in a wagon, and taking her home.
This is where the story takes its very bizarre turn.
Back at his home, Tanzler got a much better look at the condition of the corpse. She had started to badly decay, even though he had spent a few years treating the body to slow the process down. The eyes, nose and ears were all but gone, the abdominal cavity had started to collapse and the skeletal structure had begun to come apart. Tanzler had much work to do.
He began by resetting the bones, and joining them with wire and coathangers. He then stuffed the abdominal cavity with rags, to keep hold of its shape. The eyes were replaced with glass eyes, and a wig was made with Marias own hair that her mother had kept after the funeral. The skin was covered in sheets of silk, soaked in plaster, and finally the body was redressed.
It was also said that Tanzler kept certain body orifices open with tubes, but we will not delve into that…
Tanzler placed Maria’s body into his bed where he slept beside her for more than seven years.
As the smell got too much, he would use strong perfumes and disinfectants to hide it.
It was in 1940 that people started to get wind of what was going on. Maria’s sister Florinda became suspicious, as Tanzler had not visited her sisters grave for many years. The mausoleum was searched, and the body was found to be missing.
Florinda confronted Tanzler at his house, where he invited her in. To her shock, there on the bed was what, at first, Florinda believed to be a wax sculpture of her sister. The authorities were called, and the house further searched. When they took a look at the ‘dummy’ they were shocked to discover that under the plastered silk were Maria’s remains.
Carl Tanzler was arrested, and eventually went to trail on charges of ‘wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization’. During the proceedings, Tanzler confessed that he had planned on using an airship to take himself and Marias body into space, where the radiation would suffuse her body and return it to a immaculate form. When this plan turned out to be unfeasible, he took her home and did what he could to keep his lover alive.
During this time Maria’s body was put on display at a local funeral home, and was viewed by thousands of people. Maria was eventually reburied, but this time in an unmarked plot and encased in either concrete or metal to prevent further tampering.
As for the trial, all charges were dropped, as the statute of limitations had expired and he could not be held accountable for a crime of that type so long after the fact. The Hoyos family were understandable outraged, but the public for the most part were sympathetic towards Tanzler… he was seen as a hopeless romantic, if a bit strange.
Tanzler moved away from Key West in 1944. He lived with a copy of Marias Death Mask and a life sized effigy of her body. He died in his home on July 3rd, 1953. His body discovered in an advanced state of decomposition, as he was not discovered for three weeks.
Ashley Hall 2013
Photo: The face of Maria Hoyos covered in silk and plaster, the features drawn on and the eyes replaced with glass.
Inset Upper: A photo of Maria Hoyos in life.
Inset Lower: Carl Tanzler.
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