CREEPY CORNER: Carl Tanzler's Undying Love For A Corpse

Love knows no bounds, and neither did Carl Tanzler.
Publish date:
April 4, 2014
creepy corner, necrophilia

[NOTE: This week's Creepy Corner details a story concerning necrophilia and violation of the dead. If this is in any way a trigger for you, only read to my goofy picture and the ********. xo, Lou.]

Last week, while I was holed up in a big old, spooky house in Belfast, Maine, I couldn't get Creepy Corner, and you my dear Creepy Corneristas, out of my head. There were so many things I wanted to share.

First of all, I was in my husband's childhood house -- a large, drafty, creaky, 100 year-old abode that is just BEGGING to be the site for "Creepy Corner: The Movie." Every night as we turned off the lights and made our way upstairs, I couldn't stop my imagination from running rampant, my eyes from darting to every darkened corner searching for Jodie the Pig or Toby the Paranormal Activity Demon.

On more than one occasion, I woke up in the middle of the night to find not only our attic bedroom door, but also the door to the stairway that goes to I DON'T KNOW WHERE, standing wide open. I'm positive that it was the wind, as on blustery nights it felt like it was blowing straight through the house, but when you're me, and everything has the potential to be a ghost story, you get a little spooked.

One night, I got up to use the bathroom. The only bathroom we could use was downstairs and "down a dark hallway." So as not to bother anybody, I made my way through the house by only the light of my cell phone. Creak, creak, creak, I walked down the stairs. Creak, creak, creak, I walked down the hallway. Creak, creak, trip, BANG, I cut through the living room and ran into a chair.

Because of the old wooden floors, my blunder reverberated throughout the house. I froze. You know that feeling when you think you've disturbed someone who was otherwise content to be lurking in the shadows? Yeah, that. It felt like I had intruded upon someone whose house this was after the light's went out. And the house kept creaking.

I ran to the bathroom, peed like a champion, and scuttled back upstairs to the safety of my bed. I'm 32 years old. Again, I'm positive it was just my imagination screwing around with me, but you couldn't have paid me to look behind me as I fled up the stairs.


Creepy night wanderings aside, I kept getting messages and posts about necrophilia in my various social media feeds. I don't know why.

Necrophilia, you know -- sex with dead people.

The best post came from my pal Caitlin Doughty, death-celeb extraordinaire and creator of "Ask a Mortician." If you don't know her already, spend some time on YouTube and get to know her. You won't be sorry.

(Want more? You can pre-order Caitlin's book, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" here.)

Creeps of a feather? Am I right?

Anyway, this post among others got me thinking about Carl Tanzler, Florida's infamous necrophiliac. I've been looking for a reason to write about him, and it seems that the universe is telling me, "NOW."

Dr. Carl Tanzler, sometimes Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel, was a German-born radiologist living in Key West, Florida in the 1930s and 40s.

In April of 1930, Tanzler met Maria Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos a lovely 21 year-old Cuban-American woman who had been taken ill with what would later be diagnosed as tuberculosis. It was infatuation at first sight.

Tanzler even believed that Elena was the woman from some romantic "visions" he had had. To the 50 year-old doctor, it was fate. Let it be noted that Elena did not return Tanzler's affection.

Elena soon succumbed to tuberculosis, and good ol' Tanzler built her an enormous mausoleum, where for two years he visited her preserved body (he preserved it himself) every night. He claimed that Elena's ghost would appear to him in the mausoleum and they would have hours long conversations. Finally, his obsession got the better of him, and Tanzler lost his hospital job.

But don't cry for Carl! Love knows no bounds, and neither did Tanzler. Upon moving into a smaller house in Key West after his termination from the hospital, Tanzler stole Elena's body and brought it home with him one night.

For seven years Tanzler lived in bliss with Elena. He read to her, he played organ music for her, he happily chirped about his beautiful "wife" around Key West -- even though nobody had ever seen this "wife" he spoke of.

All was peachy keen for Carl Tanzler until Elena's sister became suspicious. Rumors circulating around town about Tanzler's strange behavior, and his complete disappearance from Elena's tomb prompted Elena's sister to pay Tanzler a visit at his house.

He invited her like it was no big thing -- and there she found Elena's body tenderly laid in their marriage bed. Elena's bones were held together with wires. Her body and face were covered in wax and plaster, giving her a gruesome, dummy-like appearance. Tanzler had also heavily perfumed Elena's corpse in order to mask the odor of decay, and replaced her eyeballs with glass.

But the most upsetting discovery was that Tanzler had CONSUMMATED his "marriage" to Elena. He had placed A TUBE IN HER VAGINA IN ORDER TO MAKE INTERCOURSE POSSIBLE. In fact, it seems that their "relationship" began in the mausoleum, before he had moved her to his home. He had been having relations with Elena's corpse for approximately eight years.

Needless to say, Elena's sister called the authorities, upon which a full investigation was launched. Tanzler was sent to trial and imprisoned briefly, but the statute of limitations on the charge of GRAVE ROBBERY had expired, and he was set free. During his trial, Tanzler pleaded that his intentions were good and that he intended to take Elena's body up into space where the radiation could repair her dead tissue. Obviously.

Carl Tanzler lived out his days in Pasco County, Florida, with nothing but a DIY death mask of Elena's visage.

So that's Carl Tanzler. Was he a sad, hopeless romantic (as was much of public opinion at the time)? A criminal pervert? A delusional psychopath?

What do you think? Or did Creepy Corner get a little too creepy this time?