Lately I’ve been experiencing some love “difficulties” and a couple of days ago I stumbled upon this incredible “love-Story” that I couldn’t stop myself to write about it. Oh l’amour!
The strange and incredible story of Carl Tanzler has become a kind of grisly urban legend, but it really happened: it is a story of love, devotion, obsession and death.
Carl Tanzler born in Dresden in 1877, moved in Zephyrhills, Florida, in 1927, became a radiologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West.
He had been entrusted to the tuberculosis ward, which in those years was really a bad show. Most of his new American friends were patients, and Tanzler was forced to watch them die one by one because of the terrible disease. Always ready to invent new imaginative cures, he boasted of having received phantom awards and honors, which led later to doubt that he even have a real medical degree.
Carl also claimed to be often visited in his dreams by a defunct ancestress, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, who invariably showed him a beautiful, exotic woman, saying that she and no other was his great love. Although married with children, Tanzler ended in April 1930 to meet the beautiful woman seen in his dream: it was Elena Milagro “Helen“ de Hoyos, 22, an incomparable beauty and seriously ill. With the consent of the family, he began to use unorthodox and untested methods to treat his Elena, herbal concoctions and X-rays treatments. Meanwhile, he declared his love to her but the young Elena wasn’t that interested. Eventually Elena died.
Carl then built a raised mausoleum because he was afraid that the moisture of the soil could affect his body. Every day he went to the cemetery to visit her and the family of Elena was moved by the affection shown. What they did not know, however, it is that the obsession of Tanzler was taking a turn for the worse. In 1933 he stole the corpse, and took her home. Elena had been dead for two years now, and Tanzler fought furiously against the decay of her body, using a lot of preservatives, draining one after the other bottles of perfume to hide the smell of rotting flesh.
At every stage of decomposition, Carl tried to capture the image of Elena, but the result was that she was becoming more and more a crude and grotesque caricature of what she had once been, a macabre rotten doll.
In 1940, nine years after the death of Elena, the latter’s sister heard voices about the strange habits of Tanzler. She went to his house, where she found what was left of the corpse of Elena, still dressed in her clothes. Carl was arrested, but the offenses had already lapsed and he was never punished for what he had done.
All the newspapers were on this story, but strangely the public opinion sided with Tanzler. His stubborn race against the inevitable somehow moved and touched the hearts of Americans, people sensed that beyond the most gruesome and morbid aspects of the news, there was something more. Beneath the veneer of sordid necrophilia, the story of Tanzler was simply too human. The German doctor had clung with nails and teeth to what he most loved in the world, refusing to let it disappear into the mists of time.
The obsession of Carl did not end when they take away his loyal remnants. Now that the idea of his love had prevailed on any reality, he used the death mask of his beloved to build a doll with Elena features and he spent his last years showing the doll to the curious and endlessly telling her incredible story.
“Tis a fearful thing, to love what death can touch”