Carl Tanzler: The man who lived with a human corpse for seven years

Carl Tanzler: The man who lived with a human corpse for seven years

At face value, Carl Tanzler seemed like a man of incredible intelligence, depth an mystique. The radiology technician, who was born in Germany but lived in Russia, claimed to own nine university degrees, be a former submarine captain and an accomplished inventor. However, the truth was much different. Carl, in fact, lived a lonely life and abandoned his wife and children to work at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida.

Not only this, but he was also hiding one of the darkest secrets that the mind can imagine.

Not a man to make a name for himself, Carl maintained a low-profile after taking a job at the hospital back in 1927. It was there that he met Maria Elna Milagro de Hoyos.

When the 21-year-old Cuban came into the hospital for an examination, Carl's life changed forever. Upon seeing the young woman for the first time, Carl knew that de Hoyos was the one for him. For years, the doctor was plagued by visions of a dark-haired woman who he believed was destined to be his wife. This woman, Carl believed, was Elena.

Despite his infatuation with the girl - who was 30 years his junior - Carl was forced to deliver her a grim prognosis. Hoyos was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was a highly fatal disease at the time. But, due to the fact that he believed Elena was his life partner, Carl refused to let his love die and was determined to save her life.

Setting out to find a miracle cure for the illness, Carl created homemade tonics and medicines as well as illegally bringing hospital-owned x-ray and electrical equipment to the Hoyos' home for treatments. Not only this, but he showered the 21-year-old with gifts and regularly professed his love for her.

Despite the doctor trying to find a remedy to the disease, Elena sadly passed away on October 25, 1931. Tanzler, unbefitting of hospital protocol, insisted on paying for the girl to be buried in an expensive stone mausoleum and, with the approval of her family, he also paid for a mortician to clean up her body before being placed in the tomb.

However, one fact that Carl refrained from telling the family, was that he was the only person with a key to that mausoleum.

Carl visited Elena's tomb nightly for the following two years, before losing his job for his erratic behaviour and obsession with the deceased patient. After being relieved of his duties, he stopped his nightly visits - something which Hoyos' family found strange.

However, Carl stopped visiting Elena due to the fact that he had taken his obsession to a new level. Deciding that he needed to spend more time with the dead girl, Carl put Elena's decomposing carcass into a toy wagon and transported it to a makeshift lab that he had created inside of an old aeroplane. Using wires, plaster of Paris, wax and glass eyes, Tanzler brought Elena "back to life" and took her back to his home where she shared a bed with her.

Tanzler continued to keep Elena "alive", using wires to preserve her frame, stuffing her with rags and reapplying wax to her face as well as replacing her decaying scalp with real hair and dousing her in disinfectants and oils to mask the smell of her rotting body.

Not only did he upkeep Elena physically, he also attended to the material demands of his "bride". He was often seen out buying perfume and women's clothing and even purchased a curtained cloth veil for privacy on the bed that they shared.

This warped domestic bliss continued for seven years, until people began to ask questions. Carl was buying women's clothes without having a wife, had stopped going to the mausoleum and was regularly seen in his window dancing with a "giant doll". Suspicions, understandably, were roused and people began to believe that Carl was, in fact, keeping Elena in his house.

After hearing the rumours, Elena's sister decided to confront Carl at his home in October 1940. Remarkably, the scientist allowed her inside and she was met with what she believed was a wax dummy of her sister. After calling the police - who seized the doll - it was revealed to the family that the doll was actually Elena's rotted corpse.

After performing an autopsy on the corpse, police found that not only had Tanzler reconstructed multiple body parts of Elena, he had also inserted a paper tube inside of her to serve as a makeshift vagina.

Carl was arrested and stood trial for “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.” According to him, he was planning to use his aeroplane to take Hoyos “high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form".

Eventually, he was cleared due to the fact that the statute of limitations on his crimes had expired.

As a result of the media storm that followed the trial, Elena's body was put on public display at a local funeral home where thousands of people went to go and view how she was left. After that open casket was done, she was finally laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

As for Carl, well he asked for Elena's body back and lived out the rest of his days with no more incidents. However, he did have a life-size effigy of Elena's face to keep him company and it's believed that he died while cradling it.