Man at cemetery

The following article includes allegations regarding abuse of a corpse.

They say love makes people do extraordinary things. Carl Tanzler, however, perhaps took things too far. Born in Germany in 1877, American Hauntings writes that Tanzler’s early years are a mystery. By 1920, he was a married father of two, and Tanzler opted to move his family from Europe to Zephyrhills, Florida (per All That’s Interesting). This was not a random decision; he had a sister who lived there. HuffPost reports that Tanzler eventually abandoned his family, and, in 1927, he found work as an X-ray technician at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West. It was there in 1930 that Tanzler met the woman he believed was the love of his life; Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos.

According to Atlas Obscura, de Hoyos was then a 21-year-old Cuban native suffering from tuberculosis and came to the hospital for treatment. Unfortunately for her, Tanzler immediately became besotted by her beauty. Moreover, he became convinced that de Hoyos was his destiny. American Hauntings explains that as a child, Tanzler saw visions of a dark-haired woman he suspected was his soulmate. She looked exactly like de Hoyos, prompting an obsession that would transcend death. All That’s Interesting notes that, however, it was evident that de Hoyos’ was not going to survive.

Nevertheless, KQED states that Tanzler showered his younger muse with gifts and affection. Per American Hauntings, he was determined to save de Hoyos using various remedies. Atlas Obscura adds that he also brought x-ray equipment to her home.

Carl Tanzler paid for Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos’ mausoleum

 Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos

KQED reports that it’s unknown how Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos felt about Carl Tanzler. American Hauntings writes that it’s unlikely she ever requited his affections. The truth, however, will forever remain lost to time. Tragically, de Hoyos died on October 25, 1931, at the age of 22. A devastated Tanzler made a death mask of her and told her family that he would pay for her funeral and mausoleum with their permission. The family agreed and chose Key West Cemetery as her final resting place. All That’s Interesting adds that Tanzler also paid for a mortician to prepare her body.

Unbeknownst to her family, Tanzler had the only key to her mausoleum (per Atlas Obscura). Tanzler visited de Hoyos’ grave nightly for nearly two years, states HuffPost. Then in April 1933, Tanzler did the unimaginable. Using a toy wagon, he hauled de Hoyos’ rotting corpse from her tomb to his home. Per American Hauntings, Tanzler later claimed that de Hoyos’ spirit asked him to take her away from the mausoleum. He also alleged that he saw and heard de Hoyos sing in Spanish whenever he visited her. Even if she was long gone, Tanzler didn’t want to live without her.

Carl Tanzler restored her corpse

Formaldehyde

When Carl Tanzler brought Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos’ remains home, KQED noted that she was not in the best condition. After all, she had been dead for almost two years. Tanzler, however, was undeterred by this. According to Atlas Obscura, he created a lab in an old plane to preserve her body. American Hauntings reports that Tanzler used wire and coat hangers to hold her bones in place. For skin, he used silk cloth immersed in wax and plaster. He also provided de Hoyos’ corpse with glass eyes. He used a wig from her hair that had been gifted to him by de Hoyos’ mother.

Per HuffPost, he placed rags in her abdomen and chest to make de Hoyos appear more life-like and formaldehyde to halt the process of decay. Shockingly, Atlas Obscura writes that Tanzler shared a bed with de Hoyos’ corpse. He used perfume, disinfectants, and oil to lessen the smell of death. Furthermore, he ensured that de Hoyos had clothes, gloves, and jewelry. He even placed a curtain to divide their bed to provide de Hoyos’ body with a sense of privacy. By all accounts, Tanzler acted as if de Hoyos never died. He happily lived with de Hoyos’ corpse for the next seven years.

Her family became suspicious of him

Women's perfume

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos’ family knew of Carl Tanzler’s infatuation, per Atlas Obscura. Thus, they found it odd that Tanzler stopped visiting the mausoleum two years after her death. All That’s Interesting states that this occurred shortly after he lost his job. KQED reports neighbors were alarmed to find Tanzler, a single man, buying women’s clothing and perfume. Moreover, a boy reportedly saw Tanzler dancing in the window with what he described as a doll-like figure. This, coupled with Tanzler’s absence at the mausoleum, made Key West locals and de Hoyos’ family believe he was perhaps harboring her body.

According to American Hauntings, de Hoyos’ sister, Florinda, decided to visit Tanzler at his home in October 1940. KQED writes that he led Florinda to his room to see de Hoyos’ corpse. Although Florinda felt disgusted by this site, she believed the body to be a doll (per Atlas Obscura). Nevertheless, she called the authorities, who quickly realized that this was, in fact, de Hoyos’ actual corpse. Tanzler was arrested and charged with "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization" (via KQED). Or, in other words, grave robbing (per HuffPost). But as American Hauntings explains, Tanzler never faced justice for desecrating de Hoyos’ remains.

He planned to bring her back to life

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos body

HuffPost notes that a psychiatric evaluation concluded that Carl Tanzler was sane and competent to stand trial. Despite his allegedly horrendous actions, KQED states that the media went crazy for the supposed love story between Tanzler and Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. In their eyes, Tanzler was a heartbroken man who could not stand being apart from de Hoyos in life or death. Atlas Obscura reports that Tanzler made some questionable statements to the authorities. He divulged that he planned to use a spaceship to fly de Hoyos "high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form."

In the end, American Hauntings writes that the authorities dropped the case against Tanzler because the statute of limitations had expired. It’s fair to say that de Hoyos’ remains had gone through enough. Nonetheless, there was more to come. The Dean-Lopez Funeral Home in Key West publicly displayed her body. KQED notes that an estimated 8,5000 individuals came to see de Hoyos. Her corpse also underwent an autopsy, per Atlas Obscura. Coroners inspected Tanzler’s macabre preservation efforts and learned that he had placed a paper tube in her vaginal cavity.

Carl Tanzler’s final years

Carl Tanzler

KQED reports that Carl Tanzler asked the authorities to return Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos’ body to him. They denied this request and reburied her in an unmarked grave at her original resting place, Key West Cemetery (per HuffPost). According to American Hauntings, Tanzler eventually moved back to Zephyrhills, Florida. However, his fixation on de Hoyos never ceased. In 1947, Tanzler wrote about his life story and de Hoyos in a pulp magazine called Fantastic Adventures. In it, Tanzler states that the accusations against him were blasphemous and that the authorities had thwarted his efforts to bring de Hoyos back to life.

Per Fantastic Adventures (via Comic Book Plus), he thanked his supporters and added that de Hoyos’ final wish was for them always to be together. HuffPost reports that towards the end of his life, Tanzler became an American citizen, and his wife, whom he had abandoned years before, financially supported him. Nevertheless, de Hoyos was always on his mind. In his diary, he wrote (via KQED), "Human jealousy has robbed me of the body of my Elena, yet divine happiness is flowing through me for she has survived death. Forever and ever, she is with me." Carl Tanzler died on July 3, 1952 (per American Hauntings). With him was an effigy that resembled de Hoyos.