For Dr. Carl Tanzler, nothing could get in the way of him and the woman he loved…not even death. This is true story about how he came to live with the corpse of Elena Milagro “Helen” de Hoyos for 7 years after she died.
Tanzler was born in Germany in 1877 and lived a relatively sane and normal early life. He married a woman named Doris Anna Shafer in 1920 and had two children. Him and his family later immigrated to the USA after World War 1, settling in Zephyrhills, Florida. A few years after their arrival, Tanzler abandoned his family for a job as a radiologic technologist in Key West, Florida.
Tanzler claimed that earlier in his life he would have visions of a dead ancestor who “revealed” to him the face of an exotic-dark haired woman who would be his true love.
On April 22, 1930, Tanzler met a patient at the hospital he worked at named Maria Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos. Helen was a gorgeous cuban immigrant who had been brought to the hospital by her mother for an examination. Upon seeing her, Tanzler recognized Helen as the woman who he had visions of.
Helen was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis, which at the time was a fatal disease, one that had already taken the lives of several of Helen’s relatives. From the moment he met Helen, Tanzler had developed an immediate obsession with her and made it his goal to save her in any way possible.
Tanzler treated Helen at her family’s home using everything could; medicine, x-rays, and even brought medical equipment to the house. Tanzler’s care and actions were taken beyond a professional relationship as he began showering Helan with gifts such as clothing, jewelry, and eventually confessed his love to her. It is said that Helen never reciprocated the feelings.
Despite Dr. Tanzler’s best efforts, Helen ultimately passed away from the disease at her home on October 25, 1931. After a mutual agreement with Helen’s family, Tanzler paid and arranged her funeral and sought an above ground mausoleum in the Key West cemetery for Helen’s corpse to lay in.
Death did not stop Tanzler’s obsession. He began visiting her grave every night for over two years, often serenading her tomb with his favorite Spanish songs. Tanzler later claimed that during his visits Helen’s spirit would “come to him” and beg him to take her away.
On April of 1933, two years after Helen’s death, Tanzler finally took it upon himself to remove Helen’s corpse from the mausoleum, using a toy wagon to carry her from the cemetery to his house.
Tanzler used coat and wire hangers to attach her bones together. He fitted her face with glass eyes. He used silk cloth and wax to plaster her skin and even fashioned her a wig of her own hair that had been collected after her death. He filled the inside of her corpse with rags in attempt to keep her original figure and dressed her with clothing and jewelry. Tanzler kept the corpse in his bed and slept with her every night for 7 years, using perfume and disinfectant to mask the odor and prevent rotting.
Eventually the love affair came to end. In October of 1940, Helen’s sister had heard rumors of what Tanzler had done and went to his house to confront him, where she discovered her dead sister’s 7 year old corpse. After notifying the authorities, Tanzler was arrested and detained. After being given a psychiatric evaluation, Tanzler was found to be mentally competent enough to stand trial for his grave robbing and unauthorized corpse dismemberment. The Monroe County Courthouse in Key West eventually dropped the case as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired. Tanzler walked away free.
Evidence had later revealed that Tanzler inserted a paper tube in the corpse’s vaginal area, allowing him to fornicate with the body.