Florida · Newspaper clippings

Woman dies of tuberculosis, her body eventually stolen by a man obsessed with her

October 25, 1931
Key West, Florida
Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos dies of tuberculosis; her body is later stolen and preserved by the x-ray technician who attempted to treat her

Hoyos was 22 when she died of tuberculosis, despite the efforts of hospital employee, Carl Tanzler von Cosel, made to save her life. Tanzler believed he could make a machine using radiation to cure her of her ailments. He was sure she bore the face he had seen in a dream and became obsessed with her. He would bring her gifts of jewelry and ordered gold to be dissolved in her drinking water.

When Hoyos died of her disease, and Tanzler discovered she had been buried in a simple grave, he asked her family’s permission to have her body relocated to a mausoleum he paid for. He would visit Hoyos nightly until, two years after her death, he stole her corpse and began rebuilding the pieces that had decayed away. Tanzler rejoined her bones with piano wire, used plaster and beeswax to simulate her flesh, and fashioned a mask from cheesecloth which he anointed with cosmetics. The final touches of life were glass eyes and locks of her hair which he had collected prior to her death.


Before and after pictures of Hoyos

For seven years, Tanzler slept beside the restored body of the woman he was obsessed with, until Hoyos’ sister, Nana Medina, demanded to see her body. Tanzler admitted Hoyos was no longer in her tomb and showed Medina her sister, in Tanzler’s home, clothed in a blue silk wedding dress and veil. Medina ran from the house, unsure if the corpse she had seen was indeed her sister’s, and ordered Hoyos’ tomb to be opened. When her body was verified to be missing, Medina demanded its return. Tanzler refused, but the courts ruled in Medina’s favor.

Tanzler was not tried as the statute of limitations on grave robbing had expired. His sanity was also evaluated and when he was found sane he was released, but not before asking if Hoyos’ body would be returned to him, saying “It will be lonesome out here without Elena.” Hoyos was reburied in secrecy to prevent a second body snatching.

Tanzler died in 1952 at the age of 83, his body discovered three weeks after his death when uncollected mall and an unpleasant odor called suspicion to his home. Inside, police found albums filled with photos of Hoyos as well as a life-sized wax replica of her likeness.


Tanzler poses with a photo of Hoyos. The West Palm Post. October 29, 1995

Sources:

  • Harrison, Ben. Undying Love: The True Story Of A Passion That Defied Death. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2001
  • Kleinberg, Elliot. “Undying Love.” The West Palm Post [West Palm Beach, Florida]. October 29, 1995
  • “Tears In Eyes, ‘Lonesome’ Van Cosel Freed From Jail.” The Miami News [Miami, Florida]. October 13, 1940
  • “Scientist Held Sane in Weird Love Case.” Courier-Post [Camden, New Jersey]. October 11, 1940
  • “Florida Sculptor Keeps Corpse Of Girl Seven Years.” The Waco News-Tribune [Waco, Texas]. October 7, 1940

Recommended reading:
Undying Love: The True Story Of A Passion That Defied Death by Ben Harrison (Affiliate link. I make a small commission on any sales, used to offset costs of research materials and domain fees)

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