Monday, December 6, 2010

Magical Monday: Marrying your lover’s corpse--only in Key West!

Carl von Cosel
While in Key West on vacation just before Thanksgiving, my husband and I went on a ghost tour. It was some good, creepy fun.

WARNING: The following story is grotesque, so I advise to not eat or drink while reading.

The first stop along our lantern tour involved a story about a man named Carl Tanzler, a German-born radiologist who also went by the name of Count Carl von Cosel. During a trip to Germany, von Cosel claimed to have been visited by visions of a dead ancestor, Countess Anna von Cosel, who revealed the face of his true love, an exotic dark-haired woman, to him. After her received this prediction, he left his wife and children behind in Zephyrhills, Florida, taking up residence in Key West to work in the local hospital. He believed he’d find his love there.

While there, von Cosel met Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a local Cuban-American woman, there for a medical examination. Von Cosel immediately recognized her as the beautiful dark-haired woman who was his soulmate. Reportedly, she was admired by many for her beauty.

Eventually, Hoyos was diagnosed with tuberculosis, communicable and fatal in that day. Von Cosel attempted to treat her, passing himself off as a physician, in order to be close to her. He used a variety of treatments, including radiation. He showered her with gifts of clothing and jewelry, professing his love for her, although no reciprocation from Hoyos was known.

Despite his best efforts, she died in 1931. Von Cosel paid for her funeral. Afterward, with permission of her family, he commissioned the construction of an above ground mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery and visited her remains almost every night. He said she would often tell him to take her from the grave
The corpse of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos encased in wax and plaster circa 1940.
One evening in 1933, he crept through the cemetery and removed her body from the mausoleum, carting it through the cemetery after dark on a toy wagon, transporting it to his home. He attached the corpse's bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, he replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, he fashioned a wig from Hoyos's hair that had been collected by her mother and given to him not long after her burial. He filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep her original form, dressed Hoyos's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed. Von Cosel also used lots of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents, to mask the odor and delay the effects of the corpse's decay. However, his colleagues questioned the putrid smell about his body. Obviously, he slept with the rotting corpse.

(I warned you this was gruesome! And it gets worse, so hold on.)

In 1940, Elena's sister heard rumors of von Cosel sleeping with the disinterred body of her sister for the past seven years. She confronted him and found her sister’s remains in his home.

The authorities were notified and he was arrested but released after being found mentally competent to stand trial for maliciously destroying a grave. Our guide reported that the charges were dropped because he produced a marriage license between himself and Hoyos. Seems he married the corpse, and there was proof on her remains the marriage had been consumated. Some called it necrophilia with a corpse. The evidence: two physicians (Dr. DePoo and Dr. Foraker) who attended the 1940 autopsy of Hoyos's remains reported a paper tube had been inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse that allowed for intercourse.

(Ewwww! If you just spewed your diet Pepsi, I warned you!)

Hoyos's body was eventually returned to the Key West Cemetery where the remains were buried in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, to prevent further tampering.

Separated from his obsession, von Cosel used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of Hoyos, and lived with it until his death in 1952. It has been recounted he was found in the arms of her effigy upon discovery of his corpse. Another account, the one our guide attested to, stated that he secretly had the bodies switched, with Hoyos’s remains returned to him, and he died in her arms.

Eccentrically romantic or gruesome beyond imagination? Lots of strangeness in Key West!

This is cross posted at Southern Fried Gothic, so drop by there for a visit if you'd like.

8 comments:

Ginger Simpson said...

I didn't find it as gross as I did fascinating. Seems there's no rest for the weary, even if you're dead. The fact that he was found competent to stand trial surprises me. The man must have severe sinus blockage to be able to sleep with a decomposing body. There's no cologne in the world good enough to mask it, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing. Talk about loving someone. Egads.

Marsha A. Moore said...

His devotion was fascinating, but eccentric by most standards for sure. I agree, seven years sleeping with a rotting corpse--he must have had sinus blockage.

Not only was he found mentally competent, he had a high IQ, according to what our guide reported. Definitely a strange one!

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

i saw that on an episode of Talking to the Dead or the Dead Talk to us. something like that, that forensic expert. anyway, my grandson walked in while it was on. he watched a couple of minutes of it and was totally grossed out. all i could think of was 'what was left to love?' aside from the smell what about the flesh falling off in chucks. ew!

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marsha A. Moore said...

Almost too sick to envision the act. Beyond my imagination.

Toni V.S. said...

A story a la Psycho and yet another proof that Truth is indeed Stranger than Fiction!

Marsha A. Moore said...

Indeed! It would take a strange mind to conjure fiction this eccentric.

Amber Stults said...

Another case where truth sounds far stranger than fiction.