Question: What is in this picture?
Did you guess that it is the disinterred body of a young TB patient who died in Key West in 1931, preserved in wax, formaldehyde, and other materials for almost a decade in the house of the aged doctor who’d fallen in love with her?
Well, it is.
For George Karl Tänzler (aka Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel), the day that Elena de Hoyos walked into the marine hospital in Key West with tuberculosis, was the day he finally felt that he found his true love. It didn’t matter to him that he was in his fifties, and she was barely twenty years old–he thought her the incarnation of a vision he’d had of a dark haired beauty who was to be his destiny. Little did she know that she would be his twisted, strange destiny as a corpse, unable to rest, preserved, worshiped, and interfered with by a man with a bazaar obsession.
Despite Tanzler’s best efforts, Elena died at the age of twenty-two. Two years after Elena’s death, Tanzler couldn’t stand to think of her rotting under the ground. He exhumed her body, took it home, and rebuilt her as she decomposed. He believed she asked him to do so, and thought he’d build them a rocket to take them into outer space.
Seven years later, when Elena’s sister could no longer deny the rumors and confronted Tanzler, his secret was out. The body was put on display for thousands of viewers before it was buried in a secret grave to protect her. Tanzler was put on trial, but the statute of limitations had run out, and he was freed. Many local accounts actually treat Tanzler as a sympathetic figure–one who was so hopelessly in love he lost his head. Others recognized him as a pervert of the highest degree.
I found this fascinating and twisted little anecdote while researching for my Hemingway novel, and yes, Von Cosel is a character in the book. How could he not be?
So what do you think? Hopeless romantic (cringe) or disgusting necrofiliac?