This story to kick off the last month of the year is a strange one. It’s both creepy, disturbing, and disgusting all at the same time. And you should be warned that this does deal with necrophilia. Not exactly a holiday story for the children, but here we are.
This story has ties to Asheville as well as Florida, and there is really nothing more that I can say to soften the blow of this story. Let’s just jump right in a learn about our lead character, Karl von Cosel Tanzler. Karl grew up Dresden, Germany, and was raised by his grandmother. He was an odd little boy and never really fit it with his peers. Growing up, he would often tell his grandmother that he had visions of his soul mate and he would meet and marry her one day.
He was intelligent and studious, and eventually received nine university degrees in engineering, science, the medical field, and many others. Around 1920, Karl moved to the US, traveling around and doing odd jobs to make money to live on. At some point, he moved to Asheville, NC where he met the women who would become his wife. Together they had two daughters, and everything seemed great, at least for a while.
Around 1927, the Tanzlers left Asheville and moved to Florida. Their history is sketchy at best, but after arriving in Zephyrhills, Florida, Karl left his family. His next move was to Key West, Florida later in 1927. This is when he decided he wanted to be known as Count von Cosel, and told everybody that was willing to listen that he had obtained nine different university degrees in Germany.
During this time, Key West was a poor city. At the start of the Great Depression in 1930, Key West was five million dollar in debt and had no civil servants, police department, or fire department. Having 80% unemployment, it was very difficult to find any job, but the Count was able to get a job as an X-ray technician at the marine hospital on the island.
One day, a beautiful Cuban woman by the name of Elena Hoyas was admitted to the hospital who was dying from tuberculosis. The Count immediately fell head over heels in love with her. In fact, it could be said that he was obsessed with her because he thought she was his soul mate. The Count was a man most guessed was in his late 50s or early 60s, and Elena was only 22.
The Count spent all of his spare time trying to find a cure for Elena. When he wasn’t working, he sit with her for many hours on end, talking and reading to her. He lavished her with gifts, which she accepted, and asked many time for her hand in marriage, which she rejected. Despite all of his work, Elena died in October 1931.
Her family was poor, as was the case for most of the families on the island, and couldn’t afford an elaborate funeral for Elena, let along buy a headstone for her. She was interred in the Cuban section of the Key West cemetery.
Around two months after the funeral, the Count couldn’t stand the fact that his soul mate had not gotten the appropriate burial. That’s when he went to Elena’s family and made a request. He asked for permission to rebury her in an elaborate marble mausoleum. They didn’t think that this was odd in the least, so they said sure, and granted him his wish.
The Count did exactly what he had promised. He built a beautiful mausoleum and he moved her remains into it. He sat a marble bench next to the mausoleum so that he could visit with her every day. He would sit on the bench each day, reading and talking to her, a lot like he had done while she was in the hospital. He would write in his journal that Elena would speak back to him, asking him when he was going to remove her and take her with him so that they could be together.
On the days that the Count was unable to get to the cemetery because of his schedule or bad weather, he would call the telephone that he had installed in the mausoleum, so that he could still talk to her. This continued for nearly two years, and finally he succumbed to her wished to be together. He snuck into the cemetery late one night and exhumed her body.
As one could figure, a body that has been in the heat of Key West for nearly two years, there’s not going to be a lot of recognizable parts left. There wasn’t all that much left of poor Elena. She only weighed around 40 pounds as most of her flesh and skin were rotted away.
He did, however, take what remained of her back to his home. There, he would place her in an airship that he had built on one side of his house. The airship was christened “Countess Elaine,” and one day he planned on flying with Elena to the stars.
The Count tried his best to resurrect Elena with a variety of materials. He use plaster of Paris to build up the torso, glass eyes were used in place of her real ones, and silk and mortuary wax to form out her vital parts, like her face. He even created a wig for Elena using his hair.
He then dressed her up in a beautiful silk wedding dress, propped her up in a bed in the airship and piled mounds of silk all around her. He placed a blue light over the bed, according to him, this gave her a heavenly glow, and a sign above the bed that said “Laboratory.” Count von Cosel was certain that he was going to figure out how to bring her back to life.
I said this was going to be disturbing, disgusting, and creepy, didn’t I? Well, we’ve only just begun, so buckle up.
The Count kept Elena in the airship for seven years, and applied ointments, salves, and lotions to her daily to help preserve and make her all the more beautiful. There were rumors abound during this time as to what the Count was doing. One day, Elena’s sister decided to investigate and find out the truth. To her horror, she found that truth by looking inside the airship. What she saw as a likeness of her sister. Terrified, she ran to the police, and they returned to investigate. The Count was for grave robbing and the body of Elena was returned to the Dean Lopez funeral home. We’re just now finishing up the normal part of things, so… yeah.
The morticians at the funeral home reported back to the police that Elena’s body had been anatomically correct in nearly every single detail. Her breasts had been rebuilt by some rubberized material, and they felt nearly human-like. They also found a piece of tubing inserted at the “Y” of her legs.
People were so interested in what was happening, not just from the local community, but on a national scale, Elena’s family allowed a public viewing of their daughter’s body. The funeral home took the lid off of the casket and propped it up at an angle in the front door of the funeral home so that anybody who wanted to view the remains could walk by and see her. Over a three-day period, 6,853 people registered to see the body. This was one of the largest public viewings of a body in Key West history.
The upcoming trail for the Count caused a big hubbub as well, and press from all over the country made an appearance. There was actually quite a bit of sympathy for the Count, as many felt it was a romantic thing to do in order to be with the one her loved. I think it’s creepy, but who am I to judge?
The Count had admitted that he had treated Elena as his wife for the entire seven years she had been with him. You hear that right, he kept her body in his airship for seven years, undetected. When the case came before the judge, it was dismissed because the statute of limitations for grave robbing had expired. The court highly encouraged the Count to leave the town, knowing, but not expressing, the fact that he was insane.
The Count went back to Zephyrhills, Florida, and moved back in with his former wife, the lady he had met in Asheville, until his death in 1952, which he was well into his 80s at that point. There were a lot of people in the community that though he was actually living with his sister, and most likely the couple allowed that belief. That seems like a logical end to the story, right? Nope!
When the police showed up at his house the day that the Count died, they found his body slumped in the hallway in front of his bedroom door. And what would guess they found behind that door? None other than his beloved Elena in his bed. Of course, they assumed it had to be a different person and he had just made them look like Elena.
Nu-huh. After they examined the body, the conclusion was that it was indeed the same “body” he had created in Key West. It is assumed that someone who had buried Elena the second time in Key West made a switch by loading up a coffin with bricks to imitate her weight, and gave the Count the body back.
His ex-wife confessed to the police something that she had been afraid to say while the Count was still alive. He had continued to treat Elena as his wife in every respect of the entire for the 12 years that they lived in her home. Did I tell you? It was disgusting, disturbing, and creepy.