Illustration by Jessie Day

Madmen and Supervillains: Dr. Von Cosel

The macabre tale of a man who refused to let death take his soul mate. The flesh rots, but love lasts forever...

By Mira Bai Winsby | Feb - March 2006

What you are about to read is a true story of love, longing, and loneliness. I hope you’re a sucker for a good twisted romance, because this is the morbid tale of Florida’s most infamous love-struck necrophiliac.

In 1927, 50-year-old Georg Karl Tanzler abandoned his wife, Doris, and two daughters in Zephyrhills, Florida, fleeing to Key West to “find his soul mate.” Upon arriving, the German immigrant claimed to have nine university degrees, reinventing himself as “Count” Carl Von Cosel.

He landed a job as an x-ray technician and bacteriologist, treating tuberculosis patients at Marine Hospital. An electrical wizard, scientist, and inventor, Von Cosel enjoyed playing music long into the night on a home-made organ.

He spent his spare time tinkering with electrical devices, and even built an airship, until one day in April of 1930, he found his true love.

Elena Milagro Hoyos was a beautiful 20-year-old Spanish Cuban, and Von Cosel was obsessed from the moment he met her, convinced this was the woman he had dreamed of for decades.

The Bizarre Life of Dr. Carl Von Cosel

1877 - Born Feb. 8th 1877 in Dresden, Germany

1927 - Abandoned wife at age 50 and fled to Key West professing to be “Count Carl Von Cosel”

1930 - Found his true love Elena Hoyos

1931 - Elena dies of tuberculosis at age 22

1933 - Von Cosel steals the body from it’s mausoleum and brings her home.

1940 - For 7 years he spends his time resurrecting her rotting corpse

1952 - Elena’s sister discovers the body at Von Cosel’s home and calls the police. In Key West, x-ray technician Karl Von Cosel is arrested for ‘illegally exhuming a body.’

1972 - Cosel is found dead slumped over the effigy of his beloved Elena Dr. Depoo (a doctor at the local county morgue) reveals additional disturbing details regarding the remains of Elena Hoyos. The details were discovered during an re-examination of Hoyos’ confiscated remains. The End

In his many memoirs, Von Cosel claimed that 30 years prior he saw an apparition of a beautiful dark haired young woman. The vision was revealed to him by the “Ghost of Countess Anna.”

The Countess (presumably one of Von Cosel’s ancestors), removed a veil from the face of the young beauty, allowing him to see the woman she prophesized would one day be his bride and destiny.

Now, after so long, his vision of true love had become reality.

Sadly, Elena Hoyos was dying from tuberculosis, so Von Cosel set out to cure her. He used electric shock machines, gave her free radiation treatments, and even concocted a potion containing flecks of gold.

He soon professed his interest in her, lavishing her with gifts and proposals of marriage, but she denied them being a devout Catholic whose husband had deserted her. Alas, in 1931, several days before Halloween, the beautiful Elena passed from this earth and was buried in a simple grave.

Von Cosel couldn’t stand the thought of his beloved rotting in the earth, so he begged her family to allow him to construct a mausoleum for her. Her body was exhumed, placed in a metal coffin and housed in the new crypt, complete with telephone.

He visited Elena’s corpse night after night to “communicate” with her via telephone. He came to believe she was begging for release from her “prison” so they could be reunited.

On a dark night in April 1933, unable to resist the pleas of his soul mate, Von Cosel stole Elena from the crypt. He’s said to have taken her to his airship, which he christened, “Countess Elaine,” believing one day they would fly together to the stars.

Then things began to get really creepy.

This is when her resurrection begins.

For the next seven years, Von Cosel did everything he possibly could to keep his beloved near him; body and soul intact. Upon arrival home, most of poor Elena’s skin tore from her body when he accidentally dropped her. He then stuffed her nearly hollowed body cavity with rags soaked in embalming fluid, bulking her back to a more natural shape.

Piece by piece, he strengthened her skin with wax and silk, treating her with lotions, potions and electrotherapy using a million volt Tesla coil. He replaced her rotting eyes with glass ones, using the hair falling from her scalp to weave a wig.

With piano wire he strung her bones back together. After dressing her in a white wedding gown, he perfumed her body with oils, and serenaded her with melodies on his home-made organ.

Years went by with Elena “sleeping” soundly beside Carl in his home on Flagler Avenue, and soon rumors began to float amongst the people of the island that something peculiar was going on. Finally someone spilled the beans to Elena’s sister, Nana; concerned she decided to do a little investigating.

Peeking through one of Von Cosel’s windows, Nana got the shock of her life. She saw her sister’s body lying in Von Cosel’s bed, dressed in wedding regalia with one prosthetic finger sporting a wedding ring. Horrified, she contacted the police and Von Cosel was arrested for grave desecration and imprisoned to await trial.

This turn of events sparked media frenzy. The funeral home became a tourist trap, putting Elena’s body on display. Over a three day span, upwards of 6,000 people came to view the tattered remains of Elena.

Many were sympathetic, believing what Carl had done was wonderfully romantic. Visitors came to his cell bearing gifts and offering support; a group of Cuban prostitutes even offered their services to him for free.

Unfortunately for Nana, the statute of limitations had expired. Two years was the statutory limitation for molesting a grave, and Von Cosel had Elena for seven. The Count was soon set free. Ironically, he was judged sane, suffering no penalties whatsoever.

To ensure Elena would never again be reunited with Carl, her remains were cut into small pieces, placed in an 18-inch box, and buried in a secret location. The only three people who knew the whereabouts of the box, took that secret to graves of their own.

Carl Von Cosel moved back to central Florida to live with his sister. He started writing his memoirs and selling postcards of his beloved Elena.

Elena’s family had taken her true remains from him, but Carl would not be denied his corpse bride. He fashioned a wax replica of his long time companion to love in his remaining years. He cast her face from Elena’s own death mask. In Carl’s mind they would never be separated.

Still, his love for Elena was endless, and even as death seized him he held the memory of his one true love in his heart. His body was found in July of 1952, slumped over the effigy of beautiful Elena Hoyos.

It wasn’t until 1972 that some shocking information was released by a Monroe County medical examiner. “In the vaginal area, I found a tube wide enough to permit sexual intercourse.” Dr. Depoo said. “At the bottom of the tube was cotton, and in an examination of the cotton there was sperm. Then I knew we were dealing with a sexual pervert.”

As the saying goes, “True love never dies.”

Writer Mira Bai Winsby can be reached at