Patreon Episode Link: BONUS CASE #2 – Carl Tanzler | Sleuth Be Told on Patreon
This episode is being released on March 1st which just so happens to be Jennifer’s birthday, so today’s case has been picked by her.
We are talking about Carl Tanzler, who referred to himself as “Count Carl Von Cosel” who wasn’t really a “Count”, but was pretty twisted. But before I tell you why he was so twisted, (or a hopeless romantic) let’s get to know him.
There’s not much out there about his childhood – probably because he was born back in 1877 in Dresden, Germany. (I can add that in addition to the name variations he had, he would regularly create complicated & confusing stories about his childhood, which adds to the mystery of what it really was.) One thing we do know is that when he was 12 he had an interesting dream. This dream was of a woman who would “leave an impression on his life forever.” Apparently, she showed him her face and when he saw it, he knew she was the woman he was meant to marry – his soulmate. This vision that you speak of, came from an apparition he had seen from one of his dead ancestors, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, while he was in Genoa, Italy. In those visions he described, he claims she showed him the face of an exotic, dark-haired woman, who would be destined to be his true love, like you indicated, his soulmate.) Now I know it was over 100 years ago and things were different back then; kids had to grow up faster, get married fairly young, etc. but it seems a little crazy to me that a 12 year old is apparently dreaming of his future wife.
Based on an autobiographical account that was published in the Rosicrucian Digest in March & April of 1939, titled “The Trial Bay Organ: A Product of Wit & Ingenuity, under the name Carl von Cosel, Carl painted a vivid picture of his travels around the world. He claimed to have traveled from India to Australia, where he became interested in electrical & engineering. He was wealthy enough to purchase property, boats, an organ, and supposedly even an island in the South Pacific. Because he was a German citizen, and viewed as a possible enemy sympathizer, Carl said British authorities placed him into a concentration camp, along with Chinese & Indian nationals for what he described as “safe-keeping”. According to the True Crime Database, he was later moved to the Trial Bay Gaol, in Arakoon NSW Australia. This was a prison where he stayed until the end of the war. (The building still exists today, as a historical landmark & tourists are able to explore the ruins, visit the museum, examine the memorial, or go walking on a couple of the nearby walking tracks. It’s also right near the coast, so you can view the beautiful views of the water as well. I am adding this to my historical travel to do list, because it sounds amazing.) After the war, Carl was sent to the prisoner’s exchange in the Netherlands, as prisoners were unable to return to their homes. For the next few years, Carl decided to go home & stay with his mother.
He went about his life and realized he was never going to meet this dream woman and in 1920 he married Doris Schafer, under the name Georg Karl Tanzler, as shown on their marriage certificate. The couple had 2 children, Ayesha and Clarista. You might be thinking it’s been more than 20 years since he dreamt about this woman and he’s moved on and had a family of his own, so surely he’s moved past it if not completely forgotten about it by now. But no, he was still disappointed he hadn’t met the woman from his dreams.
In 1926, Tanzler emigrated to the U.S., by way of Rotterdam to Cuba, and eventually settled in Zephyrhills, Florida. His family joined him shortly afterward, but this didn’t last long as he left his family a year later to work as a radiology technician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida. When I first heard this, I thought okay that isn’t a super big deal because they’re still in the same state and I’m sure they weren’t that far, but I mapped it out and it would actually be about a seven hour drive. So it would be pretty hard to maintain a relationship with that kind of distance – especially in the 1920s when there wasn’t all the technology we have today to keep in touch with each other. (To me, this could indicate his unhappiness with the runner-up bride and family he had. And I think he just couldn’t let go of this image of his exotic true love, not that he was actively looking for her by all accounts, but somewhere in his mind, she existed and he wanted to know her.)
On April 22, 1930, Maria Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos was brought to the hospital Tanzler was working in for an examination. She was 21 – 32 years younger than Carl at the time. Let’s get to know her a little bit. She was Cuban-American and her father was a cigar maker. In 1926, she married Luis Mesa (yes, she was 17 when she married him). Luis left her shortly after she suffered a miscarriage of their first child. When Luis left Helen, he went to Miami and left her back with her parents.
Back to April 22, 1930. Helen’s mother brought her to the hospital because she was worried about her declining health. Unfortunately, the examination confirmed what she was worried about. Helen had tuberculosis, which is a disease that affects the lungs. At the time, this disease was fatal. (TB is a terrible infection with even worse symptoms. Imagine persistent coughing, weight loss, due to loss of appetite, fever, chills night sweats. And on top of all that, tuberculosis can also affect specific organ function. When in the lungs, it is not uncommon to cough up mucus or blood. Bone pain can occur once the bacteria has spread to the bones. So, I imagine, symptomatically it has to be pretty painful.) Helen was understandably scared of the illness and its treatment and had a hard time understanding how she could have this illness when she was so young.
So what does her coming to the hospital on this April day have to do with Carl Tanzler? Well, when she walked in for her examination, Tanzler saw her and was immediately awestruck when he saw he was looking at the woman he had dreamed about so many years ago. He was looking at his soulmate. (See, his exotic, dark-haired, true love did exist after all. Not sure how his wife would feel knowing the reaction Carl had to Helen, as she is there raising his two children, while he’s off discovering the woman of his literal dreams.)
Tanzler took it upon himself to do all he could to cure Helen. He claimed that he was the most knowledgeable about tuberculosis and treated it in all kinds of ways. He tried medications, x-ray and electrical equipment, and more. The hospital had a policy against relationships between doctors and patients, but Tanzler ignored this. He was constantly professing his love for her, showering her with jewelry and clothing, and even went so far as to exaggerate his achievements to her parents saying things like he was a count and he had 9 university diplomas. (The title of Count brings with it, a level of European Nobility. It is equivalent to an Earl or a Countess. Count is derived from the English word “County”, which would make a Count the principle figure of a county. Fictionally, you may have heard of the “Count of Monte Cristo” or “Count Dracula”? Those are 2 very popular fictional counts.)
Unfortunately, despite all his hard work and dedication to keeping her alive, she passed away at her parents’ home on October 25th, 1931 at just 22 years old. Tanzler was heartbroken that he had lost his soulmate and decided to pay for her funeral. He even spoke with her parents and got their permission to commission the construction of an above-ground mausoleum for her. Her parents thought this was a kind gesture, but that would change soon enough.
Once this mausoleum was constructed, Tanzler would make nightly visits. He said that he could feel her spirit come to him when he sat by her tomb and sang her favorite Spanish song. It’s all seeming pretty harmless and like what could go wrong, right? Well, what people didn’t know is that he had a key to her tomb and was secretly preserving her corpse.
As if that wasn’t gross enough, in April 1933, he removed her body from the tomb and transported it to a makeshift laboratory that doubled as his home. (BTW, Carl did this by using a child’s toy wagon to wheel her home. As if this wasn’t strange enough, try to get a visual picture by imagining him just toting her down the road in the wagon, like nothing is out of the ordinary at all.”)
He claimed that she told him to take her body away from the mausoleum. So once her body was in his house/laboratory, he took it even further. What he did next is not for the faint of heart and is quite frankly disturbing, so maybe Tina you might want to cover your ears. He stitched her decomposing body back together. He attached the corpse’s bones with wire and coat hangers, stuffed her body with rags, waxed the skin with plaster of Paris, and fitted it with glass eyes.
He then went on to “live” with her corpse and kept himself busy. When her hair fell out of her decomposing scalp, he fashioned her a wig. He dressed her corpse in stockings, jewelry, and gloves. He even kept her body in his bed and slept beside her every night. (I want to highlight something that has been suggested and included by many sources I combed through, though was not disclosed by authorities after the fact. Allegedly, necrophilia was involved & to facilitate this, an empty toilet paper tube had been inserted into Helen’s vagina. The rest I will leave to your imagination. This information was reported by doctors that examined her after her body was recovered from Carl’s place. But these doctors didn’t reveal this information until 1972, so some question the validity of it..) I’m sure you’re wondering what he did about the smell of decomposition. Well, he bought perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents to mask the smell. The other technicality you might be wondering about is how people around town didn’t know what was going on. They saw him around town buying dresses and perfumes and even saw him dancing with a woman behind closed curtains, so they thought he was in a serious relationship.
This went on for 7 years until October 1940 when Helen’s sister, Florinda, heard conflicting rumors about Tanzler’s budding romance with a mystery woman. She was happy for him and that he had been able to move on after everything that had happened with him and her sister. She went to his home to congratulate him on his relationship and was shocked when she arrived and was greeted with her sister’s corpse. She immediately ran out and contacted authorities.
He was arrested and examined by a psychologist who determined he was fit to stand trial. He was charged with “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.” People agreed that he had committed a crime, but a surprising amount of people felt sympathetic towards him, saying he was just an eccentric romantic. (The opinion of him being a hopeless romantic is what I eluded to in the beginning of this episode. Yes, all the details are morbid, and frankly kind of gross, but the sentiment behind all of it was love. Carl loved Helen. He just took that to an extreme that was unorthodox and I suppose criminal.)
The case actually ended up being dropped and Tanzler was released from prison because the statute of limitations had expired. Her body was eventually buried in a cemetery in Key West. Fortunately, they had the forethought to bury it in an unmarked plot so that Tanzler couldn’t find it. I do think that would be hard though as a family member to not be able to know where your loved one is buried. (I agree, but it is completely possible they do know, but it’s just not made public, since there was so much attention brought to the case. As a family member, I would not want strangers gawking at the grave site of my daughter, sister, mother, brother, etc. And, I can’t say I would want to risk her body being stolen again from her eternal resting place.)
Because I know you’re wondering – after Tanzler was released he of course requested that her body be returned to him, but was denied it. He still never gave up though and created a life size doll from a death mask that closely resembled Helen. He lived with the doll until he died July 3rd, 1952. His body was discovered on the floor of his home, cradling the doll. There are rumors that he somehow still got access to her body again after everything and that it was actually her corpse who’s arms he was found in and not a doll, but that has never been confirmed or substantiated. (This body swapping is a rumor that has been reported by some people familiar with the case, as was the information that he was clutching the doll w/ death mask that he had made. I think it is said just to sensationalize the already outlandish details of the case. It’s entirely possible, but I think if it were true, I would think he would have been found, collapsed on the floor with her or the doll, I imagine he would have preferred a more romantic or loving scene, such as the two of them lying in bed together.)
Patreon Episode Link: BONUS CASE #2 – Carl Tanzler | Sleuth Be Told on Patreon
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