Losing a loved one is never easy and the grieving process can take years if it ever really ends. Grief can take many forms including ways that are strange and don’t make much sense to outside observers. While a little bit of understanding in these situations can go a long way, when it comes to the grieving process of Carl Tanzler following the death of his beloved in 1931…well, that’s another story.
Tanzler, pictured below, was born in Germany in 1877. He and his family (wife and two daughters) immigrated to the U.S. in 1926 before settling in Zephyrhills, Florida. With everyone settled, Tanzler left his family and took a job as a radiologic technologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West. That’s where the creepy side of the story begins…
While working at the hospital, Tanzler met Maria Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos, a local woman whose family was from Cuba. From first sight, Tanzler said he fell madly in love with her.
At the hospital, Hoyos was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was almost always fatal at the time. Despite Tanzler using all of his limited medical knowledge to save her, Hoyos died of the disease in 1931.
After her death, Tanzler paid for all of her funeral costs and even commissioned the building of a large, aboveground tomb for her. For the next several years, Tanzler paid frequent visits to Hoyos’ grave. That is, until one night in April 1933, when he broke into her tomb and stole her body.
At home with the body, Tanzler attached Hoyos’ bones back together using coat hangers and wires. Next, he fitted the “body” with a new set of glass eyes. As Hoyos’ remains continued to decay, Tanzler replaced her skin with cloth and plaster. Eventually, he replaced her hair with a wig. He also stuffed the chest cavity with rags to help keep its original form. The body never left Tanzler’s bed.
Tanzler kept Hoyos’ body until rumors of his activities finally reached the dead woman’s family in 1940 and they investigated. When police searched his home, they found the reassembled body and Tanzler was arrested.
Strangely enough, Tanzler never actually served any jail time for his grave robbing. His case went to trial in 1940, but the judge ruled that the statute of limitations had run out. When Tanzler died in 1952, his body was found in the arms of a life-sized effigy he had created of Hoyos.