The Dean-Lopez Funeral Home is located at 418 Simonton Street in Key West and is the center of this disturbing story of German immigrant Georg Karl Tanzler (a.k.a. Count Carl von Cosel) and Elena Milagro Hoyos Mesa (July 31, 1909-October 25, 1931), a young Cuban-American. Tanzler went by many names as he was listed as Georg Karl Tänzler on his German marriage certificate, Carl Tanzler von Cosel on his United States citizenship papers, and Carl Tanzler on his Florida death certificate (February 8, 1877 - July 23, 1952). Some of his hospital records were signed Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel.
He was born as Karl Tänzler or Georg Karl Tänzler on February 8, 1877 in Dresden, Germany. Around 1920 he married Doris A. (1889–1977) and he was listed as "Georg Karl Tänzler" on the marriage certificate. Together they had two children: Ayesha Tanzler (1922–1998), and Crystal Tanzler (1924–1934), who died of diphtheria at the age of 10. Tanzler grew up in Germany, and apparently spent time in Australia around the time of World War I where he may have been held on detention. Tanzler emigrated to the United States in 1926, sailing from Rotterdam on February 6, 1926 to Havana, Cuba. From Cuba he settled in Zephyrhills, Florida where his sister had earlier emigrated and was later joined by his wife and two daughters. Leaving his family behind in Zephyrhills in 1927, he took a job as a radiologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida under the name Carl von Cosel. During his childhood in Germany, and later while traveling briefly in Genoa, Italy, Tanzler claimed to have been visited by visions of a dead ancestor, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, who revealed the face of his true love, an exotic dark-haired woman, to him.
On April 22, 1930, while working at the Marine Hospital in Key West, Tanzler met Maria Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos, a local Cuban-American woman who had been brought to the hospital for an examination by her mother. Tanzler immediately recognized her as the beautiful dark-haired woman that had been revealed to him in his earlier "visions." By all accounts Hoyos was viewed as a local beauty in Key West. Elena was the daughter of local cigar maker Francisco "Pancho" Hoyos and Aurora Milagro. She had two sisters, Florinda "Nana" Milagro Hoyos who married Mario Medina and also succumbed to tuberculosis; and Celia Milagro Hoyos. Medina, Nana's husband, was electrocuted trying to rescue a coworker who hit a powerline with his crane at a construction site.
On February 18, 1926, Hoyos married Luis Mesa, the son of Caridad and Isaac Mesa. Luis left Hoyos shortly after Hoyos miscarried the couple's child and moved to Miami. Hoyos was legally married to Mesa at the time of her death. Hoyos was eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis, a typically fatal disease at the time, that eventually claimed the lives of almost her entire immediate family. Tanzler, with his self-professed medical knowledge, attempted to treat and cure Hoyos with a variety of medicines, as well as x-ray and electrical equipment, that were brought to the Hoyoses' home. Tanzler showered Hoyos with gifts of jewelry and clothing, and allegedly professed his love to her, but no evidence has surfaced to show that any of his affection was reciprocated by Hoyos. He begged Elena to marry him, but as a devout Catholic whose husband had left her, she declined. Sadly Elena died in 1931 and was placed in an above ground mausoleum Cosel had built for her in Key West Cemetery.
One evening in April 1933, Tanzler crept through the cemetery where Hoyos was buried and removed her body from the mausoleum, carting it through the cemetery after dark on a toy wagon, and transporting it to his home. He reportedly said that Elena's spirit would come to him when he would sit by her grave and serenade her corpse with a favorite Spanish song. He also said that she would often tell him to take her from the grave. Tanzler attached the corpse's bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos's hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial in 1931. Tanzler filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Hoyos's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed. Tanzler also used copious amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents, to mask the odor and forestall the effects of the corpse's decomposition
Cosel lived in two different residences with Elena and neither residence is standing today. The Rest Beach residence, his first place of residence where he took Elena, was actually at the old Key West butcher pens. The waste from the pens was conveniently deposited into the shark infested water nearby. Cosel lived in the remnants of the pens (shacks), He also kept his kit airplane on the premises. This location was believed to have been destroyed in the 1950's. This area today is located between the Atlantic Beach Club and the White Street Pier. You will see several little thatched tables that are constantly occupied by vagrants. Most of the documented information comes from the historical files at the Library where Tom Hambright, a local well-respected historian regarding the Carl von Cosel residences, has an office and monitors the files when people come to do research. Of course, Tom has a lot of oral history from other locals and from his own research. He has appeared on the Haunted History series on the History Channel for the episode about Key West (2000). The Rest Beach residence was the first place he took Elena Hoyos after he retrieved her corpse from the cemetery. Cosel later moved Elena's body to his Flagler Street residence in 1936.
We do not have an exact street address for the Flagler residence, however, we are not sure if one was ever listed as Cosel retrieved his mail directly at the post office. Our sources spoke with Ben Harrison, a local author known for his book called "Undying Love", and he attempted to find it when he was doing research for his book. Ben discovered that this property was leased to Cosel by the Porter family. Cosel chose this area as it was extremely secluded. In his book, Ben uses excerpts from Cosel's own memoirs, as well as newspaper articles. Apparently Ben mentioned that other people have tried to find the address as well but without any luck. It was the only shack located in the area at that time. There was no "New Town" yet. The area was jungle-like with thick brush and mangroves growing everywhere. The residence was a small two room shack that was two miles from "Old Town". This information has been documented by Ben Harrison. Our sources were able to confirm from Mr. Hambright that the Flagler Street residence has also been cleared to make room for development. Just a note, in our research, we have found that there are many different interpretations out there about his Flagler Street residence. Some information creates the illusion that he had a grandish home which is not the case. Also, there are other suggestions that when Elena's sister went to his house, Cosel took her "upstairs" to the bedroom to show her his Elena. There definitely was not an upstairs as this was a tiny, dirty, ramshackle of a place.
In October, 1940, Elena's sister Florinda heard rumors of Tanzler sleeping with the disinterred body of her sister, and confronted Tanzler at his home, where Hoyos's body was eventually discovered. Florinda notified the authorities, and Tanzler was arrested and detained. Tanzler was psychiatrically examined, and found mentally competent to stand trial on the charge of "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." After a preliminary hearing on October 9, 1940 at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West, Tanzler was held to answer on the charge, but the case was eventually dropped and he was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.
Shortly after the corpse's discovery by authorities, Hoyos's body was examined by physicians and pathologists, and put on public display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home, where it was viewed by as many as 6,800 people. Hoyos's body was eventually returned to the Key West Cemetery where the remains were buried in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, to prevent further tampering. Only Dean knows of the spot, and will pass it to his sons before he dies. This story has been featured on many different television shows and in countless books.
The facts underlying the case and the preliminary hearing drew much interest from the media at the time from the Key West Citizen and Miami Herald, and created a sensation among the public both regionally and nationwide. The public mood was generally sympathetic toward Tanzler whom many viewed as an eccentric "romantic".
Though not reported contemporaneously, research by authors Harrison and Swicegood had revealed evidence of Tanzler's necrophilia with Hoyos's corpse. Two physicians, Dr. DePoo and Dr. Foraker, who attended the 1940 autopsy of Hoyos's remains recalled in 1972 that a paper tube had been inserted in the vaginal area of the corpse that allowed for intercourse. Others contend that since no evidence of necrophilia was presented at the 1940 preliminary hearing, and because the physicians' "proof" surfaced in 1972, over 30 years after the case had been dismissed, the necrophilia allegation is questionable. While no existing contemporary photographs of the autopsy or photographs taken at the public display show a tube, the necrophilia claim was repeated by the HBO Autopsy program in 2005.
In 1944, Tanzler moved to Pasco County, Florida close to Zephyrhills, Florida, where he wrote an autobiography that appeared in the pulp publication, Fantastic Adventures, in 1947. His home was near his wife Doris, who apparently helped to support Tanzler in his later years. Tanzler received United States citizenship in 1950 in Tampa. Separated from his obsession, Tanzler used a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of Hoyos, and lived with it until his death on July 3, 1952. His body was discovered on the floor of his home three weeks after his death. He died under the name "Carl Tanzler". It has been recounted that Tanzler was found in the arms of the Hoyos effigy upon discovery of his corpse, but his obituary reported that he died on the floor behind one of his organs. The obituary recounted: "a metal cylinder on a shelf above a table in it wrapped in silken cloth and a robe was a waxen image".
It has also been written by Swicegood that Tanzler had the bodies switched or that Hoyos's remains were secretly returned to him, and that he died with the real body of Elena. There is no evidence that the waxen effigy found in his house at the time of his death contained bones, or any other human material.