Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos

Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos


This is the story of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos and a bizarre doctor with a morbid obsession. An obsession for Ms. Hoyos, that is. The following material may be extremely disturbing to some viewers, or at the very least, a little eerie. Though it may seem unbelievable, this is a true story.

The Woman Who Was Once Viewed As A Local Beauty In The Key West Area

image of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos before deathAbove is an image of Maria Elena Milagro “Helen” de Hoyos (1909–1931). Hoyos was a beautiful local Cuban-American and also the daughter of a local cigar maker. Although she was legally married (even at the time of her death), the couple split not long after she miscarried their child.

According to various resources, Hoyos caught the eyes of many men in the Key West area.

The Diagnosis

Unfortunately, at a very young age, Hoyos was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Back in those days, tuberculosis was a disease that killed virtually anyone who was infected. The disease even took the lives of nearly all of Hoyos’s immediate family. Her diagnosis is what brought her to the hospital to be examined by some medical professionals. Little did Hoyos know that the man who was about to treat her, was a man who wanted her by his side for eternity, or at least for the rest of his life.

Carl Tanzler

Carl Tanzler (February 8, 1877 – July 3, 1952) was an extremely eccentric radiologic technologist from Germany. Other than going by “Carl Tanzler,” he also had a few more names. Carl Tanzler von Cosel, Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel and Georg Karl Tänzler are other names he went by.

In the early 1920s, Tanzler had married and eventually went on to have two children. In 1926, he emigrated to the United States. Just a year or so later, he had chosen to take a job as a radiologic technologist. Tanzler’s occupation was at the U.S. Marine Hospital, which was in Key West, Florida.

Visions Of A Dead Ancestor

AnConstantia von BrockdorffWhile growing up as young boy in Germany, Tanzler claimed to have been visited by visions of a dead ancestor by the name of Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel (shown in the portrait above). Some sources say the ancestor was his dead aunt. Tanzler said she had revealed the actual face of his future true love. Interestingly, he described his true love as being an exotic dark-haired woman.

The Corpse Of Hoyos

morbid obsession On April 22, of 1930, it was Tanzler’s lucky day. For the first time, while working at the hospital, he met Hoyos. He immediately fell in love with her. Not only was it love at first sight, but Tanzler also claimed that she was the beautiful woman that was revealed to him in his so-called “visions.”

Unfortunately, for Hoyos, it was far from her lucky day. Not only was she in need of treatment for her fatal disease, she was also about to be treated by one very eccentric doctor. However, even if Tanzler gave Hoyos the creeps, she felt he was her last resort for any chance at survival. The reason is because Tanzler claimed that he had the medical knowledge that could save her life. He claimed to have at least 9 university degrees. Of course, his claim was probably an exaggeration. He just wanted to have the opportunity and pleasure to treat this beautiful woman.

Using various medicines, as well as x-ray and electrical equipment, Tanzler had plans to not only treat Hoyos, but eventually help cure her. In addition to the medical treatment he had provided, he also chose to spoil Hoyos with expensive gifts (such as jewelry and clothing). Although Tanzler was believed to have professed his love to Hoyos, it is unknown whether she had actually showed any love for him. She likely just thought of Tanzler as simply a creepy old man who wanted to save her.

Despite the desperate attempts to save Hoyos, terminal tuberculosis took her life. She died in her parents home in Key West on October 25, 1931. Of course, Tanzler wanted to continue to help her out. Being a fairly wealthy man, he decided to pay for her funeral. He eventually was given permission from her family to have an above ground mausoleum located at the Key West Cemetery.

Tanzler would spend virtually every night visiting Hoyos. Oddly, he reportedly claimed that Ms. Hoyos’s spirit would occasionally come out of the grave and talk to him while he would serenade her corpse with one of his favorite Spanish songs. He even said she would often tell him to take her from the grave and into his home. Now if this doesn’t creep you out, what happens next will.

After being for buried less than 2 years, Tanzler decided it was finally time to dig Hoyos up and take her body to his home. On April, 1933, he sneakily visited the cemetery to remove her body. Using a toy wagon (of all things), he transported her body to his home without getting caught.

The Obsession That Went Too Far

Though with time, most people eventually accept the lost of a loved one, for Tanzler, it was never the case. He wanted her by his side forever. Once he brought her home, he knew that in order to keep her corpse from quickly decomposing, he had to figure out a way to stop it (or at least slow it down). Getting rid of maggots was only the beginning. To attach Hoyo’s bones together, Tanzler used piano wires and coat hangers. To fill her abdominal and chest cavity (to help keep her original form), he used rags. To give her face a set of eyes, he used glass eyes. Of course, that is not it.

Due to a decomposing scalp, Hoyos’s hair eventually began to fall out. Luckily, for Tanzler, he had saved Hoyos’s hair that was given to him from her mother shortly after her burial. Tanzler was able to put together a wig on Hoyos’s corpse using her real hair. In order to mask the potent odor of the corpse, Tanzler used disinfectants and large amounts of perfume. To slow down the decomposition process, he used preserving agents. Hoyos’s body laid right next to Tanzler for 7 years. He would dress her, sing to her, and even buy her gifts. However, in October of 1940 it would all end. Hoyos’s sister heard rumors of Tanzler sleeping with her sister’s corpse. She demanded that he show her the body at the mausoleum. Of course, she was not at the mausoleum. She was lying in Tanzler’s bed. Tanzer was eventually arrested by Florida authorities.

The Arrest And Investigation

For the Florida authorities, this was a particular case they had never seen before. They didn’t know what to do with Mr. Tanzer. He was psychiatrically examined, and found mentally competent to stand trial. He was facing charges of “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.” However, since the statue of limitations for his crime had expired, authorities chose to eventually drop all charges. He was free to go.

Pathologists and physicians eventually examined Hoyos’s body. The corpse was put on public display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home. Several thousand people came to see this bizarre curiosity. Hoyos’s corpse was later returned to the same cemetery (Key West Cemetery). However, this time the location was a secret. Therefore, Tanzler could not have the chance to ever dig her up again.


In 1972, two physicians who attended the 1940 autopsy of Hoyos’s remains revealed that there was a plastic tube inserted into Hoyos’s vagina for sexual intercourse. Why they chose to reveal this information nearly three decades later is unknown. The allegation remains questionable.

Key West Cemetery

Key West Cemetery

Key West Cemetery” by Averette is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Although Tanzler was forever separated from Hoyos, he still chose to use a death mask to create a life-sized effigy of her. He obviously never wanted to let her go. Carl Tanzler died on July 3, 1952 with the effigy of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos laying right next to him.

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About Joseph Caltabiano

Joseph Caltabiano is a writer, oddities lover and a former surgical technologist. He left the field of surgical technology to pursue a career in blogging and internet marketing. As clearly shown in his posts, Joseph is very passionate about unusual topics. His two most favorite topics are medical and weird science.