Karl Tanzler (1877-1952) was born in Germany and spent years travelling through India, Australia and the Pacific before emigrating to the United States. Tanzler arrived in Key West, Florida in 1927 and took a job as a radiologist at a local military hospital.
In April 1930, he met 19-year-old Maria Elena de Hoyos, a Cuban-American beauty queen receiving treatment for severe tuberculosis. Tanzler became infatuated and spent the next 18 months caring for the ailing de Hoyos, showering her with gifts and attempting to gain her affections. When she died in October 1931, Tanzler funded the construction of an ornate mausoleum, where he reportedly spent several hours every day.
In April 1933, a year and a half after de Hoyos’ death, the still-grieving Tanzler kidnapped her body from the mausoleum, hauled it to his house in a child’s wagon and laid it out in his own room. Tanzler would spend the next seven years working to prevent the corpse from decomposing – a difficult proposition in the heat and humidity of southern Florida. When de Hoyos’ sister discovered the corpse in October 1940, it was encased in plaster and wax and fitted out with a wig and glass eyes. She immediately informed police and Tanzler was arrested:
“Deputies Bernard Waite and Ray Elwood said the body, well preserved with the aid of wax, was in a bedroom of the isolated home of [Tanzler]…
‘One day’, Tanzler told officers, ‘I opened her coffin and found that the body was decaying. I did not want one so beautiful to go to dust. I stole the body about two years after she died and have had it with me ever since.’
The body, wrapped in a silken robe, lay on one of the two twin beds in the room. On the wrists were gold bracelets and in the hair was an artificial rose.”
Two doctors present at the examination of de Hoyos’ remains later claimed to have seen evidence of sexual interference, including the insertion of a paper cylinder to serve as a makeshift vagina. This information was not officially recorded or publicly released, however.
Tanzler was psychologically examined and found fit to stand trial for disturbing a corpse but the charges against him were eventually dropped. Tanzler escaped the spotlight by moving to mainland Florida. He was given a death mask taken from de Hoyos’ face, which he lived with until his own death in 1952.