The Real Corpse Bride- Carl Tanzler’s Horrifying Obsession

Witnesses visiting the waxy over-preserved body of Elena de Hoyos. Credit: The 13th Floor

In the 1930s, police officers raided the home or Carl Tanzler, and they found the body of Elena de Hoyos, who had died several years earlier. He was preserving her body like a life-sized doll, and sleeping next to it every night. Rumors of his “corpse bride” spread throughout Key West, Florida so often, the true story and legend blended into one. The true story is so incredibly creepy, it honestly doesn’t need much elaborating.

When she was alive, Elena was truly beautiful. Credit: The 13th Floor.

A Vision From Heaven

Carl Tanzler was an extremely eccentric man who claimed that he had a vision from Heaven that he was destined to fall in love with a woman with tan skin and dark hair. He believed that the angels show him his soulmate, but the likelihood of meeting her in his home country of Germany was slim, so he moved to the United States. Even after getting married and having kids, he still clung on to this idea that the angels had shown him is true love, and he would stop at nothing to be with her.

Tanzler became estranged from his wife and children, who could not stand being around him anymore. He began working as a radiology technician in Key West, Florida. While working in the hospital, he met a young Cuban-American woman named Elena de Hoyos. She was dying of Tuberculosis, and their family could not afford to get her all of the best treatment available. Carl Tanzler had lived through the Victorian Era in Europe, where death was even considered to be in fashion, and a woman was the most beautiful when she was on the brink of death.

Carl Tanzler pretended to be a doctor, and offered to take care of Elena from her home. He would steal equipment from the hospital and bring it over, along with gifts and money for her family. Elena was only 21 years old at the time, and Carl was 53. He would constantly tell her how much he loved her, but, of course, she did not reciprocate his feelings. In fact, Elena had married a man named Luis Mesa, and they were going to have a child together. Tragically, Elena miscarried, and it tore their relationship apart. Luis Mesa left her, but they never got a divorce. So they were separated, but still legally married. 

On top of the fact that both of them were married to other people, English was the second language for both of them, so it’s questionable how much they were able to actually get to know one another. This one-sided infatuation was so strong, though, Tanzler tried experiments on her with things he stole from the hospital in his attempt to heal her, but for all we know, he could have made things even worse. 

Carl Tanzler paid for an elaborate tomb for Elena. Credit: The 13th Floor

When Elena died in 1931, Carl offered to pay for her funeral. Instead of giving her a normal underground burial, he paid for her to have an elaborate tomb that had a door on the front. He kept the only key, so he was able to visit her every single night. He would inject her body with more formaldehyde on nearly a daily basis to keep her looking alive for as long as possible. He would sit with her for hours, talking, and potentially doing some unspeakable acts with her corpse.

After two years of visiting her every single day, he started to believe that he could hear Elena’s voice calling to him, begging to be released from the tomb. He decided to bring her body back to his house, where he could take care of her.