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Young Victorian girl in white lies in bed next to vase of flowers.

A (Perverse) Postmortem Love Story


Carl von Cosel, German radiologist, supposed inventor and captain of a submarine, hopeless romantic, necrophiliac.

There are obscure and extravagant love stories. The following is a radical, even spine-chilling case, but one which reflects –although pathologically– a devout love, perhaps overflowing but undeniably profound.

Carl Tanzler, best known as Carl von Cosel, was born in Germany and in 1927 his family to migrate to Key West, Florida. There he worked as a radiologist in an American Navy hospital. He used to claim he had nine university degrees, that he’d piloted a submarine and that he was an inventor, in addition to claiming he was a count.

One day, María Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a 22 year old Cuban woman with tuberculosis arrived at the hospital. Cosel immediately fell in love with her— for years he’d had visions of a beautiful, dark haired woman who, according to him, was the love of his life.

Using his own money, he made the best medical treatments available to her; produced home-made tonics and took medical equipment to her home. Cosel wanted to marry her once her health improved, but María died in 1931. Following the death of his beloved, he persuaded her family to put her body in a mausoleum paid by him, where for two years he visited the body at night, unbeknownst to anyone.

Rumors of von Cosel’s obsession made him lose his job at the hospital. It was then when he decided to take his beloved’s body to his home. Obsessed with preserving what was left of María, the radiologist restored the young woman’s body using plaster, cables, wax and glass eyes; he even crafted an artificial vagina made with a cardboard tube to complete the corpse’s anatomy. He bought perfumes and clothes and put wigs on her; he disinfected and stuffed her body over and over so that it would remain preserved. Von Cosel and the corpse shared the same bed for seven years.

In October, 1940, it was discovered that von Cosel kept the corpse at home. He was arrested and during the trial he confessed he planned to take María Elena to the stratosphere so that radiation would restore her body. Shortly after he was set free since the legal validity of his crime had expired. Von Cosel requested the body was returned to him, which was denied; he spent the rest of his days with an effigy of her made from her death mask.

To the surprise of many, when the Key West population found out about the case, a great part of the community, especially women, labelled him as a hopeless romantic (perhaps because in secret they wanted someone to immortalize them in the same way), and they showed signs of tenderness and compassion for him ––Because behind the intrinsic horror of the event there was a clear and incredible amorous gesture; one that overflowed the borders of the civilized until incurring in the inorganic; until transferring the amorous devotion into an inert object with the form of the beloved. Carl von Cosel’s is a story of love for form, for supernaturalism and, especially, for the characteristic faithfulness of ghosts.

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