Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the strange case of count carl von cosel

A few years ago I got it in my head that I wanted to do something uniquely "Key West-ie".
And so, for a month and some, I guided ghost tours.

You'd walk a group of folks around town pointing out different sites related to spooky stories and tell those stories in as ghastly a way as you could.

There was Robert the creepy doll looking out the attic window of the Artist's House, the kid who took the seven story dive from the top of the LaConcha Hotel and who's ghost is now sometimes seen riding the elevators in the hotel, the long abandoned theatre on Eaton Street that is so haunted that the homeless folks won't even sleep in the shelter of it's entrance way. Then there's the heart-wrenching tale of the Marrero House (now a guest house) where Cuban cigar maker Mr. Marrero's widow, along with her children, was evicted from the house she loved so well and died penniless and living on the streets of Key West. But her heartbroken spirit is sometimes seen wandering around the house in tears.

And then there's my own personal favorite Key West creepy true story about Count Carl von Cosel.

So just in time for Halloween I thought
I'd retell the tale here. . .

Our story begins in 1927 when 50 year old Karl Tanzler, a.k.a. Count Carl Von Cosel (and god only knows why), abandoned his wife and children in Dresden, Germany and made the crossing to
Key West.
He made many claims that he had nine university degrees, had been a submarine captain and was an electrical inventor. In truth, he was just a lonely man living in a fantasy world.
Still, he busloaded his way onto the staff at the U.S. Marine Hospital where he worked as an x-ray technician.
(not so weird yet; but wait, the plot sickens.)

Then, at the hospital in April 1930, he met the girl of his dreams.
Her name was Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a beautiful 22 old Cuban girl.
She was dying from tuberculosis.
He was smitten to the bone.

By her x-ray reports Von Cosel knew that Elena was not long for this world but somehow convinced the young girl, and her family, that he could cure her using a special x-ray machine combined with daily doses of a miracle tonic made from gold flakes
and water.
The Count began administering his miraculous treatments to Elena and along with them, proposals of marriage which Elena rejected. But the Count had convinced himself that Elena was his destiny and obsessed beyond all reason, was not taking no for an answer.

 Sadly, in 1931, Elena died and her family buried her in a common grave.
In his despondent obsession von Cosel couldn't bear the thought of his beloved rotting underground so he got approval from her family to move her body to an above ground
stone mausoleum.

During the move he found that Elena’s body had never been embalmed and was in a horrible state of decay. So von Cosel hired a mortician to clean and fix-up the body before placing it in the new tomb.

Elena’s family was alright with all that but what they didn't know, was that the Count had the only key to the crypt.

 For 2 years after that, night after night, von Cosel would go to the crypt with flowers and gifts for Elena and sit beside her coffin talking to her. He believed they could communicate and soon she was begging him to release her from her "prison" so they could be together.
Unable to resist, one dark night in April 1933, Von Cosel stole Elena from the cemetery.

 He took her to his airship laboratory (which he had christened "Countess Elena" and one day, he planned to fly with Elena to the stars where the atmospheric radiation would restore 
her life).
There, he began the job of resurrection.
Now remember, the girl's been dead for 2 years.
He held her body together with piano wire, put glass eyes where her real ones used to be, made a wig of her own hair and, piece by piece, strengthened her skin with wax and silk. He treated her with lotions, potions and electrotherapy and used perfume to mask the odor of decomposition.
Then carried her to his home on Flagler Ave., dressed her in a wedding dress, serenaded her with his home-made organ and slept with her. (yes, that kind of slept with. . .)
for the next 7 years.
Eventually people around town started getting suspicious. Why was that guy, who lived alone, buying dresses and
 all that perfume?
The rumors were flying and eventually found their way to ears of Elena's family.
With that, Elena's sister Nana stormed over to von Cosel's home and demanded that he tell her the truth about
the rumors.
Reluctantly, he agreed and showed Nana her dead sister’s corpse dressed in a wedding gown and propped-up in a chair.

THAT WAS IT, THE JIG WAS UP!!

Nana called the cops and Count Von Cosel was arrested and charged with grave robbing and abusing a corpse.
The case went to trial and von Cosel was convicted on both counts but the statute of limitations on those crimes, (2 years) had long since expired so no sentence was imposed.
The trial was big news in our small town and at the end of it the Count went so far as to ask the judge if he could have Elena's body back.
Well, that request didn't go over big with the judge and Elena's family reclaimed her body and re-buried her in a secret grave.

Now, you might think the weirdness stopped there, but no.
Count Von Cosel began charging tourists twenty-five cents to tour his laboratory. Then, after the weirdo tourists stopped coming for his macabre tours and the money ran out, Von Cosel used dynamite to blow-up Elena’s old mausoleum and left town.

For the next 10 years Count von Cosel lived in Zephyrhills with his sister, where he died in July 1952.
Count von Cosel was found dead, hugging a life-size effigy of his beloved Elena.

1 comment:

Key West Susan said...

One of my favorite Key West stories! Thanks for posting. Happy Halloween!