Carl Tanzler dug up his dead patient and made a corpse bride
'What does that 21-year-old woman see in that rich old doctor?' Errr, how about nothing as she's dead and he's put glass eyes in her corpse to make it more sensual when he shags her? This isn't the world's worst joke, it's the horrifying true story of Carl Tanzler, a lovestruck medic who shacked up with one his young patients... years after she died.
Age gap relationships can be icky at the best of times, but when a wrinkly old doctor is shagging a DEAD 21-year-old with a cardboard tube in her vagina, we are entering a whole new bracket of WTF.
German-born doctor Carl Tanzler fell in love with Cuban beauty Elena "Helen" Milagro de Hoyos when he was treating her for tuberculosis at a hospital in Key West, Florida in 1931.
The doctor, born in 1877, was 54 when he first met his gorgeous dark haired patient. For him, it was love at first sight, as he later revealed that she was the spitting image of a mysterious dark-haired woman he would have visions of as a child, a woman he believed a dead aunt had psychically told him was the true love of his life.
When she died, aged just 21, Carl was distraught, convinced that his destiny had been snatched from him. He vowed to find a way to bring her back to life.
He convinced her grieving family to bury her in a special mausoleum he paid for, and for two years he was seen weeping at her tomb. People assumed he was just a doctor wracked with guilt that he had failed to save the life of this young, vibrant woman.
Carl - who at this time was going by the name Count Carl von Cosel - had done more than help design the elaborate stone tomb and arrange for a mortician to prepare Elena's body before burial. He had kept hold of the only key, and had been secretly letting himself in and out every night, defiling her decaying body in frenzied displays of passion.
He would later say that her spirit would sing to him in Spanish as he sat at her tomb, and begged him to take her away.
In April 1933, Carl made his final visit to the tomb, trundling a trolley behind him, tonight was the night he would bring Elena home to lie with him forever.
But Elena was two years in to decomposition, and it would take all of Carl's medical abilities to preserve his princess as much as possible.
He set up a makeshift laboratory at home, and did his best to patch her up. He gutted her and stuffed her with rags and cloth; replaced her rotten skin with silk soaked in plaster of Paris; inserted glass eyes; used coat hangers and other wires to stabilise her skeleton and make her manoeuvrable.
Her scalp was recovered with a wig made from her actual hair, a gift given to Tanzler by Elena's mum after she died; and her face given a thick layer of mortician's wax to keep her "alive".
To hide the smell of her decaying body, he used preserving agents, perfumes, disinfectants and fresh flowers.
A tube was also inserted in to her vagina so that he could continue his rampant love-making - although he never admitted to having sex with his corpse bride.
For the next SEVEN YEARS, Elena slept alongside Carl. He dressed her in fine clothes and jewels and gloves - but getting hold of these wares had sparked suspicion in the community.
Although he had arrived in the US with a wife and two children, he had abandoned them soon after and was known locally as a single, older man. Townsfolk noticed him buying clothes and accessories for a woman, and a local boy claimed that he had spied him appearing to dance with a "giant doll".
In 1940, one of Elena's sisters went to visit the doctor, suspicious about what he was up to - and was horrified to discover what appeared to be a life-size effigy of her tragic sister. She called police who confirmed it actually WAS her sister, and Tanzer was arrested for grave robbing.
The 'eccentric' German later claimed in his memoirs that he planned to use an airship to fly his 'wife', “high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.”
Despite being found sane and able to stand trial, due to the length of time between the grave robbing and being caught, the statute of limitations on the charge - “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization”- had expired and Tanzler was a free man.
Astoundingly, public opinion was that he was a lonely and romantic old eccentric, not a corpse robber/shagger.
He asked for Elena to be returned to him, but instead authorities placed her in a local funeral home where 7,000 people came to gawp at her remains. Eventually she was reburied in an unmarked grave, her body encased in cement to keep the creepy doctor from interfering with her body again.
Decades later, a man who saw this macabre exhibit as a 10-year-old boy said the spectacle had haunted him.
He said: "I have never been able to forget this vision. She didn't even look like a human anymore.So much reconstruction and decay. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen. Her face was a questionable white that looked more like a wax dummy than a woman's face. And she had horrible glass eyes, black and fixed. I still dream of this show."
However, Carl's love for Elena wasn't dead and buried, and he made a replacement model of her body, using a deathmask taken from the real Elena for its face.
He moved to another part of Florida with Elena 2.0, and was supported by the wife he left decades before. His autobiography, where he spoke lovingly of Elena and their deep love for one another, was published in the pulp publication Fantastic Adventures.
Carl Tanzer was found dead at home in 1952 aged 75. There were mixed reports about his death. Some said he was in the arms of his remade corpse bride, while others claimed a strange wax doll was hidden under a shroud nearby... and no one could be sure it wasn't Elena, freshly exhumed and preserved once again for his pleasure.