In this episode we’re taking a trip to pre-WWII Key West, Florida - a place beyond laws, full of unbelievable characters.
One of these characters is Count Carl von Cosel (born Karl Tanzler), an eccentric x-ray technician that falls head-over-heels in...
In this episode we’re taking a trip to pre-WWII Key West, Florida - a place beyond laws, full of unbelievable characters.
One of these characters is Count Carl von Cosel (born Karl Tanzler), an eccentric x-ray technician that falls head-over-heels in love with a young Latina beauty named Elena Hoyos. Problem is, she has tuberculosis, and in the 1930s this was pretty much a death wish.
However, von Cosel’s obsessive love knows no bounds…even those of death. And the grim discovery Elena’s family and Key West police officials make in the Count’s house 7 years after Elena’s burial will shock the island, the nation, and the world.
Have a care, friends—this one is gonna be a little icky.
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Sean, we got married last October, correct?
During the ceremony we made all sorts of promises to each other--not your standard “love honor and obey” type of stuff, since our friend officiated, but with the same vibe of promising to be loyal and loving and devoted to each other for the rest of our lives. And for me at least that goes beyond that, because if I go first I’m absolutely gonna haunt your ass.
Doing those vows and making those promises, it really makes you think. Cause, if you’re uncertain about any of that stuff, you really shouldn’t be getting married, right? But forever is a long time. Especially if it counts the “after death” part.
Well, today’s story is about a love that did, indeed, transcend death...to the horror of the people of Key West. Today, I’ll be telling the story of Count von Cosel and his mummy bride. Oh, and warning to any listeners who may not have a strong stomach - I did my best but some descriptions in this one get a little, well, gross.
Let’s begin with some backstory on the Count himself. Records show that Count von Cosel, born Karl Tanzler, came into this world in a modest home in Dresden, Germany on January 12th, 1877. Von Cosel made a lot of claims in his memoirs, which were first published in the comic Fantastic Adventures in 1947. These memoirs, however, need to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. Von Cosel claimed he was German nobility, and there is indeed a Von Cosel Castle in Dresden, but the truth of his noble birth is...murky. He told plenty he was, and a coworker later attested that he must’ve been a nobleman because he had a diamond-covered pocketwatch with his title inscribed in it...but, who knows. Probably not. A surviving family member told the author of Undying Love, Ben Harrison, that “it was just something he made up.” We’ll call him Count von Cosel for the purposes of this podcast, though, because it’s more fun.
So von Cosel wound up in Australia just prior to the outbreak of World War I and may or may not have been interned in some sort of POW or work camp during the war. After the end of World War I, he ended up back in Germany. He claimed to work as an inventor, and indeed there is some precedent for this later, but he also claimed to invent the biplane, soooo who knows.
Around 1920 the Count married his wife, Doris Schafer, and they had two children soon after, Ayesha and Clarista. Growing up von Cosel claimed that he was visited by visions of his dead ancestor--or who he CLAIMED was his ancestor--Countess Anna Constantina von Cosel. Several times over the years this spirit revealed to von Cosel the face of his supposed soulmate, a beautiful woman with dark hair. In fact, his first meeting with his soulmate occurred more than 10 years before the woman he would later claim as the same person was even born:
“The Countess addressed me as follows: ‘I’ve been trying to get your attention for quite some time, my boy. But you wouldn’t take note. You were too engrossed in your experiments. Look here, Carl, I have brought you the bride whom some day you will meet.” [...] Spellbound I saw, framed in long, dark, black tresses, a young girl’s face, so beautiful I can’t attempt to describe it.” Later, during a trip to Genoa, he ended up in Campo Santo Cemetery, and there found a marble statue of a beautiful girl who bore a striking resemblance to the apparition that the Countess’ spirit had shown him. This girl, immortalized in stone, had died at 22 and her name was Elena. The 3rd time he was struck by the image of his soulmate was in Australia, when he was awakened by the girl’s apparition appearing to him in his room. This apparition, he said, stayed with him for the next seven days, never speaking, just keeping him company as he went about his normal routine. Then, she simply vanished.
Von Cosel decided to emigrate to the United States in 1926, searching for a better life for his family. He left Doris and their two young daughters behind, planning to make some money and send for them when he was settled in this new country. He went to stay with his sister who was already living in Zephyrhills, Florida, and his family did join him within the year. However, and we don’t know exactly why, this reunion wasn’t to last, and he left them behind to work on Key West, Florida. By this time von Cosel was about 50, and his wife was half his age, so maybe that had something to do with it, along with him being a probable weirdo.
Key West is a fascinating place. It’s only 4 square miles of land, and especially in the late 20s, EVERYONE knew each other. The island was isolated from mainland America and early on developed its own personality and set of ethics, with a distinct “live and let live” attitude. Locals really didn’t care to follow certain laws and operated more like the seafarers that populated the island. Sporting houses, or brothels, operated openly. Listen, this is where Jimmy Buffett settled down and began his music career, ok? It’s very Margaritaville. It was a place that was good for sailors to get lost and make a little money, and it ended up being the perfect home for Karl Tanzler to officially remake himself as Count Carl von Cosel, no strings attached.
He found employment at the Marine Hospital in Key West, first as a lowly attendant cleaning up after procedures. It seemed he had some knowledge of medicine, however, because he eventually worked his way up in the esteem of the head of the hospital, Dr. Lombard, and was made x-ray technician. It was in this position that he finally met his soulmate, now in the flesh - Elena Milagro de Hoyos Mesa.
Elena was born in Cuba but moved to Key West with her family when she was young. She was the daughter of a local cigar maker, Francisco Hoyos, and had 2 sisters, Florinda and Celia.
Elena was known as a local beauty in Key West, and she was beautiful, with--you guessed it--long, raven-black hair. Though the Hoyos family was not wealthy by any means, they got by, and Elena married Luis Mesa in 1926 at only 18 years old, incidentally in the same month that Carl von Cosel set sail for America from Germany. Luis and Elena quickly conceived a child, but Elena suffered a miscarriage, and soon after her health began to detoriorate. Many people around her and possibly Elena herself thought this was due to the miscarriage, but when she developed a telltale cough, the reason became clearer. Numerous cases of tuberculosis had be diagnosed at the Marine Hospital and, like I said, Key West wasn’t a big place. Tuberculosis, or TB, is an infectious disease that mainly effects the lungs, and is spread from one person to another through tiny dropless released into the air via coughs and sneezes. Hmm, sounds familiar. TB is a popular disease portrayed in period pieces--if anyone develops a cough and spits blood into a hankie, you know they have TB, and they’re soon to be done for.
Tuberculosis nowadays is very treatable, but back in the 20s it was basically a death wish. It was still untreatable at this point because medicine hadn’t advanced enough to be able to do much more than diagnose the disease, and was actually the number one cause of death in Key West at this time. The disease especially ran rampant between the cigar factory workers that passed germs around in the tight confines of their workplace. This is a likely way Elena became sick. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Elena’s doctor sent her to the Marine Hospital for a blood test and chest x ray. And this is when her fate finally intertwined with that of the Count.
Luis accompanied Elena to the hospital but stayed outside of the examining room while Elena was ushered in for her tests. The man testing her, of course, was von Cosel. Upon seeing her for the first time, he wrote later, “I was so thunderstruck. [It was] the face of the bride which had been promised to me by my ancestor forty years before.” This meet cute was made a little grimmer due to the fact that they were both legally married, and Elena had a deadly disease, but for von Cosel it was all romance, baby. After this point he rarely thought of his wife and children, still living in the same state, and was generally unconcerned for their welfare. On the other end of the spectrum, Elena was heartbroken as Luis soon left her for another woman, moving to Tampa and eventually Miami, not wanting to be tied down by his dying bride.
But back to the romance! Von Cosel was in the throes of love at first sight immediately. His mind saw only Elena, his senses smelled only her perfume. But he was soon shocked out of his daydreaming by the results of her xrays, which confirmed Elena’s sad condition. She had lesions on her lungs. Tuberculosis. The Count, however, would not be swayed from his happiness so soon! He developed a fierce determination to find some way to help her and bring her back to her health. Please remember, though, there was still no treatment for tuberculosis. So the Count was gonna have to get crafty.
“Both Elena and her mother could not fail to observe my deepest interest in her case. They invited me to the family home, and, needless to say, I went there that very evening.” He became a frequent visitor, giving her blood tests at the home and deciding to begin radiation treatments on her promptly. Oh, and during this time he was also restoring an airplane that he kept parked behind the hospital, on which he painted the name CTS. ELAINE VON COSEL. Keep that tidbit in mind for later.
The Count continued to ingratiate himself with Elena’s family. They really couldn’t afford the treatments for TB, but then along came the Count, like some knight in shining honor trying to rescue their daughter. They were in a really vulnerable mental state and von Cosel seemed knowledgeable about her illness and how to treat it, AND wasn’t charging for his obsessive services. Dr. Lombard from the hospital knew there was little hope for Elena’s recovery, but he didn’t discourage von Cosel, either. Elena herself simply refused to accept the seriousness of her condition.
On her 21st birthday the Count wrote that he told Elena he “will give you my Undying Love” and basically proposed marriage, even though again, both of them were still married to very much estranged spouses. He insisted to her that she was the woman of his dreams shown to him by an apparition, to which she responded, “Carl, I don’t know what you’re talking about. How could I look for you before I was born? Let me get well first, then we’ll see what happens.” Even written through the Count’s perspective, this seems like the gentlest possible let down ever, but he didn’t seem to take it that way, even when Elena’s mother told the Count “No daughter of mine is going to marry an American. It will be a Cuban, if she ever marries again.” You can say one thing about the Count, though: he did NOT GIVE UP.
He treated Elena at the Marine Hospital until she began missing appointments and making excuses why should couldn’t come. The family, after the apparent proposal, started to distrust von Cosel and began to take her to other doctors. Eventually they even moved, but the Count managed to find them anyway, basically wandering the streets til he discovered where the family had relocated to. Her condition was becoming more and more critical. When the family was found again by von Cosel, they basically gave up and let him treat her once more. It was basically an act of desperation, simply because he at least offered them hope of a cure. Around this time he wrote Elena a letter containing a line that reads as definite foreshadowing after the fact: “If you were a mummy, five thousand years old, I would marry you just the same.” He set about taking charge and attacking the disease both medically and spiritually, administering shock therapy and bringing her a variety of presents, including a large and lovely bed for her to sleep in. He played the radio for her, and Elena remarked on her favorite song when it played multiple times in one day - La Boda Negra, The Black Wedding. It was about a man whose lover died young, and he began to visit the graveyard until he dug her up from the grave, placed her on a bed of flowers, and took his own life while embracing the skeleton of his dead love. Remember that bit of foreshadowing from before? Yeah, let’s call this one ‘Chekov’s Dirge’.
On October 25, 1931, Elena’s brother in law came to the hospital to give him the sad news that, despite all of his machinations, Elena had just died. The Count was out of his mind with grief. Blaming her father for taking her for a ride in the car, he became angry with the family. He made and paid for all the funeral arrangements, seeing to every single detail, thinking “Now, at least, nobody could take my Elena away from me. Although I could see her no longer, I felt her presence all the time. It was only natural I went daily to the cemetery.” Elena, however, had been buried in a fairly shallow grave, and most places in the cemetery were at the mercy of water flooding.
At this time the Count also took it upon himself to move into Elena’s old room and pay her parents rent. I wonder how this conversation went down, but again, they were beside themselves with grief and probably needed the money and felt like they owed this man in some way for paying for Elena’s funeral and burial. So he stayed in her room, sleeping in the bed that he’d purchased her, the bed in which she’d died. He told Elena’s mother he’d rebury her and adorn her with the jewels that he’d gotten her in life, and the mother gave him, well, a bag of Elena’s hair that had been shorn years ago, to replace any decay that her body had already gone through. Yes, it’s weird. We’ll discuss just how weird it’s going to get...after the break.
Now that Elena was dead and buried there was nothing else the Count could really do or have control over other than what he referred to as “her beautiful form” - aka preserving her body for as long as possible. He began to design a monument to Elena where she could finally rest above ground, away from the flooding water and quick decay she was likely currently experiencing. With the Hoyos family’s permission, Elena was disinterred and brought back to the funeral home to be re-bedded in a new, better casket.
The re-bedding process was....extremely unorthodox, to say the least. We’ll start with the fact that it was done in the middle of the night. It’s speculated that the Count gave the mortician some money under the table to gain access to the morgue. In the funeral home after house, the Count rendezvoused with the corpse of his dead love. The inner coffin of Elena’s vaulta had already been terribly water damaged, and even the Count stated “Decay had set in in a most disheartening manner.” The body was a mess. Him and the mortician worked all night to restore the body, with von Cosel spraying her all over with a preserving mixture he’d developed and Eau de Cologne for the understandable horrific smell. “When morning came my sweet bride was free from all outward signs of decay and from that of odor.” The next day he informed the mortician that he would need another night with Elena in the embalming room- alone.
Along with whatever else he may have done in that time, he submerged the body in a homemade incubator tank, like suspending an object in formaldehyde. Then, she was placed in a double casket, and finally reinterred in a crypt that he’d designed with a locking door that he, of course, had the key to.
After this, von Cosel became a frequent sight to those visiting Key West Cemetery, coming to sit in the crypt by the coffin for 18 months straight. And he started to experience what he attested to be paranormal phenomena. He started to hear the scratching and tapping of nails on the inside of Elena’s coffin. Upon reopening the outer coffin, he discovered that the inner coffin holding her body was still sealed, and couldn’t find an explanation for the sounds he heard. He unscrewed a cap on the waterproof inner coffin and, um, smelled it. And the smell that emanated was, as he said, “was exactly like the healthy and agreeable odor of a young woman’s skin on a warm day.” I wonder if this is an extreme version of not noticing the BO of a beloved partner.
He started to talk to Elena at this point and even installed a telephone in the crypt that he would call when the weather was too treacherous for him to visit. At some point he placed his ear against the open coffin valve and heard her voice speak back to him and sing, usually her favorite song, The Black Wedding. And, eventually, he said that Elena said “I want to go home with you. I want to be with you.” And von Cosel was like that’s cool but it’s not gonna be easy to drag you out of here, because there were high walls around the cemetery and...well...she was a corpse. A bit hard to hide from point A to point B. But apparently Elena’s apparition showed him how it could be done, and soon after, he was ready to bring her home.
Von Cosel loaded the inner coffin into a little wagon and, satisfied there were no witnesses, pulled the wagon from the mausoleum. He pulled it over to the cemetery fence, where he struggled to haul the heavy coffin over the wall. At that point the ground collapsed under him and the whole thing fell on top of him. Foul smelling liquid dripped down onto him, soaking his lapels and dripping down the back of his neck. Yeahhhh. Lovely stuff. He summoned all the strength he had and heaved the coffin over the fence, making it back onto the wagon and pulling it until he reached the little halfway house he rented between his own home and the cemetery for this very purpose. Having no running water, he removed his clothes and doused himself with whiskey to get rid of the corpse stink emanating from his own body.
He made it back unseen, and by the way, he’s still living with Elena’s parents at this point, so he had to sneak back into the house and try to bathe without anyone figuring out what was going on. Apparently, he stunk so bad that even a bath didn’t make the smell go away completely. But, undaunted, he returned to the halfway house the next day with a large sedan and loaded her in. It was time for her to move to her next resting place: the plane the Count was restoring behind the Marine Hospital.
Once he had time alone with her, he assessed the terrible condition her body was in after...well...decaying in the Florida heat for a year and a half. “My very soul was tortured with her awful condition. I resolved that I would help her out of this awful mess at once. She was my beloved bride; my promise to take care of her was a sacred one.”
Sean, I’m your beloved bride, right? Would you clean up my corpse after it was hanging around for a couple years?
So he, uh, cleaned her up as best he could, and began to visit Fausto’s Food Palace constantly to buy supplies. A Mrs. Weekley that worked at the Palace told Ben Harrison she had been heartily amused by his purchases, wondering what he could be doing with the tons of soap and perfume he was buying. Little did she know. Oof.
Elena’s eyes had, well, decayed, and no longer seemed lifelike. He managed to purchase two glass eyes from a medical catalogue used by the hospital without arousing suspicion. In his own words he, uh, talks about his conversations with Elena as he repaired her body:
“I assured her, ‘Darling, I love you more than ever before. If it were not so, I would not have taken you to me.’ Then kissing her dry lips, and breathing deeply into her lungs until her bosom rose, I unpacked her bridal gown and covered her body with it. [...] Long I lay thus, holding her closely to me, the living and the dead united in love.
Keep in mind, this whole memoir I’m quoting from is from a god-damned COMIC BOOK from the 1950s.
So, um, maggots and flies became attracted to Elena, laying there in a hot plane behind the hospital. He worked to keep her body as preserved as possible, because he began to believe that he could somehow resurrect her using some sort of ancient knowledge he had acquired while studying Hinduism. He put splints in Elena’s nose that were kept in place with bandages. As skin decomposed he replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. He made a death mask in this fashion, capped off by the open glass eyes. But the Count was about to hit a speedbump- the hospital where he worked had transferred command, and the new boss refused to keep allowing von Cosel to keep his plane on the property. So the Count moved it to a hangar, attached to his new home - a shack on Rest Beach. How did he move it, you ask? He hired a truck to pull the plane, and asked Mario, Elena’s brother in law, for help. Mario had no clue that he was assisting pulling a plan with his sister in law’s corpse inside of it through the streets of Key West. The Count saw it as a parade for Elena, and she made it to the hangar, the townspeople and Mario no more the wiser. Around this time von Cosel’s daughter Clarista died of diphtheria, but he was so consumed by his responsibility to Elena that he didn’t even go to his child’s funeral or even send any money for it.
To the Count, nothing else mattered but Elena. The two years they would spend at the new home on Rest Beach were the happiest of his life. He did his best to restore the shack and build a lab where he could keep on working on Elena’s resurrection. He kept dropping her into the incubator tank he’d fashioned with preserving liquids, doing his best to keep nature at bay. He’d take her out for a little while each day to “rest” and receive radiation treatments, sure that he was beginning to bring her back to life.”Often, I kissed her rosy lips as she was lying in her bath, thereby getting always a liberal taste of the surrounding fluid myself which was indeed an analysis…” Blech. An analysis of what, I don’t know. He played her music on his organ each evening, which must’ve been a creepy tableau. A terrible hurricane hit in 1935, and von Cosel played his organ through the winds, basically telling Elena that if the hurricane killed him both, he was fine with it. However he - and the corpse - survived.
That Christmas the Count took a photo of Elena’s body next to the Christmas tree and spent what he reported to be his happiest holiday ever. This included, as he described in his memoir, drinking some wine and forcing it into her mouth from his so she could drink it. “I used this method of feeding her at different times with certain solutions when I wanted to be sure they went home where I wanted them to.”
Eventually the Count and Elena had to move once again as much of the Rest Beach area was being reclaimed and restored by FDR’s WPA project. He found another wooden shack on Flagler Street, and thus made their new home. They taxied the airplane once again to this new address. Around this time von Cosel lost his job at the Marine Hospital, laid off due to a reduced operating budget. He had a pension due to some military involvement, the facts of which are sketchy, and so accepted his layoff with good humor. Anyway, this gave him ever more time with the corpse of Elena. He hadn’t been able to build a new lab with incubator tank yet, so he decided to leave her out in the open air and work to preserve her as best he could from the elements. He’d taken the bed he’d given Elena that she’d died in from her parents’ home when he left, and here he slept next to her corpse every night.
In July 1936, a miracle happened. He saw the fingers of her right hand moving. Apparently, she also turned herself on her side and attempted to get up. Von Cosel ran to make her hot beef tea which I think was to improve her strength, but by the time he came back she was rigid again, albeit now in the new position she had moved herself to when trying to get up. The Count was heartbroken that her only chance at resurrection had come and gone.
Her body began drying out, basically like a mummy. He did everything he could to preserve it, attaching her bones together with piano wire and applying layer upon layer of silk cloth to her skin. He made a wig out of the hair Elena’s mother had given him when her hair started falling out of her head and filled the abdominal and chest cavities of the body with rags to keep its original form.
But the Count had begun to arouse suspicion.
The insane amounts of soap and perfume he purchased were weird enough. Then a rumor started circling around town. But rumors are just that, right?
On September 28, 1940, Elena’s brother in law Mario visited von Cosel at his shack on Flagler Avenue. He had news. Elena’s tomb had been broken into, and the coffin tampered with. Elena’s sister Florinda, aka Nana, insisted that the outer coffin, still in the mausoleum, be opened to check on her sister’s body, but the Count refused to comply. The mortician and cemetery sexton involved placated Nana, insisting no one could have accessed the inner coffin, but the Count started feeling the pressure. Florinda kept begging him to open the coffin just so she could see that her sister was resting in peace. Eventually, the Count felt he must comply. “All right, Nana. I don’t want you to go crazy, I will let you see Elena. Let’s talk this over in peace and arrange it between ourselves. This is not a public affair.” So...they went to the house on Flagler Avenue.
Nana and Mario were taken into the house by the Count, and he told Eleana’s sister, “Come here, Nana, and see how beautiful Elena is resting in her bed in her silken garments and with all her jewelry. Come and see, she could not have it better anywhere. I think that will pacify you now.” He told her Elena had been with him out of her grave for 7 years. Nana and Mario peaced the fuck out, and a few days later the sherriff showed up at von Cosel’s house with a warrant for his arrest charging him of possession of a dead body. He faced up to 2 years in jail and $500 in fines. Elena, for her part, was taken to the morgue.
Attorney Louis Harris offered to represent him pro bono, which von Cosel gladly accepted. And public sentiment toward him was...shockingly sympathetic? Women especially thought what the Count did was incredibly romantic. The Count claimed later that one woman outside of the courthouse told him “We wish you luck and that you will win out and get your Elena back.” The Count received an insane amount of publicity, which isn’t surprising, and became known all around the country. Local papers were in a tizzy, screaming headlines like “DEAD GIRL’S HIGHLY EDUCATED LOVER SEES NO WRONG IN REMOVING HER FROM CRYPT”. His preliminary hearing on October 9th, 1940 was scheduled for late afternoon so the townsfolk could complete their work days before the performance began. The Key West Citizen reported that: “Sympathy on all sides were expressed for the scientist, and the general hope advanced was that the state would see fit to free him…”
The preliminary hearing began with testimony by Elena’s sister Nana, who said she became suspicious when the Count abruptly stopped visiting Elena’s tomb and she began to hear rumors reported to her about the Count by friends. By her admission, “I just couldn’t imagine someone taking my sister’s body from the tomb. Who could imagine someone keeping a corpse in their home for 7 years? But the time finally came when I could no longer ignore the whispers.” I could imagine that that possibility is something that would be hard to come to terms with. Nana went on to say that seeing Elena’s body the way that the Count had restored it would haunt her for the rest of her life, and asked the justice “Why won’t the doctors who examined Elena’s body make their findings public. What has von Cosel done to my sister’s body? Was he doing something too horrible for words?”
What she means by this, I hope, goes without saying. The judge at this point was forced to ask the question that he hoped to avoid: “Count von Cosel, did you at any time in the more than seven years you had her...kept her, whatever...Did you at any time sexually molest the body of Elena Hoyos?” The Count replied, defiantly, “No your honor. I did not...she was mummified.”
The Count proceeded to give his own testimony about what he’d done to take Elena out of her crypt, and what he’d done with her body the past 7 years, ending “Now may I have Elena’s body back?” The judge, of course, refused, stating she’d be buried somewhere he could not find her again, and that he had no claim to her body. The hearing ended, and von Cosel was held on $1000 bail.
Meanwhile, Elena was not resting in peace. She was examined by physicians and pathologists and then put on public display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home. And people turned out in DROVES to see the corpse. Rumor has it that the local schools were let out early so the kids could see the body that was making national news. Even to this day, the children who viewed the body had vivid recollections of that day for author Ben Harrison, saying “All of us kids went down to see her.” The funeral directors stated that around 6,850 people came to view the body within the next few days. The headlines proclaimed, “THOUSANDS OF CURIOUS FILE PAST MAIDEN’S BIER”. It’s hard to imagine anything like this happening nowadays. This sounds completely wild.
While being held on bail Von Cosel was psychiatrically examined and found mentally competent to stand trial on charges of “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization”. Doris Tanzler, von Cosel’s estranged wife, offered to testify, but was not summoned. The headlines continued with the scandalous Miami Life daily proclaiming, “KEY WESTER USED BODY TO GRATIFY SEX PASSION”. Court was to convene for the trial on November 11th, and von Cosel was released on bond with the bail being provided by the proprietor of the Cactus Garden Tourist Camp. He received back all the jewels that he had given Elena and had afterward decorated her body with. A Havana, Cuba radio station began running a nightly “novella” that recounted the sensational story, with its theme song being, of course, La Boda Negra - The Black Wedding. Publicity increased to a fever pitch until--
October 22, 1940, when a grand jury decided not to prosecute von Cosel, as the crime he committed was barred by the statue of limitations, and could no longer be charged as it had occurred over seven years previously. Elena’s remains were returned to Nana, who had them buried secretly, the location of which has still never been discovered by the public. It was also never discovered by Count von Cosel himself.
He was bitter upon his release in November 1940, but surprised at the public’s continued interest and sympathy for him. For the former, I assume it was probably because this was the biggest story to come out of Key West maybe ever at that point. People began to visit his home on Flagler and he began to charge them a quarter apiece for the grand tour, which included Elena’s bed, his organ, and both of their belongings. Eventually, because of his new status as a tourist attraction, he decided to leave Key West and return to living with his sister in Zephyrhills. A few hours after leaving town, 2 sticks of dynamite blew up what remained of Elena’s original tomb. It seemed everyone in town knew the Count had been the one to set the explosion, a final goodbye.
Doris, who still lived in town with their now-teenage daughter, showed von Cosel a compassion which I think is absolutely incredible. She reached out to him at his sister’s, and took him to see the grave of their daughter who had died years before. He made a monument to her as he had for Elena. Von Cosel moved to his own home in 1944 in Pasco County, Florida, and promptly created an indoor shrine to Elena. He created a new Elena body and placed on it a plaster of paris death mask he had cast from the original Elena. He would also apparently take curious townspeople to his house to see the replica for themselves. Fantastic Adventures published the memoirs he had worked hard on in 1947, and von Cosel continued to live his odd, solitary life. He would meet with his wife once a week to talk on a park bench, and she would give him a little money for survival. He became a US citizen in 1950 and officially changed his name to Carl Tanzler von Cosel. 2 years later, his body was found having collapsed beside the Elena replica, badly decomposed after several days. He was buried in Zephyrhills Cemetery near his daughter on August 14, 1952.
Von Cosel would make headlines once more due to an article in Tropic Magazine by John Dorschner from March 5th, 1972. In this article he interviewed a Dr. DePoo - yes really - who had performed the autopsy on Elena’s body after it was discovered at von Cosel’s home. Uh, brace yourselves for his quote here, folks.
“I made the examination in the funeral home. The breasts really felt real. In the vaginal area, I found a tube wide enough to permit sexual intercourse. At the bottom of the tube was cotton, and in examination of the cotton, I found there was sperm. Then I knew we were dealing with a sexual pervert.”
Yeahhhhh. So, since von Cosel never went to trial, he never had to disclose this information, and he didn’t exactly volunteer it. So the real truth of the Count’s horrific actions wasn’t known until 30 years after the fact. Dr. DePoo’s statement was confirmed by a Dr. Foraker, who had assisted with the autopsy. Even so, some contend that because this evidence wasn’t presented at the hearing, and the doctors didn’t reveal it until 30 years later, the allegation of necrophilia is questionable. But...I mean...I buy it. This assertion would be repeated again on an episode of Autopsy on HBO in 1999.
So, on that note, we end our bizarre love story!
Today we’re going to visit an old friend for our Prime and Punishment news segment - DB Cooper! Well, tangentially, anyway. To mark 2021 being 50 years since the NorJack hijacking in 1971, Rolling Stone magazine interviewed flight attendant Tina Mucklow, who took over DB Cooper-entertaining duties from previous attendant Florence Schaffner.
In the interview Tina goes into detail about her ordeal, having largely stayed silent in the past 50 years about the incident. After Schaffner left to give a note bearing Cooper’s demands to the pilots in the cockpit, Mucklow took her place sitting by DB Cooper. “‘Either I said, ‘You want me to stay here?’ or the hijacker said, ‘I need you to stay here.’ From that moment on, she was the man’s point person, relaying messages over the interphone back and forth between him and the cockpit. ‘I was there for the hijacker to kind of keep him feeling safe, reassured, comfortable and not detonating that bomb.’”
When he opened his briefcase to show her a row of what looked like sticks of dynamite hooked to a battery, she thought she was going to throw up, and recollected looking at the barf bag in the seat pocket in front of her. Eventually his demands were met and the plane climbed to low altitude without the passengers, and just Cooper and crew in tow.
Four or five minutes after the plane had taken off, the skyjacker told Mucklow she could go join the pilots in the cockpit. “Probably one of the last things I did was to say, ‘Will you please, please take the bomb with you?’” she says. She doesn’t think he answered her; he was busy preparing the parachutes. For Mucklow and the pilots, the ordeal was nearly over. “Being able to reunite with the rest of my crew and coming through the cockpit was an amazing experience,” she says. “We were still in harm’s way, but I wasn’t alone. All of us looked at each other, and there was just a sense of amazement.” Copilot Bill Rataczak told Rolling Stone, “All of a sudden the cockpit door opened, and in walked this lovely lady who had been our passive resistance to the hijacker. It was a big relief.” When they were finally on the runway, Mucklow waited until she and Rataczak were in the back seat of an FBI car before she broke down. “I sobbed like I’d never sobbed before, and Bill said, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK. It’s over,’” she says.
This year Tina is consulting on a film about the crew’s experience of the hijacking, and has previously given interviews in recent History Channel and HBO documentaries. Maybe the nicest little tidbit in this story is that Tina Mucklow and Bill Rataczak still catch up on the phone every couple of months, with him jokingly telling the magazine “If we could just get her to move back here so we can get together more often, it would be greatly appreciated.”