In 1940, Florida’s infamous necrophile went on trial for desecrating the body of Elena Hoyos. Not only were reporters sympathetic to Count Von Cosel’s May-December “romance,” jurors acquitted Von Cosel of the theft, preservation, and mistreatment of Elena’s cadaver. Key West put her corpse on display.
“Creepy, crawly Count Carl Von Cosel” wasn’t a count at all. He was a radiologist or x-ray technician. Although some have described him as a “mad scientist,” others, a “brilliant doctor,” he’s more likely a grotesque fetishist. Even his “penetrating stare and vandyke beard” can’t distract you from his obsession with the hospitalized woman in his care.
In April of 1930, the “beautiful but doomed” Elena Hoyos arrived at the Marine Hospital for blood tests. She also received x-rays, which is when she met her radiologist, Carl Von Cosel. Elena’s prognosis was grim. She was diagnosed with fast-acting tuberculosis.
It was estimated that she wouldn’t have long to live, but Von Cosel disagreed. He had become smitten with the frail, Hispanic beauty, and even alleged that he recognized her from a dream.
Ten years before Elena’s birth, Von Cosel’s ancestor had appeared to him as an apparition. She told Von Cosel that he would marry a young woman who, Von Cosel decided, looked precisely like Elena Hoyos.
Von Cosel was sixty years of age,and decided that they were to have their May-December romance. He didn’t see an issue with their differing ages or her nearly-dead, immobilized status. Carl Von Cosel decided that he was in love.
He provided free radiation treatments to Elena Hoyos, and a promise of marriage. Elena’s consumptive condition meant little to Carl Von Cosel.
Determined to save his newfound paramour, Von Cosel connected her wasting body to his homemade contraption. The invention charged her oxygen electrons with electrodes, which he decided would save her.
Elena was in unbearable pain, but her parents approved of Von Cosel's arrangement. They were comforted by his invention, hoping that perhaps Elena could survive.
While Elena was undergoing agonizing death, Von Cosel supplied her with perfume, jewelry, fruits, and candies. He showered her with luxurious treats, hoping that Elena would accept his hand in marriage. He even bought her a mahogany bed, which would become her deathbed. Nevertheless, Elena refused Carl Von Cosel’s proposal.
On October 25, 1931, Elena died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-two. Von Cosel visited her gravesite for two years, a mausoleum in Key West’s City Cemetery.
He continued to leave gifts at her graveside – eerie offerings to his lifeless lover, excessive treasures to the object of his affections. He even installed a telephone line to Elena’s crypt so that he could continue speaking to her.
Yet Carl Von Cosel was unable to resist peeking at Elena Hoyos. He decided to open her casket.
To his absolute horror, Elena’s putrefied body had begun to deteriorate. Although he tried to stop her disintegration with embalming fluids, her body continued to decay. Carl Von Cosel’s only solution was to steal her remains.
He transported Elena to his laboratory in the fuselage of a wingless airplane, covertly relocating her body to Rest Beach. Once he arrived, he replaced her rotting flesh with oiled silk, bee’s wax, and balsam. He substituted her empty sockets with glass eyes. He replaced her former beauty with ghoulish, frightening features.
He dressed her corpse in a wedding gown after stuffing her body cavity with rags. He then placed Elena Hoyos on his canopied bed, serenading her with a small, church organ. Elena remained with Carl Von Cosel for seven years. At least she got to keep her hair.
Later, Carl Von Cosel believed that he could animate Elena’s corpse with ultraviolet ray treatment. When this was ineffective, he contemplated relocating her remains to the stratosphere. He would personally transport her body by airplane, where Carl Von Cosel believed he could restore her life.
Word caught on that Carl Von Cosel was acting erratically, so Elena’s sister decided to investigate. She was never able to unearth her sister’s gravesite – Carl Von Cosel was eager to show Elena’s sister Elena himself. He was proud of the excellent attention he’d given to her preservation and thought mistakenly that Elena’s sister would feel the same.
Carl’s madness was discovered. Authorities took Elena from him.
As they autopsy her body, for a second time, they discovered that she was removed from her tomb two years after her burial. Carl Von Cosel had preserved her corpse for seven years. Carl was doing more than playing dress up with Elena.
Elena’s doctors decided to not disclose possibly the most disturbing discovery they had made until after Carl’s death. Carl Von Cosel had “consummated” their marriage.
After Von Cosel's arrest, Key West put Elena's body on exhibit. The town's people crowded the funeral parlor, eager to see the macabre curiosity. Teachers brought their students for field trips; journalists arrived to report on the "most unbelievable story in the world."
Over seven thousand visitors arrived, each desperate to peek at this well-preserved woman. Some asked if Key West could seal Elena within a glass case as a permanent exhibit. Elena was once again reduced to an object of spectacle, only this time she was a tourist attraction.
Sympathists flocked to Von Cosel, excusing his bizarre behavior as an “act of love.” The County Jail charged him of “malicious and wanton disfigurement of a burial vault,” yet the jurors found no law that he had broken. They were unaware that the doctor had found sperm inside Elena’s corpse, clear evidence of necrophilia.
In their ignorance, they asked if it was “illegal to love too much.” Carl von Cosel was acquitted. His negative publicity was a small price to pay for such an excessively grotesque desecration.
Carl Von Cosel was nevertheless unsatisfied with the outcome of his trial. He asked if he could have Elena’s body returned to him. Journalists reported that the judge denied Von Cosel’s request, screaming at Von Cosel with disgust.
Provoked by Von Cosel’s unapologetic behavior, the judge decided to bury Elena in an unmarked grave. Her location was to remain unknown to the creepy, controlling count.
After he left Key West defeated, he returned to his wife and daughter in Zephyrhills, Florida. It turns out that Carl Von Cosel was married with children the entire time. (Yes, to a real, live, breathing woman.) He’d left them to search for his soulmate, which he found in Elena Hoyos.
Although reporters wrote that Carl Von Cosel died alone in 1952, this is somewhat untrue. Morticians found him beside his life-size replica of Maria Elena Hoyos, a mannequin reproduction that featured a mask of Elena’s face.
When John Dorschner wrote the details of Von Cosel, he was met with remarkable contention. Mrs. C.S. Dickinson, writing from Miami, asked, “Didn’t John Dorschner have anything better to do than write his story about Con Von Cosel? Today, it seems even the dead body is no longer respected.”
Headlines like “A Key West Story of Necrophilic Love,” “Undying Love,” and “A Grave Affair” proliferated newspapers, immortalizing the infamous necrophile.
Those sensitive to spiritual energies claim that Elena Hoyos’ poltergeist haunts the funeral home of Bahama Lane. Let’s hope that they’re mistaken and that Elena Hoyos has finally found peace in her second grave.