Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


A Macabre Love Story

Some people who work in the medical and funeral industries get so used to death and bodies that becoming attracted to one takes fewer cognitive leaps. To conclude our examination of this unusual paraphilia, we'll look at a story that shows just how persistent sexual attraction can be.

It happened in 1931 in Key West, Florida. Radiologist Carl von Cosel, 56, became obsessed with one of the tuberculosis patients at the sanitarium where he worked. Her name was Maria Elena de Hoyos and she was a beautiful, 22-year-old woman. Von Cosel hoped to marry her, but before she could respond to his attentions, she weakened and died. He begged the family not to bury her. Fearing contamination of her body from groundwater, he built a mausoleum for her in the nearby cemetery and preserved her in formaldehyde. There in secret he would sit and have "conversations" with her. He even left a phone in the mausoleum so he could speak to her while away. This man was clearly obsessed. One day he just decided to illegally remove her corpse and take her to his home.

To keep her in good shape, von Cosel brought in a regular supply of preservatives and perfumes, but Maria Elena's corpse eventually began to deteriorate. Using piano wire to string her bones together, von Cosel replaced her rotted eyes with glass eyes and her decomposed skin with a mixture of wax and silk. As her hair fell out, he used it to make a wig to put on her head. Stuffing her corpse with rags to keep her from collapsing and dressing her in a bridal gown, he kept her by his side in bed. Dr. Michael Baden pointed out on HBO's Autopsy that the man even inserted a tube into her decrepit corpse to serve as a vagina for making love. He also played a small organ to her as she "slept."

He got away with this for seven years until de Hoyos' sister accidentally came upon her in von Cosel's home. Horrified, she called the police.

Von Cosel was arrested, but the statute of limitations had run out on his crime of grave robbing, so he was set free. Maria Elena was buried in a secret unmarked area and von Cosel moved to central Florida, where he sold postcards of his beloved. Even when she was taken from him, he couldn't forget her. When he eventually died in 1952, he was found in a room with a large doll in his arms that was wearing Elena's death mask.

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