Popular Library, Frankenstein Horror Series, 1972.
Washwoman Mattie Bell is taking a short cut home along Poor House Lane when she sees the horror in the burial ground. For days she’s been having terrifying nightmares about the place and has avoided taking this route, but with storm clouds banking, threatening rain, she’d taken the lane beside the old Spanish cemetery and now sees the thing in muddy rags rising from a grave and staggering towards her.
Mattie has second sight; her dreams come true. Recently her dreams have been about a beautiful young girl who is dying. And when the girl dies, Mattie knows that the horrible thing that she saw will come to fetch her.
Dr Karl von Cosel has his laboratory at Butchers Pens, in the ruined slughterhouses there. He too is waiting for the young girl to die – but only so that he can bring her back to life! Her name is Elena Milagro Hoyos, and they were lovers before they ever met in the flesh. And he knows that he can give her life again, because he’s done that before, when he’d raised his assistant Otto Kraus from the dead so that he could continue to serve him. Otto Kraus is a more sympathetic assistant than the usual deformed mad-scientist’s assistant: in a flashback sequence we are taken back to their time together at University, and after that, to von Cosel’s engineering Kraus’s employment as his tutor.
Utterly soaked in atmosphere, the most astonishing thing about this book is that its based on fact!
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 girl thingy 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.
An interesting postscript is that when the story initially broke in the Key West community the citizens thought the doctor's amorous post-mortem activites as not being gross or obscene but rather very romantic. Many felt sorry for the gentleman and were essentially willing to accept his mourning and grief and thought the event should just pass. It wasn't until the law got inolved and started to squirm for a legal violation and revealed more of the sexual details did public opinion shift. In fact, there was no law on the books in Key West (or most other places in those days) making sex with a corpse illegal. A lesser crime, grave robbing (a theft of property crime), was conjured up, was well past the statute of limitations.
For those of you readers looking for labels and meaning to what he did you should remember that his true obsession was not necrophilia but rather his love for the young girl. He performed an act of necrophilia which is really more toward the term, necrochlesis (sex with a corpse), rather than the obsessive paraphilia. He was not obsessed with having sex with the dead.
And remember you can read all about the author of this book in Justin's interview with him in the current issue of Paperback Fanatic. For a copy, contact justinATjustincultprint.free-online.co.uk (replacing AT with @ of course)