New Documentary Will Tell the Story of Carl Von Cosel, Mad Scientist, Hopeless Romantic, and Corpse Reanimator

Ronni Thomas
Ronni Thomas / Ronni Thomas

The story of mad scientist Carl Von Cosel is truly stranger than fiction. In the 1930s, the eccentric Florida radiologist stole the corpse of Elena de Hoyos, a former patient with whom he’d fallen in love, and, after preserving her body with wax, wires, and lots of perfume, lived as her “husband” for seven years. But Von Cosel was more than a lunatic grave robber, and his elopement with a corpse was just the beginning of his incredibly strange saga—at least according to filmmaker Ronni Thomas.

Thomas, the filmmaker-in-residence at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, will be exploring the bizarre story of Carl Von Cosel in the upcoming documentary No Place For The Living: The Mad Story of Carl Von Cosel. Teaming up with puppeteer Robin Frohardt and visual effects expert Shane Morton, Thomas hopes to bring Von Cosel’s story to life in a way that goes beyond sensationalism, capturing the full scope of the mad scientist’s multi-dimensional story.

Elena de Hoyos

Simultaneously a bizarre true crime story, a surreal melodrama, and a psychiatric case study, the documentary will not only re-tell the tale of Carl and Elena, but incorporate the analyses of writers, historians, and psychiatrists to help make sense of the story.

“I’m casting a wide net in terms of my panel of experts to gain perspective on the historical account,” Thomas tells mental_floss. “I’ll talk to Harold Schechter (a notable true crime author) about the fact that while necro-criminals like Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy are household names, Cosel is doomed to historical oddity. Mitch Horowitz and other occult experts can weigh in on this particular moment in time when the occult, in the 1930s, was having sort of a heyday renaissance and how that might have affected Cosel’s delusional state. Morticians can speak to both the impractical reconstruction of Elena, and at the same time, talk about ethics … The funeral home, unaware of what to do with Elena’s body, put her on display!”

Von Cosel, who was discovered with Elena's body in 1940, quickly arrested, and just as quickly released, was convinced he could communicate with the spirit of his corpse bride. For years, he tried to reunite this spirit with Elena's body, blending science, alchemy, and spiritualism in his attempts to bring his beloved back to life. When Von Cosel was arrested, and the details of his “relationship” with Elena came to light, many members of the public—including in his own community of Key West—took his side, interpreting his story as a tragic romance and seeing him not as an insane criminal, but more of an endearingly love-struck, if bumbling, Dr. Frankenstein.

No Place For The Living will explore the surprising amount of public support he received. “To me this story (or at least my film) is about the inner workings of the human mind and its capacity to deceive us,” Thomas explains. “Cosel was a delusional character which, in my uneducated opinion, links him to all of us. Most Western humans live in a sense of delusion but don’t venture out too far to the extreme. Cosel went full speed toward extreme and kept on going, but he was seemingly sane. So the question becomes; how can a sane person kidnap the body of a woman and use it as both a mad scientist experiment ... and a housewife?

“I’m a fan of the strange and unusual, since I was able to form my first thoughts,” Thomas says. “And this story, the deeper I dug, was many-layered in thick billows of ‘weird.'"

Thomas is currently raising funds for the production of No Place For The Living: The Mad Story of Carl Von Cosel on Kickstarter. Check out his Kickstarter page to support the film, and for more information on the fascinating true story of Carl Von Cosel.

All Photos courtesy of Ronni Thomas