Some of the more famous gravesites in the Key West Cemetery
Elena Milagro Hoyos
One of the most notorious events to ever take place involving the Key West Cemetery is a disturbing story of a German radiologist Karl Tanzler (a.k.a. Count Karl Von Cosel) who worked at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West and had a morbid obsession for a young Cuban-American girl named Elena Milagro Hoyos.
Elena Milagro Hoyos was born July 31, 1909 to a local cigar maker. When Elena was diagnosed with tuberculosis she was taken to the hospital for examination where Tanzler thought he recognized her as the beautiful dark-haired woman revealed to him in his "visions”. This sparked his obsession so he attempted to treat and cure her with medicines and x-ray equipment that he brought to the family’s home. Tanzler cared for Elena until her death on October 25, 1931 at the age of 22 years. He even paid for her stone mausoleum which he equipped with a telephone so he could communicate with her.
Tanzler would visit Elena’s tomb daily until April 1933, almost two years after her death, Tanzler then stole Elena’s corpse and carted it through the cemetery on a toy wagon to an old airplane fuselage located behind the Marine hospital. Here he built a make-shift laboratory and began restoring her by wiring her bones together with piano wire and using mortician’s wax and plaster of Paris to reconstruct her features, even inserting glass eyes.
Upon learning the old airplane was to be removed by the hospital, Tanzler relocated Elena’s corpse to his home on Flagler Street where he maintained a laboratory located near the end of Flagler Avenue. Tanzler had reconstructed many of her body parts including her vagina in which he inserted a tube that permitted him to have sexual intercourse with her. He even dressed Elena in a wedding gown and began sleeping with her as his bride.
Not seeing Tanzler visit Elena’s tomb for several years, Elena’s sister became suspicious notifying authorities to search the mausoleum only to find it was empty. She suspected it was Tanzler who had stolen her sister’s body so she went to his home confronting him. Much to her surprise he invited her in and showed her Elena’s mummified body which was lying on the bed. The local police were notified and Tanzler was arrested and detained for "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization”. Tanzler was found mentally competent to stand trial, but the case was dismissed in October 1940 as the statute of limitations had expired.
Elena Hoyos’ body was put on display at Lopez Funeral Home where she was eventually returned to the Key West Cemetery, however buried in an undisclosed location to prevent further tampering.
Manuel Cabeza fought in the World War I and then settled in Key West. He was said to fear no one and was deeply in love with a well-known mulatto girlfriend named Angela. In those days a white man could have a black mistress unless it was kept strictly a hidden affair.
Cabeza, known as El Isleno ("the Islander") was tarred and feathered by the Ku Klux Klan for having a relationship with a mulatto woman (defined as a person having one white and one black parent). On Christmas Eve 1921, Cabeza shot and killed one of his offenders on Duval Street in retaliation. The following day, a posse removed Cabeza from the jail only to lynch and then shoot him.
Angela, being a practitioner of voodoo, performed some chants and prayers following the brutal murder of Manuel and it is said that every single Klan member involved died a horrific death shortly thereafter.
Abraham Lincoln Sawyer
The midget “General” Abraham Lincoln Sawyer (1862-1939) who although stood approximately 41 inches tall and weighed 58 pounds had requested burial in the grave of a full-sized man. Dwarfism occurs when an individual is shorter than 4 feet 8 inches tall as a result of problems that arise in the pituitary gland in which the growth of the individual is very slowed or delayed.
Sawyer always carried a short walking stick, top hat and smoked black cigars. He was known for his love of the ladies who often would let him hold their hands. The street, Sawyer Lane, however, was not named after General Abe Sawyer but rather Benjamin Sawyer who was the mayor of Key West from 1844–1846.
Sawyer sold shoes for Fraddock-Terry Company at the Jamestown Exposition. “The Smallest Man in the South” advertising for “the Largest Shoe Manufacturers of the South”, he appeared to be quite successful as a businessman and speaker, always looking for a chance to speak in front of the crowd. Eventually he would become a preacher.
Dwarfism runs in the family as according to the Lewiston Evening Journal printed on Thursday, April 4, 1895 under a section called “News of The Passing Day”, General Abe Sawyer has a cousin named Miss Isabella Pinder of Spanish Wells from the Bahama Islands and she is said to be of perfect physical development and is considered to be the smallest living person in the world standing at only 36 inches tall and weighing less than 50 pounds at the time of the printing.
John Wallace Mitchell
Originally from New Bedford, Massachusetts, John Wallace Mitchell (1885-1929) came to Key West to help construct the Overseas Railroad. The Mitchell family vault features many gables and archways and John, wife Edna, and two sons, Wallace Herttell and Glenn Osgood, are all buried within the walls of the brick mausoleum.
Austin and Tina Griffin
Born in the Bahamas, Austin and Tina Griffin emigrated to Key West and were married in 1886. Austin shot his wife Tina at the breakfast table and then took his own life with carbolic acid on October 16, 1907. Mrs. Griffin was separated from her husband and refused to leave the home demanding some of the property.
John H. Sawyer
Captain John H. Sawyer was born in Mystic Connecticut but died in Key West in September 1843 at the age of 41. His grave is one of the oldest in the Key West Cemetery and was moved from its original location on the coastal sand dunes of Whitehead Point near present day Higgs Beach, along with his brother James Sawyer.
James Sawyer was born in Mystic Connecticut but died in Key West in November 1829 at the age of 32. His grave is one of the oldest in the Key West Cemetery and was moved from its original location on Whitehead Point along with his brother Capt. John Sawyer. The inscription reads, “Almighty God! His might is just that earthly frames should turn to dust, but O the quiet consoling truth the soul shall bloom in endless youth”.
Cornelius Bradford and Wilhelmina G. Harvey
The Harvey Family Plot is the final resting place of Wilhelmina G. Harvey (1912-2005) and Cornelius Bradford (C.B.) Harvey (1908-1988). Both served as elected public officials for Monroe County and the City of Key West.
Wilhelmina G. Harvey was a graduate of the Convent of Mary Immaculate and served as the first woman juror in Monroe County. She was also a local elected official to the School Board and the Monroe County Commission. Her grave gives her the honorary title “Admiral, Conch Republic Navy.”
Cornelius Bradford (C.B.) Harvey served as mayor of Key West for two terms. Mayor Harvey served his first term as Mayor from 1951 to 1957. He served a second term from 1961 to 1963. After his death, C.B. Harvey had a Rest Beach and Park named in his honor for his years of dedication and service to the community of Key West and Monroe County.