A Phoenix, Arizona woman named Anita Braxton was recently arrested after authorities found her living with a three-day-old corpse.
Police investigated after witnesses told them they suspected that Braxton was keeping a dead body in her apartment.
I’m not above glancing in my neighbor’s window, but usually I’m wondering exactly how many hours of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" a human can actually watch without sustaining permanent damage, not “Hey, is that person dead?”
When questioned, Braxton said that she killed the woman with a shot to the head for “not believing in her God.” She was keeping the woman wrapped in a towel on the sofa as “a shrine from God.”
This case is horrific, disturbing and sad. Not just for the victim, for whom friends and family recently held a vigil, but because of Braxton’s history of mental illness. Even the victim’s mourners offered up prayers on behalf of Braxton.
As disturbing as this case is, however, it's not entirely unique. Believe it or not, there have been multiple cases of individuals living with the dead for days, months or even years.
While reading about these cases, it's easy to get swept up in the creepy or gory nature. But try to keep in mind the heart of the matter as well -- when confronted with death, something happens in some people’s brains that makes them behave in a manner that is deluded, outside the realm of reality and just sad.
Here are five more examples of people living with corpses:
1. Timothy Brown
In October of 2014, Timothy Brown of Stafford, England, was found to be living with his deceased father. His father had been dead for approximately four months.
Police were called in when a neighbor visited the Brown home and saw the remains of Timothy’s father, Kenneth, propped up in a chair and dressed in his pajamas. According to the neighbor, Kenneth’s skull was visible. Authorities discovered that Kenneth had died from the effects of a fire in June.
After the fire, suffering from what appears to be a break from the reality, Timothy had dragged his father to his “favourite chair in the living room” where he seems to have finally died by the next day.
Unable to accept his father’s death, Timothy had gone on with daily life alongside his father’s decaying body.
Said Detective Constable Andrew Weatherley of Staffordshire constabulary, “He couldn’t come to terms with the fact his father had passed away. The pair had led a reclusive life together and were very close.”
Regarding Timothy’s strange behavior, Weatherly goes on to say, “He realized he should have reported the death but couldn’t bring himself to do it. There was no obvious motive for him to cause the death of his father, and it was decided he should not face criminal charges. At the end of the day, he had lost his father.”
He had lost his father. Through all the morbid details, that’s the heartbreakingly human element of cases such as these. We may not agree with what Timothy did, but perhaps we can offer him sympathy.
2. Claudio Alferi
The case of Claudio Alferi is pretty simple and straightforward -- well, as far as “simple and straightforward” as living with the dead gets.
In January of 2014, police investigated the home Claudio Alferi and his mother in Buenos Aires after neighbors complained of a “strange smell” coming from the premises.
Upon entering the apartment, they found 58-year-old Claudio’s body on the floor of the apartment’s kitchen. He appeared to have been dead for about one month. (Some sources say his body was actually “flopped over a chair” at the kitchen table.)
But the discovery of Claudio, though unfortunate -- especially considering neighbors remarked that Claudio might have suffered from “psychological problems” -- was not the strangest part of this case. That had to do with the body.
When police discovered Claudio’s body in the kitchen, they found his mother’s approximately 10-year-old mummified body sitting next to her son at the kitchen table. Having been “lovingly” covered with plastic bags, Claudio’s mother, Margarita Aimar de Alferi, still wore her slippers and seems to have dried out over time. She was about 80 when she died.
Neighbors claimed that Claudio was troubled and never told anybody that his mother had died. When asked, he would say his mother was “fine and happy inside the house.” Considering how his mother was placed at the table and “cared” for, I wonder if Claudio actually believed his mother was “fine and happy”?
Authorities suspect no foul play concerning Claudio or his mother’s death, though some speculated that part of the reason Claudio kept his mother’s corpse had to do with an inheritance issue.
It’s cases like Claudio Alferi’s that seem to reveal a little bit of what daily life with the dead might be like. His mother was not hidden away; she appeared to be a beloved and central part of Claudio’s life. Did he dine with her? Talk with her? Was she a comfort to him?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m NOT ADVOCATING LIVING WITH A CORPSE. I’m just curious about what “normal,” daily life is like for someone like Claudio Alferi?
Maybe I’m a sucker for a macabre sob story, but his actions don’t seem like those of a man who is just in it for an inheritance.
3. Christopher Blackburn
Of course, not all people who choose to live with the dead deserve our sympathies.
Christopher Blackburn, who lived in his home in Lancashire with the body of his dead father for almost five months. In those five months, Christopher collected his father’s benefit payments, using them on such purchases as “a laptop, pairs of trainers and alcohol.”
Police entered the Blackburn home in March of 2011 when “neighbors raised concerns.” They found 54-year-old Guy Blackburn’s body on a couch in the living room. It is believed he died from natural causes.
It seems Christopher knew exactly what he was doing. According to authorities, he pretended that his father was alive and well for months. Upon the discovery of his father’s body, Christopher even lied and said that “he had been dead for only days.”
Two issues with that lie:
1. There is a significant difference between a “few days old” corpse and a FIVE-MONTH-OLD CORPSE.
2. Is hiding a corpse for “just a few days” really much less suspicious than hiding one for a few months?
To make matters worse, Christopher had a daughter, who was 10 at the time, and had no idea about her grandfather's death. When she asked where her grandfather was, Christopher told her “he was asleep in his room.” To be clear, he had his young daughter unknowingly sharing a home with a decaying corpse.
In March of 2012, Christopher Blackburn was sentenced to three years in prison for “preventing the lawful and decent burial of a dead body, and for the theft of £1,869 from the Department of Work and Pensions in fraudulently obtained benefit payments.”
If it’s possible, (and I think it is) Christopher Blackburn gives people living with the dead a bad reputation.
4. Margaret Bernstorff
If living with a dead body for three days or four months seems unfathomable, what about 30 years?
In 2008 an Evanston, Illinois woman was discovered to be living with her three siblings -- all deceased.
Well-liked and a fixture in her neighborhood since the 1920s, 94-year-old Margaret Bernstorff had been keeping a secret from her neighbors. Though she often interacted with members of the community -- sharing plants from her garden with neighbors, accepting groceries, even attending block parties -- nobody was allowed in Margaret’s house.
Most just assumed she was reclusive, intensely private or embarrassed of her messy, hoarder-like living conditions.
When people asked her about her siblings, Margaret told them her sister Anita was “upstairs, not feeling well,” or that her brother Frank had moved to Indiana. She never mentioned her sister Elaine, and the community didn’t press the matter.
Community member Gianna Panofsky told the Chicago Tribune, “They were private people, and we wanted to respect their privacy. They didn't belong to society; they belonged to each other, and that's it.”
However, the reasons behind Margaret’s private ways were revealed when an Evanston “community health division manager” contacted police after being allowed in the Bernstorff home. Upon entering the home, police found the bodies of Elaine, Frank and Anita.
According to authorities, the siblings died of “natural causes”-- no “foul play” or Social Security fraud was suspected.
“Elaine Bernstorff died in her 60s in the late 1970s; Frank Bernstorff died at 83 in 2003; and Anita Bernstorff, 98, died in May [of 2008],” they said.
The siblings were found throughout the house -- “some were covered with blankets,” all in a skeletal state.
Margaret was removed from her home and placed under care in a nursing home, but she revealed little to no information regarding her actions. Many speculated that Margaret, like other senior citizens, feared losing her independence, having the life she’d known for so long taken away.
While the overwhelming reaction from the community was one of sorrow and concern, a small number have wondered if Margaret was only carrying on some sort of sibling tradition of sticking together, death be damned? After all, there was quite a gap of time between the death of each sibling. In theory, Margaret would have been only one of three siblings to live with the dead.
I don’t know about you, but that last realization adds an extra layer of sad and strange to this case.
5. Carl Tanzler
Then there’s Carl Tanzler, maybe the mayor of Morbid Town.
Carl Tanzler (or "Count Carl von Cosel," as he dubbed himself later in life -- he was not a count) would do anything for love. And yes, he did just that.
By “that,” I mean living in “marital bliss” for seven years with the corpse of a young woman who wanted little to do with him in life. While many of the cases mentioned here involve a break in reality on the part of the living, one wonders if Carl Tanzler ever really had a clear sense of reality.
In 1930, Carl Tanzler’s life changed forever when he met 21-year-old Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a young Cuban-American woman. Though the 50-something-year-old Tanzler was simply an X-ray technician at the hospital where she sought treatment for tuberculosis, he made it his mission to cure her. Like being a “count,” Tanzler also claimed several unsubstantiated degrees and medical qualifications from his German birthplace.
Sadly, Elena died in October of 1931, after Tanzler had spent the last months of her life obsessively declaring his love for her, showering her with gifts and trying to save her with “diagnostic X-ray equipment” and “curative concoctions.”
Tanzler spent the next year and a half visiting Elena’s mausoleum every night. In 1933, he claimed that Elena’s spirit “begged” him to take her body with him, so he packed up her corpse in his toy wagon and carted her back to his home.
It should be noted that Tanzler was no stranger to “visions” and said that he had seen visions of his “one true love” as a child. You guessed it -- his one true love looked just like Elena.
For the next seven years, Tanzler lived happily with his “wife.” Over time, suspicions grew about Tanzler. Why the sudden absence from the cemetery? Why was he buying women’s clothing and beauty products? Why was he dancing around with a life-sized doll in his window?
Finally, Elena’s sister confronted him in 1940. Tanzler showed her into his and Elena’s home, where her sister was met with what she thought was a doll of her sister in Tanzler’s bed. But when he police investigated further, they made a horrifying discovery: That was no doll, that was Elena in the flesh -- or what was left of her flesh.
Over the years, Tanzler had “restored” Elena’s body with wire, stuffed her with rags and covered her decaying skin with plaster and wax. Her eyes were glass and Tanzler had -- prepare yourself -- “repaired” her vagina with a paper tube. It was never confirmed, but there is speculation that Tanzler consummated his “marriage” to Elena.
Tanzler went to trial for “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization,” but was not convicted because “the statute of limitations on his crimes had expired.” It should be noted that during the trial, Tanzler claimed his intentions were to use an “airship” to take Elena into the stratosphere so “radiation from outer space” could restore her to life. Like you do.
Elena’s body was buried in an unmarked grave (after Tanzler asked for it back), and Tanzler quietly lived out the rest of his life in Pasco County, Florida, supported by his estranged wife (yes, someone had purposely married him). He was found dead in 1952 supposedly clutching a doll he’d made in Elena’s likeness.
These are just six cases of “the living choosing to live with the dead.” Do a quick Google search, and I promise you will find a long, dark rabbit hole to fall down. Cases range from bizarre, to traumatic, to the downright terrifying. If there is such a thing, I’ve presented a few of the more “tame” occurrences.
But just remember: for every Christopher Blackburn or Carl Tanzler, there is a Margaret Bernstorff or a Timothy Brown. For some people, living with the dead is the only way they know how to keep on living.