100 Brains Go Missing at University of Texas

It's a mystery ...
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2014 6:23 AM CST
100 Brains Go Missing at University of Texas
A stock image of brains in a jar.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The University of Texas at Austin has a macabre mystery on its hands: It's missing brains, about a hundred of them—potentially among them one belonging to clock tower sniper Charles Whitman. The brains were those of patients at the Austin State Hospital, formerly the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. They date back to the 1950s, and 28 years ago, after a battle with Harvard for them, they were handed to the university under a "temporary possession" agreement. Psychology professor Tim Schallert, the collection's co-curator, only had room in his lab for 100 of the specimens, which were kept in jars of formaldehyde. The rest were stored in the basement of the university's Animal Resources Center, reports the AP. Except they're no longer there. The university has vowed to investigate, and Schallert's co-curator speculates they may have been swiped by undergrads "for living rooms or Halloween pranks."

As part of the brain transfer, identifying information was removed; the Atlantic reports the jars bear an ID number, whatever disease or disorder the patient experienced (in Latin), and the date of death. But any corresponding state hospital records no longer exist. Still, NPR reports that the identity of one brain may be known: that of Whitman, who in 1966 went on a rampage from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower; he ultimately killed 16 people before being shot and killed. Whitman left behind a note asking that his brain be left to science and examined by a pathologist. The pathologist who did so (and spotted a 5-centimeter-long tumor) was Coleman de Chenar, the doctor who originally amassed the collection. "It would make sense it would be in this group," says Schallert. "We can't find that brain." (More brain stories.)

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