Missing: 100 human brains — in jars. Have you seen these brains? If you find a brain, please return it to the University of Texas at Austin.
That’s not the typical type of notice you’re likely to see plastered on telephone poles around your neighborhood, but nonetheless, the University of Texas is looking for help in locating about 100, count ’em, 100 brains sent to the school for safekeeping from the Austin State Hospital almost three decades ago.
In all, the mental hospital — which at one time went by the now very politically-incorrect name “Texas State Lunatic Asylum” — sent 200 brains, preserved in formaldehyde and floating in clear, glass jars, for permanent storage and study.
The university eagerly agreed to accept the brains but lacked the laboratory space to store them, so most were placed in the basement in the school’s Animal Resource Center, according to a story by Alex Hannaford in Atlantic Monthly.
In fact, the brains — many of which contained unusual physical deformities or belonged, in life, to mentally ill individuals — were a coveted prize back in the mid-1980s. According to Hannaford’s story, even the esteemed Harvard University was vying to win ownership of the brains, some of which were removed from deceased patients as far back as the 1950s.
The most famous brain in the batch belonged to one of the most notorious killers in American history — the “clock tower sniper” Charles Whitman.
On August 1, 1966, the 25-year-old Whitman, a former Marine sharpshooter, went on a single-day killing spree, first stabbing his own mother and his wife to death. Then, Whitman climbed to the top of a clock tower on the University of Texas campus with his sniper rifle, took up a perch there and opened fire, picking off students and pedestrians as they walked below.
In all, Whitman murdered 18 people, 16 of them from the clock tower, wounding 32 more before police shot and killed him, in what at the time was the worst single-day mass shooting in U.S. history. Since then, four mass shootings have surpassed it.
Whitman suffered from severe headaches and uncontrollable rages and suspected something was wrong with his brain. In a will, of sorts, he requested that after his death his brain be removed and examined for abnormalities.
And indeed, medical examiners found a tumor about the size of an almond deep in the center of Whitman’s brain.
But now, Whitman’s brain is among the 100 brains that have simply vanished. Faculty members at the university suspect that the brains may have been pilfered over the years by students for use in Halloween pranks or as bizarre dorm-room decorations. But that is only one theory and there is no evidence and no suspect.
“It’s a mystery worthy of a hard-boiled detective novel,” writes Hannaford. “100 brains missing from campus, and apparently no one really knows what happened to them.”
[Brain In Jar Images From Malformed by Adam Voorhees]