The University of Texas is reportedly missing 100 human brains. Officials said the missing brains account for half of the university’s collection, which was donated by the Austin State Hospital in 1987.
It is unclear how long the specimens have been missing. However, Professor Lawrence Cormack, who is co-curator of the bizarre collection, believes they have slowly disappeared through the years. Cormack said the missing brains were likely stolen by students, who are using them as decorations “or Halloween pranks.”
As reported by the Atlantic, the brains were collected from patients of the former Texas State Lunatic Asylum. Each specimen is preserved inside a glass jar filled with formaldehyde. A majority of the jars are labeled with the patient’s diagnosis, their date of death, and a reference number.
The brains were originally collected by Dr. Coleman de Chenar, a pathologist with the state hospital. According to hospital records, de Chenar harvested the brains during routine autopsies. Between 1950 and 1985 the pathologist gathered an estimated 200 brains, which were stored in his lab.
Although several universities, including Harvard, expressed interest in the collection, it was eventually bequeathed to the University of Texas. The specimens have remained in the university’s Animal Resources Center for nearly 28 years.
Unfortunately, the University of Texas has discovered 100 brains are missing from the collection. In an attempt to preserve confidentiality, the specimens are not labeled with the patients’ names. However, curators believe one of the brains belonged to Texas Bell Tower Sniper Charles Whitman.
On August 1, 1966, Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower with several loaded guns. He then proceeded to open fire, killing 16 and wounding 32 others. The rampage ended when Whitman was shot and killed by local authorities.
As Dr. Coleman de Chenar performed the autopsy, Whitman’s brain was part of the original collection. Unfortunately, it appears to have vanished with the other missing brains.
Although the location of the specimens remains unknown, there is speculation that they were either sold or given away.
In the 1990s, former Animal Resources Center Director Dr. Jerry Fineg noted that the brains “were taking up much-needed shelf space.” He reportedly asked the collection’s curator, Tim Schallert, to “move half of the jars elsewhere.”
Schallert insists that the specimens vanished before he had a chance to move them. In a recent interview, Schallert confirmed that he “never found out exactly what happened—whether they were just given away, sold or whatever—but they just disappeared.”
Officials at the University of Texas may never find the missing brains. Unfortunately, their eventual fate will likely remain a mystery.
[Image via Cassandra Parkin]