The University of Texas reports that some of its brains are missing.
About 100 brain specimens are missing, to be more exact, possibly swiped by students over the years from a brain collection stored in formaldehyde.
The brains, used as a teaching tool, belonged to all sorts of people, according to the Austin-American Statesman, most of whom are unknown. One of the known brains, the paper reported, probably belonged to Charles Whitman, the sniper who climbed the 307-foot Texas clock tower in Austin in 1966 and unleashed a barrage of gunfire, taking the lives of 16 people and injuring many others.
Whitman, according to an article by Alex Hannaford in the Atlantic, requested an autopsy in a note he left behind, saying he wanted his brain examined for signs of mental illness.
“We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure,” Tim Schallert, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, told the paper. Lawrence Cormack, a psychology professor who is the curator of the collection, told the paper students may have been swiping the brains for years “for living rooms or Halloween pranks.”
The brains, preserved in jars, were among 200 that originally belonged to the Austin State Hospital, which transferred them to the university about 28 years ago, the paper said. Originally called the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, according to Hannaford, the brains came from patients dating back to the 1950s.
Hannaford and photographer Adam Voorhees have been researching the origin of the brain collection — and what the brains might tell us about the patients from whom they were taken in autopsies — and have published a book called “Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital.” Some of Voorhees’ photographs of them can be viewed here.
The university only had lab room for some 200 of the specimens. The others were stored in the basement of the university’s Animal Resources Center, the AP said. “They are no longer in the basement,” Cormack told AP.
In a statement reported by the AP, the university said it will investigate “the circumstances surrounding this collection since it came here nearly 30 years ago” and that it’s “committed to treating the brain specimens with respect.”