The University of Texas at Austin is missing about 100 brains — about half of the specimens the university had in a collection of brains preserved in jars of formaldehyde. One of the missing brains is believed to have belonged to clock tower sniper Charles Whitman. The Austin State Hospital had transferred the brains to the university about 28 years ago under a “temporary possession” agreement. Professor Tim Schallert, co-curator of the collection, said his psychology lab had room for only 100 brains, so the rest were moved to the basement of the university’s Animal Resources Center.
We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure…They are no longer in the basement.
Professor Tim Schallert
The university said in a statement that 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.” It says the remaining brain specimens on campus are used “as a teaching tool and carefully curated by faculty.” The university’s agreement with the hospital required the school to remove any data that might identify the person from whom the brain came. However, Schallert said Whitman’s brain likely was part of the collection. The 100 remaining brains at the school have been moved to the Norman Hackerman Building, where they are being scanned with high-resolution resonance imaging equipment.
It’s entirely possible word got around among undergraduates and people started swiping them for living rooms or Halloween pranks.
Psychology Professor Lawrence Cormack, co-curator of the collection