Speed Reads


More than 100 jars of human brains are missing from the University of Texas

One hundred jars of human brains taken from the late patients of a mental hospital in Austin, have disappeared from the University of Texas at Austin.

The Atlantic reports that the brains, submerged in formalin, were kept in the campus' Animal Resources Center. The specimens date to the 1950s, when the Austin State Hospital (AHS) was known as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. The brains revealed various medical conditions in the hospital's patients, including burst blood vessels and brain malformations.

Dr. Coleman de Chenar, the hospital's resident pathologist from the 1950s until 1985, collected roughly 200 brain specimens from his patients. A 1986 Houston Chronicle story reports that six institutions, including Harvard, were interested in acquiring the brains, and the University of Texas eventually won the battle.

One of the missing brains is that of Charles Whitman, the 1960s "Texas Sniper," whose brain had a five-centimeter-long tumor. Tim Schallert, curator of the brain bank, realized that Whitman's wasn't the only missing specimen — when Schallert was asked to move the brains in the mid-1990s, he discovered the brains "had vanished."

Schallert told The Atlantic that the university "never found out" what happened to the missing brains. "They just disappeared," Schallert said. Dr. Jerry Fineg, former director of the Animal Resources Center, told The Atlantic that Schallert sent the brains back to the Austin State Hospital, but both Schallert and the hospital confirmed that AHS never received the specimens. The brains' whereabouts continues to be a mystery.

Update, Dec. 3: The University of Texas at San Antonio has stated that it possesses the missing brains, and they are safe and sound.