About 100 brains missing from University of Texas – USA TODAY
The University of Texas at Austin has lost track of about 100 jars of brains, possibly including that of Charles Whitman, the ex-Marine sniper who killed and wounded dozens of people from a campus clock tower nearly 50 years ago, according to school officials and local media.
The university’s Animal Resources Center originally received the missing organs in 1986 from the Austin State Hospital, formerly known as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, under a “temporary possession” agreement.
The specimens, originally assembled by Dr. Coleman de Chenar, a resident pathologist at ASH, were to be used by UT as a teaching tool in its psychology lab.
The missing organs, which represent about half of the university’s collection, had been stored in jars of formaldehyde in a basement because the lab did not have enough room for all of them, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Psychology professor Lawrence Cormack, co-curator of the collection, says the specimens may have been removed over the years as a prank.
“It’s entirely possible word got around among undergraduates and people started swiping them for living rooms or Halloween pranks,” he told the newspaper.
It is not entirely clear whether the missing organs include the brains of 25-year-old Whitman, who killed 16 people, including his mother and wife, before he was fatally shot by police in 1966.
All identifying data was removed from the specimens when the center took them in, the newspaper reported.
“It would make sense it would be in this group. We can’t find that brain,” Tim Schallert, a neuroscientist at UT and the collection’s co-curator, told the American-Statesman.
In a written note before his shooting rampage, Whitman complained of his”many unusual and irrational thoughts” and “violent impulses.”
He said he hoped that there would be an autopsy on his body “to see if there is any visible physical disorder.”
The autopsy, performed by pathologist de Chenar from the Austin State Hospital, showed that he had a small brain tumor. A state commission report later found that “the highly malignant brain tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions.”
Co-curator Schallert tells The Atlantic that the jars were supposed to be returned to ASH in the mid 1990s when the university found it did not have enough room to keep them.
Jerry Fineg, the center’s then-director, tells the magazine that he believes the organs were sent back to the hospital, but a spokesman for ASH tells The Atlantic that the last they saw of the specimens was when they were originally shipped out.
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.”
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, Cormack said.
“These MRI images will be both useful teaching and research tools. It keeps the brains intact,” he told the newspaper.
Contributing: Associated Press