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Missing human brains spur Texas confusion

Missing human brains spur Texas confusion


You could say some minds... wandered.

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Like all mysteries, this one comes with a few twists. About 100 human brains that went missing at the University of Texas in Austin have been destroyed, the university says.

"A preliminary university investigation has revealed that UT environmental health and safety officials disposed of multiple brain specimens in approximately 2002 in accordance with protocols concerning biological waste," the university said in a statement. But the statement didn't come until after UT Austin professor Timothy Schallert told the Los Angeles Times that he had received a call from colleagues at UT San Antonio, reporting that they had the missing brains.

"I don't buy it."Let's back up. The organs are part of a collection that was transferred from the Austin State Hospital 28 years ago, which was owned by pathologist Dr. Coleman de Chenar, who apparently acquired the brains from patients in the psychiatric hospital. By the time he died in 1985, the doctor had amassed around 200 specimens. Previous reports have said the collection included the brain of 25-year-old Charles Whitman, otherwise known as the Texas Bell Tower Sniper. UT officials dispute that claim, saying there's no evidence Whitman's brain was ever received.

This week, a new book called Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital by Adam Voorhes and Alex Hannaford re-energized the story of the absentee organs. The brains had been collected from mental patients starting as early as the 1950s, and had been preserved in formaldehyde in glass jars. The university said 40 to 60 glass jars had been destroyed, and that multiple brains had been found in some jars, a claim that Hannaford told The New York Times he didn't believe..

"I don’t buy it," Hannaford said. "These jars were designed to hold one brain, and I find it hard to believe that if 40 jars were disposed of, that accounted for all the brains." UT Austin said it would continue its investigation.

Update December 4th, 8:00PM: Story updated with UT Austin's statement that the brains were destroyed.