Texas Brain Teaser Solved After Statewide Search

PHOTO: One of the brain specimens from the collection at University of Texas Austin is shown here.Courtesy Adam Voorhes
One of the brain specimens from the collection at University of Texas Austin is shown here.

The mystery of what happened to 100 missing brains from a Texas university was solved today when officials determined that the brains being sought had been destroyed over a decade ago.

As many as 60 jars of brains were disposed in 2002 as biological waste, according to a statement from University of Texas Austin. Many of the jars had more than one brain, an official said.

University officials said the brains were destroyed because they were too damaged to use for study or research.

The announcement ended a state-wide search for the missing specimens after a new book, “Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital,” from photographer Adam Voorhees and journalist Alex Hannaford, drew attention to a collection of brains at the University of Texas Austin.

The book said that the collection originally consisted of 200 brains, but 100 brains had disappeared over the years.

Co-curators of the collection professors Tim Schallert and Lawrence Cormack told the the Austin American-Statesman. they think one or many people may have taken the brains as ghoulish decorations.

"It's entirely possible word got around among undergraduates and people started swiping them for living rooms or Halloween pranks," Cormack told the Austin American-Statesman.

Calls went out to area research facilities on rumors that they had the brains. The University of Texas San Antonio said they didn't have the brains and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio said their brain bank did not include the missing specimens.

UT Austin ended the mystery today by determining the specimens had long been destroyed.

“This was done in coordination with faculty members who determined that the specimens had been in poor condition when the university received them in the 1980s and were not suitable for research or teaching,” read the partial statement about the brains’ disposal.

About 100 brain specimens from the same donation are still being used for teaching and research purposes.

PHOTO: Officials at University of Texas Austin are investigating if the brains were taken or transferred to another school.Courtesy Adam Voorhes
Officials at University of Texas Austin are investigating if the brains were taken or transferred to another school.

The brains had been donated in 1986 by the Austin State Hospital, which treated medical patients. The brains were taken from deceased patients during routine autopsies over decades, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which runs the hospital.

UT Austin was given "temporary permission" to use the brains for research and teaching purposes under the 1986 agreement.

The new book also mentions rumors that the brain of notorious Texas Tower gunman Charles Whitman could have been among the collection. Whitman killed 16 people from a clock tower at UT Austin in 1966 before he was shot and killed by police.

PHOTO: Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, seen in this 1966 file photo, killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966.AP Photo
Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, seen in this 1966 file photo, killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966.

UT Austin officials said today they "have no evidence at this time that any of the brain specimens came from Charles Whitman, though we will continue to investigate those reports."