US & Canada

'Missing' brains at Texas university were destroyed

Preserved brains seen in London, England, on 27 March 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The brains were preserved in jars, like these ones on display in London

Most of the 100 brains reported missing from a collection stored at a Texas university were destroyed by health officials in 2002.

The specimens, housed at the University of Texas, Austin, were disposed of, not stolen as previously thought, the university said in a statment.

Initially they were said to include sniper Charles Whitman's brain and students were blamed for the "theft".

But the formaldehyde-filled jars were actually disposed of some time ago.

They were in poor condition and not suitable for research, officials said.

"We believe the workers disposed of between 40 and 60 jars, some of which contained multiple human brains, and worked with a biological waste contractor to do so safely," according to a university statement.

"We have no evidence at this time that any of the brain specimens came from Charles Whitman, though we will continue to investigate those reports."


Charles Whitman

  • former Marine killed 16 people and wounded 30 at the University of Texas
  • killed his mother and wife before climbing atop a tower and shooting people below
  • killed by police who stormed the tower
  • small tumour was discovered in his brain post-mortem

Tim Schallert, psychology professor and co-curator of the collection, initially told the Austin American-Statesman "we think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don't know at all for sure".

The specimens were among a batch sent from the Austin State Hospital to the university nearly 30 years ago for safe keeping.

The university's agreement with the hospital required the removal of any data identifying the brain's original owner.

Kept in the school's basement, the brains went missing sometime in the intervening years.

Following the mix-up, the university pledged to appoint a broader investigative committee to examine the matter.

"As researchers and teachers, we understand the potential scientific value of all of our holdings and take our roles as stewards of them very seriously," the university statement concluded.