The missing missing brains of UT Austin

What’s spookier than the mysterious disappearance of half of a university’s rare brain collection? The inadequate record-keeping that ensures they’ll stay gone.

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

A couple years ago, a story started to make the “news of the weird” rounds about roughly 100 brains missing from the University of Texas at Austin’s psychology department.

Curious about what kind of work goes into nailing a brain napper, I filed a public records request for any reports regarding the theft of the specimens.

A couple weeks later, I heard back: there weren’t any.

Turns out, that while this had been reported on as being the result of some recent Herbert West-ian nefariousness, the real story was that the university was never quite sure how many brains it had in the first place, or even who the original owners of the brains happened to be. The collection’s own curator expressed doubt if their rather morbid crown jewel - the brain of infamous clock tower shooter Charles Whitman - was ever actually among the specimens.

So when an audit revealed that half the collection was missing, rather than call the police, the department issued a mea culpa and promised to keep better track of the brains in the future. After all, they couldn’t really prove what was missing in the first place. Which just goes to show: inadequate bookkeeping is a far more terrifying threat than zombies.


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