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Calling Tex Frankenstein: Texas Asylum Missing 100 Brains

This strange story may have been resolved, but it’s still a great strange story, especially since it involves brains, an asylum, a mass murderer and Texas!

Here’s how it all started. Texas photographer Adam Voorhes just released his new book, “Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital.” The hospital is on the grounds of the University of Texas and is now called Austin State Hospital but was opened in 1861 as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. The brains in question were collected from the 1950s to the mid-1980s by then resident pathologist Dr. Coleman de Chenar after he performed autopsies on deceased patients.

Patients Working in Laundry Room at Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1898

Patients Working in Laundry Room at Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1898

The jars were labeled with diagnoses such as Down’s Syndrome, stroke and bleeding in the frontal temporal area. By the time he died in 1985, the doctor’s brain collection was up to 200. In 1987, the brains were moved to the Animal Resources Center at the University of Texas. Ironically, one of the brains believed to be in the collection once belonged to someone Texans still consider to be an animal – Charles Whitman, the sniper who in 1966 killed 16 and wounded 32 people from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower.

When word got out that Voorhes’ book revealed that 100 of the brains were missing, the university first said they had been transferred to the University of Texas in San Antonio. When that school denied receiving them, it said they may have gone to the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio instead. While the center went on a brain hunt, University of Texas at Austin issued this statement:

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.

A spokesperson said the brains were destroyed because they were not suitable for research. When asked about the brain of Charles Whitman, he said this:

There is no evidence we ever received Whitman’s brain.

Is this the end of the story? Why did the University of Texas change it so many times? Is all of this true? Is any of it true? When it comes to brains, an asylum, a mass murderer and Texas, anything is possible.


Call me Bubba Igor!


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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