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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Case Of The Dead Mental Patient Brains

     While most collectors acquire everyday objects such as coins, stamps, and books, a few collectors specialize in things that are odd and to most people disgusting. There was even a reality television series devoted to the acquisition of bizarre objects. The show was called "Oddities" and was presented on the Discovery Channel. Viewers followed the operation of a retail shop in Manhattan, New York called Obscura Antiques and Oddities. Items bought and sold on the show included a mummified cat, various animal teeth, a dead four-legged chicken, and a shrunken head.

     The "Oddities" television series helped establish a market for unusual items and "conversation pieces" most of us would consider too disgusting to possess. It also created an opportunity for thieves who specialized in these collectibles.

     In early October 2013, a thief in Indianapolis, Indiana walked off with sixty jars of brain and other tissue from dead mental patients. The specimens were kept, among thousands of other such containers, in warehouse space on the campus of the Indiana Medical History Museum. The brains and other specimens had come from clinical autopsies performed at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, an institution that opened its doors in 1848 and closed in 1994. According to the director of the museum, the stolen jars were valued at $4,800. (Is there a bluebook for the pickled brains of dead mental patients?)

     In early December 2013, the director of the Indiana Medical History Museum received a call from a collector in California who said he had purchased, through an eBay auction site, six jars of brain matter. He had paid $600 for the specimens. According to the oddities buyer, he became suspicious when the jars he acquired appeared similar to the ones pictured on the museum's website.

     The tip from the California collector led to the identification of David Charles as the seller of the stolen brains.

     On December 16, 2013, an undercover Indianapolis police officer posing as an oddities collector interested in jarred brains met Mr. Charles in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. When the 21-year-old suspected thief offered to sell the officer the stolen property, the cop took him into custody.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Charles with felony theft.

     In November 2015, after pleaded guilty to stealing the museum brains, the judge sentenced David Charles to four years in prison. 

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