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Jars of tongues found beneath Gainesville home were research specimens, police say

A police official said that such a discovery is uncommon but not unheard of in a major college town.
Medical Examiners Office personnel and Gainesville Police remove items from a Gainesville home after discovering jars of human tongues beneath the home Monday. [WCJB TV20]

Ronald A. Baughman, an oral pathologist and professor emeritus at the University of Florida, moved out of his Gainesville home in 1992, after a divorce. Public records show he took with him some furniture and appliances: a 19-inch television, a stereo, his mother’s oak bookcases.

But he forgot something.

On Monday, police in Gainesville said, it turned up beneath the house, which Baughman’s ex-wife still owns, near NW 16th Avenue.

The woman was hoping to have some work done on the home, which is built into the side of a hill, so a contractor went into a crawlspace below the house, said Jorge Campos, chief inspector for the Gainesville Police Department. Soon enough, the contractor was back in the fresh air, calling 911.

Detectives found what had alarmed the contractor, Campos said: A half-dozen plastic, gallon-size jars containing human tongues. The labels dated to the late 1960s.

Baughman apparently came into the tongues via research he did before he arrived at the university, Campos said. Detectives learned that the professor had planned to get back to them — part of research on thyroid and neck conditions — but never had time and ultimately forgot about them. So they waited in the crawlspace to be found.

“He decided to put them in there because it was a cool place to put them,” Campos said. “Cool as in temperature.”

In a city like Gainesville, home to a prestigious research institution, these kinds of calls are uncommon but not unheard of, Campos said.

“We’ve had cases of jars of various different types of body parts before,” he said. “We do come across not only human specimens, (but also) animal specimens.”

Several calls to phone numbers associated with Baughman went unanswered or unreturned. Baughman’s son Kent, who is listed in public records as a grantee of a life estate deed involving the home, also did not respond to a voicemail left by a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

The medical examiner’s office in Alachua County has taken the tongues, to run tests, Campos said. Detectives are also tracking down paperwork that should show the origins of the tongues.

Exactly how many there are remains unknown. Campos said one jar police opened contained “several” tongues.

“We didn’t open all of them,” he said.