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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Jarring discovery of human tongues under a retired UF professor’s home launches investigation

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When a Gainesville woman hired an inspector to assess her home for repairs Monday afternoon, she was surprised when police, not the inspector, showed up at her door. 

“As soon as we told her why we’re there, she immediately remembered that those things were under the house,” said Gainesville Police spokesperson Jorge Campos.

“Those things” were six to eight large plastic jars. Their contents — multiple preserved human tongues.

When the inspector was taking a look under the crawlspace of the house near Northwest 16th Avenue on Monday, he stumbled upon the jars, unscrewed the lid off one and peered in, Campos said. 

Police say the inspector recognized the contents of his discovery as human remains and called 911 before taking off.

The jars belonged to Ronald A. Baughman, the former owner of the house and UF professor emeritus, Campos said. Baughman and his ex-wife divorced in 1992 when he left her, the house and apparently a few tongues behind.

Baughman could not be reached for comment. The Alligator attempted to contact him multiple times over the phone. When he answered on Thursday night, he told an Alligator reporter that he didn’t have time and hung up. 

He worked at UF as a faculty member within the College of Dentistry, said UF spokesperson Steve Orlando. He published research studies in the 1970s and ’80s and retired in 2002. He has not worked with the university since. 

“All indications so far is that the specimen didn’t have anything to do with the university,” Campos said.

Baughman’s ex-wife told police the tongues were part of Baughman’s pathology research, Campos said. She and her ex-husband had forgotten all about them, but it didn’t take much to jog her memory. 

Dates from the 1960s and the word “Virginia” were written on a jar, Campos said. Baughman’s ex-wife told police the specimen came from the University of Virginia.

It is still unknown how many tongues were found, Campos said.

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Baughman told police the tongues belonged to donated cadavers and were used for thyroid and neck research. Campos said Baughman decided to slip the tongues under the house because its cool climate made for a convenient storage spot.

This is not the first time a Gainesville researcher decided to bring human remains home from work, Campos said. Plastic seems to be the container of choice.

“With the number of researchers that we have in this area, it’s not frequent, but it’s not uncommon for us to come across specimens, whether it’s animal or human,” Campos said. 

In 2002, a UF neurology professor was found storing heads, brains, arms and other body parts in Tupperware containers throughout his home, Campos said. Joseph James Warner was fired from the university and arrested for the illegal storage and preservation of human remains.

Campos said that both Baughman and his ex-wife have been cooperative in the investigation and say they have paperwork to prove where the jars came from and why Baughman had them.

“We have nothing to indicate they were trying to hide anything from us or anyone,” Campos said.

Baughman’s dental license expired on Feb. 28, 2008, and he does not have a current practice location in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. No public complaints, disciplinary or emergency actions were found.

The jars have been handed over to the medical examiner and are currently under investigation, Campos said. 

Whether or not the jars will be returned to Baughman after the investigation completed is unknown.

Contact Samia Lagmis at Slagmis@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @SLagmis. 

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