The mystery of the Lead Masks Case refers to a string of incidents that resulted in the deaths of two Brazilian electronic workers, Manuel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana, whom their families last saw on August 17, 1966. On August 20, 1966, their remains were found, although the reason for their deaths has never been established.
The remains were found on August 20, 1966, a Saturday. The Morro do Vintém, a neighboring hill had been reported to have a solid and terrible smell.
When the police in Niterói, a Brazilian municipality less than five miles from Rio de Janeiro, investigated, they discovered the decomposing bodies of two men, the Lead Masks Case victims, were lying among the hill’s vegetation. Each man had a strange lead eye mask on the ground close to their head. They were both neatly dressed in suits and raincoats.
Each man was carrying cash—one had $4000 in his pocket, and the other had $157,00 in a plastic bag. These were discovered alongside some notes, many of which were clearly electrical equations, but two were really bizarre.
The first was translated as “One capsule on Sunday after lunch; one capsule on Wednesday before retiring.” The next: “At 16:30, be at the designated location. Take your pills at 7:30. Protect half of the face with lead masks after feeling the symptoms. Await the signal that has been agreed upon.”
What Is the Lead Masks Case, and Who Were the Victims?
Their identities and activities were examined as the remains were taken off the hill, and an autopsy was conducted. The males, Miguel Jose Viana, 34, and Manuel Pereira da Cruz, 32, from Campos, a town some 170 miles [275 kilometers] distant, were recognized. This case would later go on to be known as the Lead Masks Case.
Both were described as electronics enthusiasts, married, with young families, and “were highly liked in the city.” The authorities relatively easily ascertained the men’s arrival at the hill and how they arrived, although this information didn’t address any crucial issues. When they boarded a bus at 9 AM on Wednesday, August 17, Viana and Cruz were last seen by their families.
They claimed to be carrying roughly Cr$ 3,000,000 in cash for purchases of technological equipment and an automobile in Sao Paulo, which is 430 miles (708 kilometers) distant. Around 2:00 PM, the bus arrived in Niterói, and the men disembarked. The two spent about Cr$ 9,400 on raincoats because it was pouring.
They then proceeded to a bar and bought a bottle of mineral water, keeping the receipt to get their money back for the empty bottle. They started walking up the Morro Do Vintém at about 3:15 PM. A child noticed the two males sitting atop the hill around 5 PM. The same youngster observed the two men in the same spot on the hill the following day, August 18, but they were lying down this time.
He discovered the offensive odor on August 20, two days later, while bird-hunting near the foot of the hill. His discovery of this stink ultimately led to the authorities being called. Even though Viana and Cruz had already begun to decay by the time of their discovery and autopsy, it was established that there were no indications of poisons in their organs or signs of violence or burning.
There was no explanation offered for this; it was generally considered that they had both experienced heart failure. Nothing in the material the police uncovered suggested the guys expected to die, and it was likely that the men passed away at some point on the evening of August 17.
While they had obviously missed the opportunity to purchase the automobile or the equipment in what was known of their most recent acts, it now also needed to be made clear where most of their money had disappeared.
In addition, the authorities discovered that neither of the victims’ handwriting samples matched the strange note that mentioned the lead masks. The mystery appeared to have no simple solutions, quickly becoming more convoluted.
Strange and Sinister Proceedings
On August 17, the same day that Viana and Cruz scaled Morro do Vintém, Senora Gracinda Barbosa Coutinho da Sousa, a woman of high social standing from the Fonseca area Niterói, witnessed an ill-defined flying object.
When she and three of her children were traveling that evening, she noticed “an oval-shaped object, of an orangy color, with a band of fire around its edges,” hanging over the top of a hill and “sending forth rays in all directions.”
Sousa halted the vehicle, and for about four minutes, she and her kids observed the item rise and fall vertically in the air. She told her husband about the encounter when she arrived home; he drove back but missed it himself; nonetheless, a few days later, he reported the sighting to the police. The Morro do Vintém, where the bodies had been discovered, was the hill his wife had seen the thing over.
To prevent his wife from freaking out, Sousa’s husband had managed to keep her from reading any of the articles about the Lead Masks Case. However, when he read the tale himself, he felt compelled to alert authorities about the peculiar sighting over the hill on the day the two men had come.
Given that Fonseca is some 13.5 miles [22 kilometers] from the Morro do Vintém, it is unlikely that his wife knew that Viana or Cruz had visited the area earlier in the day. On August 25, local newspapers published reports of this sighting and some assertions that the police were aware of additional information from the Sousas but were keeping it a secret.
While it would be difficult to verify these claims, they sounded dramatic. The police called several more persons to confirm the sighting after publicizing the news. Because the government at the time forbade discussion of UFOs, they had all hesitated to bring up such an odd situation. Still, Senora Sousa’s willingness to step forward gave the others the confidence to do so.
A second bizarre story, but only in a very simplified form, surfaced in newspapers around the same time. It was said that a TV technician named Hermes had been discovered dead on a hill called Morro do Cruzeiro close to Neves four years before the Lead Masks Case in 1962. He, too, had been discovered wearing a lead mask.
The Morro do Cruzeiros is 84 miles (135 kilometers) from Campos, the hometown of Viana and Cruz, and roughly 176 miles (284 kilometers) from the Morro do Vintém. Nevertheless, no additional concrete information was available regarding this issue, and there is no sign that the story was independently verified at the time.
The Story Gets Stranger
Elicio Gomes, a friend of the two men who had died, was detained by police not long after “for offering inconsistent claims.” The police were first seeking Gomes because Cruz’s widow reported that she and her husband fought.
Gomes asserted that he and the deceased men, Viana and Cruz, were part of a secret group of “scientific spiritualists” who frequently attended seances and that virtually all local electronic experts and aficionados appeared to be also spiritualists.
Gomes alleged that Viana and Cruz worked together on various weird electronic experiments to get in touch with Martian creatures. Gomez also claimed that he and Cruz had worked on an experiment in Cruz’s garden that had severely burst, and Cruz’s father corroborated this claim.
In addition, Gomes revealed a peculiar episode that had happened on June 13 of that particular year, two months before Viana and Cruz passed away. Viana and Cruz had asked Gomes and a few others to visit the beach at Atafona, which is located 24 miles (38 kilometers) away from Campos, on that particular day.
An “intensely bright object” descended from the sky and hovered over the beach’s edge just before Gomes arrived. It lingered for five minutes before starting to climb, at which point there was a 15-kilometer-distance building-shaking explosion and blinding glare.
According to the newspapers, police-like inquiries led to a fisherman from Atafona who claimed to have witnessed a flying saucer crash into the water. Media also reported that the inexplicable deaths of Viana and Cruz had piqued the interest of the Brazilian Navy and Air Force Intelligence.
The Navy allegedly received a bizarre set of messages on June 12, the day before the Atafona explosion, relayed by stations using identifications that didn’t exist, according to one daily, the O Cruzeiro of September 16. There were no specifics of what the Navy heard reported, only a broad assumption that they had to be related to the explosion the following day.
Two more details were added to the intriguing puzzle by the same paper. They insisted that the masks were produced in Viana’s studio, where traces of the production process and a book on “scientific spiritualism” that referred to masks, high luminosity, and accompanying spirits were discovered.
A few days before the June 13 Atafona incident, according to the newspaper, Viana allegedly told his sister that “he would soon be carrying out an important assignment” and that it was a secret she couldn’t share with anyone.
Afterward, the authorities found that Gomes and other Viana and Cruz accomplices had been in Campos when Viana and Cruz ascended the Morro do Vintém, proving they were not directly responsible for the men’s deaths.
The Official Police Report on the Lead Masks Case
There were no more public reports about the strange killings for eleven months, but in August 1967, the police reportedly sent two newspapers some unclear information. On August 19, the newspaper Ultima Hora reported that the police were looking for a vehicle whose license plate number they knew had carried Viana. Cruz’s remains from Campos to the Morro do Vintém.
The bodies were to be unearthed and carefully examined to discover whether the two men had committed suicide, died violently, or overdosed on “chemicals which they were employing to make extraterrestrial contacts” if they successfully found the car.
In conclusion, the police announcement said they had misplaced or mistrusted their earlier conclusions, which is absolutely bizarre. The remains had been dug up, and the organs had been taken out for analysis, the Ultima Hora reported on August 26.
Sergio Rodrigues, the delegate of police, stated that “significant pieces of evidence were neglected at the outset of the inquiry” but that his team was now close to cracking the Lead Masks Case and anticipated finding the guilty party in a matter of days.
According to the Correio da Manha newspaper, on September 3, police intended to look into spiritualist organizations. Now it was claimed that before stopping to buy mineral water, Viana and Cruz had stopped at an electronics store and that it was probable at the electronics store that they had met their murderer.
This occurred before they ascended the Morro do Vintém. According to the newspaper, the guys were said to have ascended the hill on August 21, 1966, the day after the bodies were found. The majority of the prior investigation, including the day the victims were discovered, did the police truly forget?
Or were the newspapers attempting to boost sales by including fresh, untrue information in an already well-liked story? Or was someone attempting to make the earlier events seem less bizarre? It’s difficult to say in any direction. Since there was no further public reporting on the matter that year, it is evident that Delegate Rodrigues did not find the alleged criminal.
A Mysterious Confession and the Mystery Deepens
On June 28, 1968, the matter was once more reported in newspapers. Police are now looking for a foreigner with blonde hair who was spotted speaking to Viana and Cruz from a jeep on the road before the two men ascended the Morro do Vintém, according to the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo.
Also, hair samples from the two males were especially examined for evidence of arsenic, mercury, barium, or thallium poisoning; however, nothing was discovered, putting an end to that line of reasoning. After that, there were no further updates for the following eight months.
The Morro do Vintém mystery was brought up again around February 23, 1969, with allegations that the Lead Masks Case had been solved thanks to the confession of a certain Hamilton Bezani, an “underworld figure” already serving a sentence of more than fifty years in a Sao Paulo prison.
The jailbird was reportedly questioned after a female relative of Bezani reportedly told authorities that he had admitted to being involved in the Morro do Vintém mystery. Bezani claimed that three other well-known local criminals had requested him to help commit a crime.
They had all visited a spiritualist center in Niterói owned by a woman they all knew, and it was there that Viana and Cruz were first introduced to the four men. The other three perpetrators gave Bezani a hint that Viana and Cruz were the intended victims of the crime.
The crooks learned during the seance that Cruz and Viana were both traveling and had a large amount of cash on them, most of it in a briefcase. Bezani personally drove the entire group, including the woman from the center, to the base of the Morro do Vintém after the seance.
Except for Bezani, who stayed with the automobile, everyone here forced Viana and Cruz out of the vehicle and into the brush of the slope. Everybody but Viana and Cruz returned a half-hour later, and the thieves still possessed the briefcase.
They claimed they had held the two guys at gunpoint and forced them to ingest poison. The group set a time to divide the money the following day, but Bezani decided not to go since he thought they might also kill him.
The three additional perpetrators were subsequently mentioned in the newspaper stories, and one press account stated that the woman from the spiritualist center had already been arrested. This is a full re-writing of the information known during the initial investigation in 1966.
Bezani’s narrative was so bizarre that many Brazilian UFO researchers felt it was bogus from the beginning and had been created merely to clear up the mystery surrounding an unsolved case that the Brazilian authorities found too closely related to paranormal issues.
And with that, the curious Morro do Vintém case received public attention in the Brazilian press.
Some Things That Don’t Add Up
The information presented above was combined from three articles from the 1967, 1968, and 1971 issues of the British magazine Flying Saucer Review [FSR]. At some point, the original newspaper sources must be checked to ensure that the information sent to and translated by the FSR accurately summarizes the Lead Masks Case.
The FSR articles are one of many ways to present the incident in English; they are the first. The story’s next prominent cover appeared in 1990; however, more on it in a moment. The assertions in the tale above regarding a second body discovered in 1962 wearing a lead mask and the entirety of the Atafona UFO experience on June 13, 1966, have yet to be investigated and verified.
I’ll research that because the Atafona incident, which had an explosion that was felt miles away and witnesses on boats, would have to have been reported in newspapers and could either confirm or entirely refute one early bizarre allegation related to the entire enigma.
There are many questions I wish I’d asked then, but they’ll probably never be answered. The most revealing would be to find out if the men got off at Niterói on purpose or if they had to change buses there for the lengthier journey.
This could reveal whether the men were there for a specific reason or were passing the time until their next trip arrived. If we follow the basic timetable presented at the beginning of the investigation, I also know what might have happened to the missing money.
If two dead men were found with a wad of cash on them, the wad of cash might have been taken without anybody reporting it missing. I’ll also throw in my interest in the youngster who witnesses the guys on the hill twice without enquiring why and who doesn’t say anything until two days later when the bodies begin to smell.
How close did the youngster need to be to see the two men on the first two days, especially in light of the image above showing the retrieval of the bodies and how overgrown the area is? I’m asking these questions because the plot changed twenty-four years later.
Theories and Hidden Knowledge in the Lead Mask Case
Confrontations: A Scientist’s Quest for Alien Contact was the title of Jacques Vallée’s ninth book on the subject, published in 1990. Vallée is a well-known author and spokesperson on the subject of UFOs. Vallée began this book by describing how he personally examined the Morro do Vintém case in April 1980.
He traveled to Brazil by plane with his wife to see the hill. A local french teacher who offered to translate, a journalist, a photographer, a detective who worked unsolved cases, and Vallée’s wife climbed the hill with them.
Moreover, Vallée was joined by “the first grownup to witness the dead that day in August of 1966 when a group of lads rushed to the house.
He had gone with them to the police station at the bottom of the hill, where they told the officer in charge about their horrifying discovery, “which, barring a peculiar issue, would be a crucial new witness to speak with.” Vallée never gives us the name of this new witness!
Vallée claimed that despite being surrounded by large, lush plants, his nameless tour guide took him to a site on a hill where the ground was nearly bare. Vallée even referenced the spot’s lack of flora, suggesting this was noteworthy.
According to Vallée’s account, an 18-year-old “kid” and his pals were looking for their kite when they discovered the bodies; they immediately informed the unknown man who was acting as Vallée’s guide because he lived nearby.
The unidentified individual claimed that when the remains were discovered, they did not smell and that vultures and other animals had not harmed them.
The skin on the two bodies was pink when they were discovered and may have had burns, but Vallée later claimed that the decomposition “had progressed to the point where such a discovery was not significant,”—which doesn’t make sense.
Necessary evidence would be a burn that was still clearly evident when the victims were discovered; if the burns were that obvious, decomposition would not alter the situation.
In addition, according to Vallée, other items that had never been discussed previously were discovered next to the deaths, including “a crushed piece of aluminized blue and white paper, some cellophane soaked in a chemical solution, and a handkerchief with the initials AMS.”
None of these fresh subjects are brought up by him once more throughout the book. Vallée’s account of the circumstances surrounding the deaths is also peculiar.
After briefly recapping the identities of the two men, he states that Viana and Cruz were traveling to Sao Paulo when they stopped in Niterói, purchased raincoats and mineral water, walked up the hill, and were last seen there at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.
Still, he omits to say who saw the men on the hill. This detail is now very common in new reporting. By hinting that the 5 PM sighting was by someone else, once more nameless, Vallée sidesteps all of the issues I raised above regarding the odd behavior of the youngster who saw the guys.
After these first adjustments, most of the information Vallée offers about the Lead Masks Case combines all the bizarre stories mentioned above with little effort to demonstrate how the various elements appeared on different dates.
Yet, there are a few additional points I must make. For whatever reason, Vallée changes the name of Cruz’s chatty friend Elicio Gomes to “Elicio Correa da Silva” and claims that Elicio and another man named “Valdir” were present during the incident at the Atafona beach.
According to Vallée, the explosions at Atafona beach and in Cruz’s garden were caused by homemade bombs “built with pipes and wires,” The victims’ families attested as much at the inquests.
Vallée never attempts to explain why Cruz would be making bombs. Although claiming that the explosion at Atafona was caused by one of these bombs, Vallée continues to assert that nearby fishermen saw a flying saucer crash into the water following the explosion at the beach.
In addition, Vallée claims that a relative of Viana, who attempted to prevent the men from taking their planned trip, was separately informed that their true motivation involved testing their spiritual beliefs and that they were not going on the trip to acquire anything.
Vallée then adds a previously unknown UFO encounter that had occurred in Niterói on March 16, 1966, in which four people observed a brilliant oval object flying about 100 feet over a separate hill in the town, capping off his initial assessment of the entire episode.
Compared to the original reports, several very bizarre changes initially seem confusing—that is, until Vallée elaborates on the subject of his book. Confrontations aim to examine risky UFO encounters while attempting to highlight similarities between the reports Vallée presents.
It is only in the context of this examination that some of the changes make sense in the Morro do Vintém story, as Vallée required the initial case to support his later proposed theories in the Lead Masks Case. This raises doubts about his new version of the events.
The information Vallée initially had came from “the UFO rumor mill” and “notoriously unreliable” Latin American news media, which immediately implied that his own investigation would be far more authoritative.
Add to this that Vallée began his presentation of the Morro do Vintém account with these statements. Even if Vallée’s account of the events is debatable, it was the most readily available when it reappeared online.
The Lead Masks Case Gets Online and Murky
About 1999, news of the Lead Masks Case made its way online. I’m still determining who posted the article first, but I know which apparently had the most significant impact initially.
A version of the Lead Masks mystery was published on January 5, 1999, on the Portuguese-language website Portal Viglia, which also featured UFO and related items written by Redaço Viglia.
Although Viglia’s description of the incident included several fresh details, it was evident that it was based on Jacques Vallée’s book, which had been translated into many different languages. Jorge da Costa Alves, an 18-year-old “kid” who was on the hill to either fly or retrieve a kite, is the first name given to the youngster who discovered the remains.
He fled home after seeing the bodies, and it was there that the police were informed. The bodies were lying on their backs, had foul odors, and were dressed in suits and raincoats. An empty mineral water bottle and a packet with two little towels were placed next to them.
The lead eye masks were on the bodies. When they stopped in Niterói to buy raincoats and mineral water, Viana and Cruz were traveling to buy equipment. According to the girl who assisted them with the mineral water purchase, Viana appeared anxious and kept checking his watch throughout the transaction.
The police identified the bodies, noted the strange notes, and then pieced together the men’s movements. The two were last spotted ascending the slope from there on August 17. Vigilia notes a detail from Vallée’s version—that the victims’ skin in the Lead Masks Case was pink.
Viglia also remembers Sousa spotting the bright oval object over the hill, saying it was seen at the same time that specialists later determined to be the moment of the two men’s deaths. The Atafona incident is also mentioned, but it is revealed that Elicio Gomez, Valdir, Viana, and Cruz were present.
The first of these names is an earlier spelling for Elicio. The second comes from Vallée’s report, indicating that Vigilia mixed information from earlier and later reports creating a new story.
Significantly, Viglia leaves the possibility of a UFO explosion instead of Vallée’s claim that homemade bombs caused the explosion at Atafona. By this point, it should be clear that Viglia’s account of the Lead Masks Case is a mashup of various accounts with some new — and probably made-up — aspects added in.
Unfortunately, when Viglia’s report was published in 1999, people who had never heard of the incident believed it to be true and authoritative.
As a result, his report significantly impacted the English Wikipedia page “The Lead Masks Case,” making Viglia’s version of events the basis for most current English-language internet accounts and memes about the incident.
Most contemporary telling of the tale falls into one of two categories. Either the UFO parts are emphasized, with the theory that Viana and Cruz died while attempting to establish contact, or the UFO elements are not emphasized. The Lead Masks Case is depicted as a simple, if perplexing, mystery.
In the second category of presentations, theories about Viana and Cruz’s possible identities range from killed spies to unintentional drug overdoses caused by psychedelics. The issue is that none of these new speculators base their theories on the original narrative.
Even at the time, Brazilian academics were sure that local authorities were withholding unsettling information related to UFOs and spiritualism. Unfortunately, due to the passage of time and the loss of specifics, we are unlikely to fully understand the circumstances surrounding this case—assuming that the situation would make sense with all the information still missing.
Likely, the Lead Masks Case would never be solved.
Next, read about Action Park, the Amusement Park that Killed Its Guests. And if you’re interested in missing people cases, try the Disturbing Mystery of the Rebecca Coriam Disappearance!
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