On August 17, 1966, two Brazilian electronic technicians, Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana, took a bus several hours from their home in Campos dos Goytacazes to Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The two men then proceeded to travel to a remote area on Vintém Hill, a location known to paranormal enthusiasts as a “UFO hotspot.” The men would never be seen alive again.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1966, a local teenager found the deceased bodies of Manoel and Miguel lying next to each other. The men were “partly covered by grass” in the brush. Each wore a formal suit, a raincoat, and a hammered eye mask made of lead.
In a small notebook found at the scene, the following cryptic instructions were written:
16:30 estar no local determinado.
18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara
4:30 PM be at the determined place.
6:30 PM swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask signal
Without any semblance of a physical altercation or struggle, and no discernible trauma to the bodies, authorities were perplexed by the case. Making the situation even more mysterious, no toxicology tests were performed.
Due to overcrowding and understaffing at the local coroner’s office, the bodies were not put into cold storage. By the time that the autopsies were performed, the men were “were too badly decomposed for reliable testing.” Ultimately, both deaths were declared cardiac arrest.
The materials for making the metal eye masks were found at their respective homes. But, police were still unable to formulate a reliable narrative surrounding the men’s mysterious deaths.
Were Manoel and Miguel attempting to contact aliens in a bizarre suicide pact? Or, did they accidentally overdose during a psychedelic endeavor to communicate with spirits? Could they have fallen prey to a cruel murder-for-robbery scam? Or a, most likely illegal, business venture?
What happened to Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana on Vintém Hill? What do the enigmatic notes mean? And, most interestingly, what compelled the two humble electrical technicians to create metal masks and travel around four hours by bus to their bizarre deaths in Niterói?
32-year-old, Manoel, and 34-year-old, Miguel, worked in Campos dos Goytacazes as electronic repairman. Both were married technology enthusiasts with “young families,” and they were, by all accounts, close friends. According to some who knew them, the two had intentions of starting their own business together.
Allegedly, while waiting at the bus stop, the men ran into Miguel’s uncle by chance. They told the relative that they were going to Niterói to buy a car. The uncle pointed out that it would be cheaper to purchase a vehicle in Campos dos Goytacazes, but Miguel insisted that they were also also attending to other matters.
Miguel also mentioned during this encounter, that upon their return, the men were expecting to have had some kind of definitive spiritual revelation. Religiously, both Manoel and Miguel were avowed spiritualists, and according to one friend, they were interested in attempting to “contact extraterrestrials or spirits.”
Other accounts describe Miguel telling a relative that, “he would soon be carrying out an important mission but that it was secret.”
Allegedly, the men were found dressed in “matching formal suits” with “homemade lead masks draped over their eyes.” The eye masks were shaped like sunglasses but did not have frame arms (or any other obvious means of securing them to a face). Neither mask had eye holes. According to accounts, “a packet containing two wet towels” was found near the bodies.
One of the men had a notebook on his person, “[containing] lists of parts and other information related to their occupations as electronic technicians.” In this book, the puzzling notes were found scrawled in Miguel’s handwriting.
The instructions seem to indicate that Manoel and Miguel were “meeting a person or hoping for an event.” Almost every scribbled note is a command: be at a specific location, ingest capsules, protect metals, await a signal. Why were these actions being notated? To what objective were they being performed? And, most mysteriously, who exactly was giving the orders?
An empty bottle of mineral water was also found at the scene. The bottle was determined to be from a local restaurant that Manoel and Miguel visited upon their arrival in Niterói. The water bottle reportedly required a deposit (to be refunded upon its return). The men opted for a deposit return ticket as if they thought (at least during that moment) they’d be returning the bottle later.
Last seen alive at Bar das Relvas at approximately 4:30 PM (which corresponds with the timing of the “16:30 be at the specified location” note), a waitress there remembered the two friends buying water. She described Miguel specifically as checking his watch often and appearing “very nervous.”
A Spiritual [Mis]Adventure
One commonly held theory on the Lead Masks case is that Manoel and Miguel intended to have a psychedelic spiritual experience and accidentally overdosed. Some have rationally indicated that the deaths “bear some resemblance to the Heaven’s Gate suicides, where people killed themselves expecting to be carried away by aliens.”
This explanation is supported by the reference to capsules in the puzzling notes, and has led some to speculate whether the men were experimenting with alkaloids, particularly LSD. The men reportedly desired to communicate with extraterrestrials, or what Manoel and Miguel most likely considered spirits. Investigators reportedly found highlighted references to the “‘intense luminosity’ of the entities they hoped to reach” while searching their homes, which would explain their bizarre masks.
But, it is important to note that most deaths attributed to LSD are often ascribed to its altered behavioral effects, “generally [occurring] due to suicide, accidents, and dangerous behavior.” Fatal overdose is considered particularly rare, as “patients must have access to unusually concentrated forms of LSD.”
Also, authorities have released no confirmation, or even suggestion, of prior drug use in relation to either Manoel or Miguel.
Though the reference to capsules is still suspect, there was also other mention of “tablets” in the notebook. And, the notes regarding the tablets appeared to be more doctor’s prescription than psychedelic to-do-list:
“On Sunday, one tablet after the meal;
Monday, one tablet in the morning on an empty stomach;
Tuesday one tablet after the meal;
Wednesday one tablet before going to bed”
Had the men been dosing themselves with drugs for several days? Or, are these just empty scribbles of a scattered mind? None of the entries are dated. Could the notes have been referencing something else entirely? Regardless, if the referenced capsules were illicit drugs, the botched toxicology may have rendered this explanation forever lacking in concrete evidence.
Though it is difficult to verify, the idea that Manoel and Miguel were unfazed by danger in their quest for spiritual communication does have some corroborating evidence. According to UFO journalist, Charles Bowen, the men had created an explosion mere months before their deaths, while “[building] a machine attempting to communicate with Mars.”
Murder.. by Suicide?
Another explanation for the strange deaths was that the men were somehow the victims of a deadly scheme. By some estimates, the men should have had (roughly) around $1,000 on them at the time. This figure is quite substantial considering the era, as $1,000 in 1966 amounts to approximately $7,592 in 2017. But, local newspapers reported that Manoel only carried around $5 in his pocket and Miguel had approximately $64 stuffed into a plastic bag.
According to the 2000 census, approximately 1.33% of the Brazilian population (equating to over 2 million people) still observed Kardecist spiritism. Historically, spiritism revolves around the idea that “humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations to attain moral and intellectual improvement.” The belief system also contends that spirits can have “beneficent or maleficent influence on the physical world.”
Some reports detail that the men were described as being “members of a ‘scientific spiritualists’ collective.” Apparently, the sub-community of ‘scientific spiritualists’ was subversively “popular among local electronic technicians.” Could a con-artist have convinced the men of an elaborate hoax which played upon their spiritual beliefs?
During his research, Charles Bowen found that local articles detailed the strange death of another electrical technician in Niterói named Hermes Luiz Feitosa. According to these reports, Hermes “had been found dead atop a different hill four years before, also with a similar lead mask.”
Hermes had supposedly gone out to “a low hill called Morro do Cruzeiro” in order to conduct an experiment. Though difficult to verify, there were claims that Hermes intended to use “alleged psychic abilities” in order to “pick up radio signals without the use of electronic means, but only by the power of the mind.” His actual cause of death goes entirely unmentioned by the same articles claiming his existence.
There are many details surrounding the Lead Masks Deaths which suggest the men may have been following orders from an unknown party: the (possible) additional death of a man with a lead mask, the noted instructions, the cryptic comments by Miguel about a secret mission, the missing money.
Other theories of this nature suggest Manoel and Miguel intended to illegally purchase radioactive materials. This reasoning contends that the men created masks (and were also taking the mysterious capsules) to protect themselves from “radiation poisoning.” But, logically, it does not seem that “such shields would be useful.”
Still, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that Manoel and Miguel were “conned by some guy who gave them phony pills.” Similar situations have occurred. Known as the St. Croix Voodoo Murders, five people in the U.S. Virgin Islands were conned into ingesting cyanide by a voodoo priest conman during the 1980s.
However, authorities in this case were unable to uncover any discernible suspects. And if Manoel and Miguel had been robbed of enough money to raise suspicions, why not take all of it?
Some paranormal enthusiasts contend that the Lead Masks Deaths were the consequence of successful contact with extraterrestrials. And, there were reports of UFO sightings near the location that night. A local woman and her children claimed to have observed a flying saucer above Vintém Hill which “issued flashes of light in every direction.”
The mystery surrounding the deaths of Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana is rife with intrigue and possibilities. Due to the absence of forensic information and surefire investigative leads, hopes of a concrete resolution are especially remote after the passing of over fifty years.
Adequately conveying common frustrations with the Lead Masks case, Brian Dunning, of Skeptoid.com, asserted:
“It seems possible that Manoel and Miguel were part of a group interested in triggering spiritual experiences with psychedelic drugs, possibly on specific hilltops, and possibly expecting very bright lights along with the experience.
And that’s where I’m going to leave the story, still in the Unsolved file.”
A popular enigma that “baffles skeptics and believers alike to this day,” the story of the men in the lead masks is certainly alive and well. There exists sparse and uncorroborated information chronicling the perplexing double deaths. Time has rendered many important aspects of the story entirely unverifiable.
However, that same lack of certainty has definitely aided in creating an urban legend of sorts. The Lead Masks Deaths demonstrate many conventional, yet pervasive, fears in human society. It deals with several uneasy potentials: arcane and dangerous knowledge, communication with otherworldly beings, and (perhaps most unsettling) the deep dread that one’s loved ones could be in unknowable and unavoidable danger.
What do you think happened to the two technicians on Vintém Hill? Were they victims of unfortunate misadventure or a callous murderer? Do you think the deaths, and the men’s actions, will ever be entirely explained?
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