It’s an almost perfect mystery case, with a great catchy name: the lead masks case. Two TV repairmen are obsessed about making contact with extraterrestrials, attempting wild and dangerous experiments. But it seems they went too far: on August 20, 1966, their bodies were found atop Morro do Vintém, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in bizarre and unexplained circumstances.
On August 20, 1966 two TV repairmen are obsessed about making contact with extraterrestrials, attempting wild and dangerous experiments, their bodies were found atop Morro do Vintém, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in bizarre and unexplained circumstances. A boy named Jorge da Costa Alves (who was 18 at that time) was flying a kite at the Morro do Vintém (Vintém Hill), in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when he found two dead men. Immediately, he made his way back home and called the police. Soon the spot was full of police officers, firefighters and journalists. Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana’s bodies were neatly strewn next to each other, without any sign of violence. They were wearing nice suits and impermeable coats. However, what really caught people’s attention were the lead masks worn by them.
A notebook keeping diagrams and partially coded notes along with a strange letter was found with the bodies. They also had a handwritten note:
"16:30 estar no local determinado. 18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara" (16:30 be at the agreed place. 18:30 swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for the mask sign). After an investigation, the detectives reconstructed a plausible narrative of the last days of both men.
On August 17, they left their city, Campos dos Goytacazes, stating that they intended to buy some material for use at their work. Some witnesses claimed that they were carrying Cr$N2.300,00, but this money was not found. They took a bus and arrived in Niterói at 14:30. They bought the impermeable coats at a small shop and the bottle of water at a bar. The waitress who served them on the bar stated that Miguel seemed very nervous and looked at his watch frequently. From the bar, they went directly to the place where they were later found dead.
Those facts convinced the detectives that some kind of extraterrestrial activity was involved. Gracinda Barbosa Cortino de Souza and her children, who live next to the hill where the men died, claimed that they had seen a UFO flying over the spot at the exact moment the detectives believed the two men must have died. Later examination of their bodies failed to determine their causa mortis. They simply died without an explanation. Did they successfully contact aliens, but with terrible consequences? Cue to dramatic music.
The case remains unsolved. We still don’t know what exactly happened to Pereira da Cruz e José Viana, and it’s unlikely we will ever know for sure, to the despair of their relatives who still grieve the tragic loss of two young men. This is not a debunking of the “Lead Masks/Morro do Vintém” case.
But here we do promote some ordinary investigations, and in this case, I would like to comment on a 2004 TV special on the mystery, which added a couple of small and yet extremely important details to the case. You can watch the first part below, in Portuguese (the rest can be found searching on Youtube).
The central mystery is what/who/how the victims were killed, and that is a question because the autopsy, including toxicological exams, found nothing. Now, the small detail: the exams found nothing because they weren’t conducted. As it happens, the local coroner’s office was full of work at the time, and the victims guts went stored until, when they were finally going to be examined, they were already rotten and useless. No test was made on them. This is somewhat stressed on the TV show. It also stresses that the two men had no money when found.
Another detail: when Vallee revisited the site years later, he was puzzled by the absence of vegetation in the area where the two bodies were found. Mystery? Probably not. In the TV show we are also informed that the police threw copious amounts of formalin on and around the bodies to help cope with the smell – contrary to some accounts, the bodies were decomposing and smelling intensely. They don’t make the connection in the show, but we can suggest that that could explain why there’s not much grass growing there now. The formalin contaminated the soil.
Some more: the strange codes they also had among the other notes. Much fuss is made about this, but this is a question we can most surely say there’s nothing to wonder about. The codes were simply to electronic components. The two were TV repairmen, they told their families they were going in that trip to buy electronic components. And they had the codes for the components written down. This is another connection that neither the TV show nor any account on the case I have read makes explicitly, despite being so obvious. I checked at least one of the “mysterious codes” and was able to find it does correspond to an electronic valve used on TVs at the time.
INGEST THE CAPSULES. WAIT UNTIL DEATH
So, what to make of all of it? One plausible explanation is that the two men were conned by one (or more) fellows, with deadly results. The murderer(s) used the victims gullibility to effectively make them kill themselves.
The notes, including the one about ingesting the capsules, have many orthographical and grammatical errors, and the police thinks they were probably dictated by someone else, with the instructions, or better yet, orders as to what the victims should do.
They may have expected to contact aliens, but ingested poison in the process. The toxicological exams that could have determined this were never conducted.
As is mentioned in the TV show, and also in Vallee’s book, there were reports that the two victims weren’t alone, the murderer(s) were along with them in the hill. They waited for them to die and simply took their money. An especially despicable way to rob someone.
If Cruz and Viana were indeed made to kill themselves through their own gullibility, then this is an important cautionary tale. It’s more worrying than famous cases such as Heaven’s Gate, where in some level the victims knew they were committing suicide.
The victims of the Lead Masks case almost certainly didn’t kill themselves on purpose: before going atop the hill and buying the bottle of water they took with them, they got a coupon to later return the bottle when they returned. They would also actually buy the electronic components in that trip, just as they told their families. Their adventure atop Morro do Vintém wasn’t intended to be their last and desperate attempt to contact aliens. They didn’t know they were going to die there. They were killed.
The lead masks, which names and represents the case, are indeed representative of the danger here. They were crudely made by the victims themselves inside their shop, where the police found the plates from which they were cut.
The saddest thing is, I don’t think Cruz and Viana where nowhere near contacting any aliens despite all their efforts. Lead masks, capsules, even explosions – which they attempted before – are not going to facilitate any close encounter. But they can kill you.
Finally, I must also comment on the fact they had towels with them. Towels are a big part of the sci-fi comedy series by Douglas Adams, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and actually a means to make contact with aliens – to hitchhike around the Galaxy.