Bodies are found every day, often under mysterious circumstances. Most of these discoveries are eventually explained away; their deaths are the result of foul play or suicide, illness or accident. But some cases are so strange that they defy explanation—even after all the evidence has been collected. Such is the story of Brazil’s Lead Masks Case.
On August 20, 1966, a young man was flying a kite on Vintem Hill in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, when he spotted the bodies of two men farther up the hill. He reported the matter to police who weren’t able to reach the bodies until the following day due to rough terrain. When they did arrive, they found a truly bizarre scene.
The two men were stretched out side by side, dressed in matching formal suits covered by raincoats and—most perplexing of all—lead masks that veiled their eyes. While some accounts described these lead masks as the kind used to protect against radiation, other sources indicate that they were quite different in design.
Protective masks typically cover the whole head, with goggles or enclosed sight slits. These homemade masks were more like lead blindfolds that completely covered the eyes but left the rest of the face exposed. While wearing them, it would have been impossible for the men to see anything.
The pair was identified as Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana. Alongside their bodies authorities found a water bottle, two wet towels, and a notebook. The notebook contained lists of parts and other information related to their occupations as electronic technicians. One page, however, contained cryptic instructions that seemed to relate to the their mysterious deaths. “16:30 be at the specified location. 18:30 ingest capsules, after the effect protect metals await signal mask.”
There were no signs of trauma, no evidence of a struggle, and no obvious cause of death for either of the men. In spite of references to ingesting capsules, toxicology reports were not run on the bodies. The reason? According to reports, the coroner was simply overwhelmed with work at the time. Police, who had no particular reason to suspect foul play, did not push matters.
Investigations performed by journalists both professional and amateur revealed that the men might have been members of a “scientific spiritualists” collective. The paranormal group was apparently popular among local electronic technicians. One account suggested that another technician had died some four years earlier atop a different hill under similar circumstances. He too was found wearing a lead mask.
A friend of the two men claimed that these scientific spiritualists were interested in trying to contact extraterrestrials or spirits, and that they had even constructed a contraption in one member’s backyard to facilitate contact. When police searched the homes of the men from Vintem Hill, they found the tools necessary to make their homemade lead masks, and a book that contained highlighted passages about the “intense luminosity” of the entities they hoped to reach. Such expectations of bright light might explain the need for their lead eye coverings.
Other sources said that the spiritualist community would ingest psychedelic drugs to aid in their communication attempts. This has led many to conclude that the two men who died on Vintem Hill perished from accidental drug overdoses. Adding fuel to the fire of speculation, local newspapers ran stories a few days after the bodies were found in which a resident claimed to see a “round orange UFO” hovering over the hill on the same night that the men had been there.
What the two men hoped to accomplish that night on Vintem Hill will likely never be known. Whether their deaths were the result of drug overdoses or contact with the otherworldly, they left behind a mystery as strange as any you’ll likely find—and one that baffles skeptics and believers alike to this day.