Among the top bizarre, unsolved cases in the world are the deaths of Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana, known as the Lead Mask Case. The two men were found accidentally, on the Morro do Vintém (Vintém Hill) on August 20, 1966. So far there is nothing extraordinary about the case. What was strange were the objects around the bodies that didn’t make any sense. They were dressed in matching suits, covered with raincoats, with lead masks covering their eyes. Around them, two wet towels in a plastic bag, and an empty bottle of water. And a notebook with a cryptic message scribbled in Portuguese. Translated, the message read: “16:30 be at the specified place. 18:30 swallow capsules, after effect protect metals await for mask sign.”
None of this made any sense to police officials back then and neither it does now. The bodies were discovered by the 18-years-old Jorge da Costa Alves who was on an enjoyable afternoon at the hill, flying his kite, until the moment he found the two bodies lying side by side. He notified the police and officials identified the two men as Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana. The following investigation didn’t bring any answers; it just made the whole case stranger.
Apparently, on the August 17, the two men left their city Campos dos Goytacazes, located in the northern area of Rio de Janeiro, which is 124 miles away from the Vintém Hill saying that they were going to buy some materials for work. They took the bus to Niterói. According to the labels still attached on the raincoats, they were purchased at Niterói. Also, Manoel and Miguel kept the bill for the bottle of water which suggests that they intended to bring it back. When questioned by the police, the waitress who sold them the water said that the two men appeared “very nervous,” and that Miguel was frequently checking his watch. This was probably the last time they were seen alive, and they probably headed to the hill.
And what happened ever since remains a mystery, hence a subject of vivid speculation. First, Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana were 32 and 34 years old respectively, and both had young families. They were friends and colleagues at work. Both worked as engineers in Campos dos Goytacazes. There was nothing unusual about them. Later, a friend of theirs claimed that the two men were part of a group which called themselves “scientific spiritualists.” It was never confirmed neither investigated whether such a group really existed. However, such claims set grounds for all kinds of speculations about UFOs. A woman from a village near Vintém Hill claimed that she saw an unearthly orange light in the evening on August 17.
There were no obvious injuries or marks of a fight, nor even struggling. Nothing was found at the scene and neither later at the autopsy. However, it is an important fact that tests for toxic substances were not made because, apparently, the coroner’s office was very busy at the time. Although most known poisons and drugs would have left some clues on the bodies, it is possible that the two men took or did something that could be specified only with further analysis. But even if this fact gives skeptics a relief it is impossible not to be puzzled by the objects that Manoel and Miguel took with them. Especially the lead masks.
Any conclusion about their deaths would be speculation. But what makes this case even more interesting is their strange behavior before their deaths. Their nervousness about time suggested that they were in a hurry for something. Their formal outfit suggested that they were about to meet somebody. Asking for the water receipt indicates that they had the intention of returning the bottle, meaning – to return. Although the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says that towels are essential for space travel, the wet towels couldn’t explain nor suggest anything.
And the lead masks, just make the whole case bizarre. And fifty years later it still is, dragging hundreds of sci-fi stories and conspiracy theories to its plot.