The Bizarre Case Of The Lead Mask Deaths

The case of the lead mask deaths remains one of the most infamous unsolved cases in Brazil's history. On a summer day in 1966, two men were found dead on a hill with lead face masks laid next to their bodies. Although there were no signs of a struggle or foul play, their bodies appeared staged. An exhaustive police investigation uncovered secret spiritualist societies, botched science experiments, UFO sightings, and alleged attempts to contact life on Mars. Every bit of information authorities collected seemingly only made the case more difficult to solve.

As with many unsolved cases, theories and misinformation abound regarding what really happened to two electronics technicians turned scientific spiritists on a hill outside Rio de Janeiro over half a century ago. The timelines, witness testimonies, and hard facts of the lead mask deaths make this case both bizarre and unforgettable.

  • In August 1966, A Man Flying A Kite Discovered The Bodies Of Manoel Pereira da Cruz And Miguel José Viana On Vintém Hill
    Photo: Brazilian Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In August 1966, A Man Flying A Kite Discovered The Bodies Of Manoel Pereira da Cruz And Miguel José Viana On Vintém Hill

    On August 20, 1966, 18-year-old Jorge da Costa Alves was flying a kite on Vintém Hill near Rio de Janeiro when he made a terrifying discovery: Laying in the grass were the bodies of two men wearing suits and matching raincoats. The men had been positioned with their hands behind their heads as if they were looking at the sky. A notebook, an empty mineral water bottle, and some cash were found on and near the bodies. Arguably the most bizarre detail found at the scene was a pair of homemade lead masks shaped like sunglasses.

    The bodies turned out to be those of Miguel José Viana (34) and Manoel Pereira da Cruz (32), two electronics technicians from Campos dos Goytacazes, a town roughly 175 miles away from where their bodies were found.

  • The Men Were Supposedly Out Of Town To Buy A Car

    Viana and Pereira da Cruz had told their families they were going to São Paulo to buy some electronic equipment and a used car on August 17, three days before their bodies were discovered on the hill. Their friend Elcio Gomes told authorities he had dropped the men off at a bus depot, but they refused let him enter the bus depot with them. The two men then boarded a bus to Niterói rather than São Paulo.

    The two men were later seen purchasing matching raincoats, and they appeared to be in a hurry. They were also seen at a bar, and the bartender later claimed that Viana seemed nervous because he kept looking at the clock. Viana also bought a mineral water and asked for a receipt so he could recycle the bottle later.

  • No Cause Of Death Was Ever Determined

    During their initial investigation, police could find no signs of trauma on either Viana and Pereira da Cruz. Even the surrounding wildlife had left them alone, despite their bodies being out in the open for three days. An autopsy also confirmed no internal trauma, although their decomposition level prohibited an accurate toxicology report, which might have uncovered poisoning. A series of notes found near the scene, along with the empty mineral water bottle Viana planned to recycle, indicated to authorities that the men had no immediate plans to end their lives.

    After authorities ruled out likely causes of death, rumors of a supernatural explanation began circulating. Surprisingly, there was more truth to this theory than initially believed, although no firm conclusion was ever reached.

  • Some Theorized The Lead Masks Were Meant To Shield The Men From The Luminosity Of Otherworldly Beings

    The lead masks found with Viana and Pereira da Cruz were strange in and of themselves - they were unlike standard lead masks or shields of the time that protected from radiation. In fact, these masks would have done little to protect the men while also making them incapable of seeing anything.

    Theorists later speculated that the men knew exactly what they were doing with the masks and were actually trying to protect their eyes from a supernatural source of light. Reports of a similar case to the lead mask deaths, as well as multiple sightings of bright lights in the area the men were found, further fueled speculation that the masks were part of a scientific experiment.