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Lead Mask Mystery: Facing the Unknown

Updated on September 15, 2016
The Home Made Lead Masks
The Home Made Lead Masks

Lead masks….unsettling, unnatural, even unnerving lead masks. Imagine coming upon two motionless human forms wearing onerous lead masks. It would seem to be a disturbing discovery for the bravest adult…but, for a child? Yet that is exactly the scenario that played out in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 50 years ago.

The date was August 20th, 1966. A young man named Jorge da Costa Alves was, as was his custom, was flying a kite on the Morro do Vintém (Vintém Hill) in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the midst of his play, Jorge stumbled upon the bodies of two deceased men. Upon his discovery, the young man reported the gruesome find to local authorities. Interestingly, the terrain of Morro do Vintem is so forbidding, the authorities were unable to reach the bodies until the next day. When they did reach the resting place of the two forms, city police made some intriguing discoveries.

Beside the troubling fact that these were human cadavers, the manner in which each was dressed added to the scene’s surreal nature. The two deceased males, who were lying next to each other, were dressed in formal suits and ties. Each decedent wore a newish waterproof coat over his suit. But, the item of attire, from which the case has come to be known, that was the most remarkable, was what the two men wore on their faces. “They had lead eye masks with no holes, such as one would wear to protect from radiation.”

Retracing the two men’s actions during the final few hours of their lives, police investigators were able to construct the following scenario:

“On August 17, 1966, two electronics repairmen from Campos dos Goytacazes left town saying they were going to buy supplies for work and a car. They allegedly had the money for a vehicle with them. The men — Miguel Jose Viana and Manoel Pereira da Cruz — later stopped at a bar to get a bottle of water. The bartender later said that Miguel appeared to be in a hurry as he was frequently checking his watch. That was the last any one saw of the pair alive.” It is presumed that the two ill-fated men went from the bar, directly to the scene of their demise.

Even more striking were the conclusions that police were able to arrive at, based on what was found at the crime scene.

There were no signs of a struggle at the scene; nor were there any signs of trauma upon the two bodies. Next to the two bodies, investigators found an empty water bottle alongside a packet of two wet towels. Also found with the two bodies was a small notebook. Inside this notebook were written the following cryptic instructions: "16:30 estar no local determinado. 18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal mascara" ('16:30 be at the specified location. 18:30 ingest capsules, after the effect protect metals await signal mask').

Ostensibly, these two respectable and well-educated men followed a very meticulous and pre-planned regimen to commit suicide.

Police concluded that Viana and Cruz pre-dressed themselves for their funerals, bought a single bottle of water to wash down their method of execution, and proceeded to a pre-determined location to complete their morbid task.

While the “capsules” referenced within the odd instructions were never discovered, police concluded that these mysterious pills were the method of suicide. Unfortunately, the local coroner’s office was “very busy” at the time, and a thorough autopsy was not conducted. While the coroner did examine the bodies for trauma, no toxicology tests were conducted at the time. By the time a toxicology examination was pursued…it was too late. The internal organs of the two men were too badly decomposed to produce reliable test results.

So, what would cause two respectable electronic technicians to willingly end their own lives; and, apparently, follow someone else’s orders in doing so? Furthermore, what significance did the lead masks have in the suicide plan that was concocted?

Several theories have surfaced over the 50 years since the “Lead Mask Mystery” was born. As usual, local government and police have expressed their opinion, and paranormal and conspiracy theory enthusiasts have proposed their own explanation for the mystery.

The official school of thought pursued by authorities was that foul play was involved. Police surmised that the two men, based on their formal attire, planned to meet someone with whom they were not familiar. Further, investigators speculate that the lead masks were indicative of the agreed-upon meeting place being changed. Officials also note that the water bottle which the two men purchased from the bar was a deposit bottle. From this, investigators presume that the pair intended to be able to return the bottle; as non-deposit (disposable) bottles of water were also available.

The lead masks led to the conclusion that the two men were seeking to purchase radioactive material. Seemingly, they had set up a meeting with an organized crime element to purchase the illegal material; but, the exchange soured, and the criminals killed the two men. In an effort to throw authorities off the scent, and keep their dealings as clandestine as possible, the villains arranged the murders to look like suicide.

While this notion followed by law enforcement may seem a bit far-fetched, it did have the unintended consequence of keeping the investigation open for an extended period--as the police investigated continued leads. This ensured that all obvious suspects and motives were exhausted over time. In this case, however, it may be that the “official” governmental position on an unsolved mystery is less-likely to be correct than the more exotic one.

A mutual friend of the two men was interviewed by police. For some unknown reason, the man’s testimony was not given very much credence. Interestingly, the information provided with their acquaintance’s testimony casts serious doubt as to the sanity of the two men.

The friend of Viana and Cruz stated “that they were members of a group of ‘scientific spiritualists’. The men were apparently attempting to contact extraterrestrials or spirits using psychedelic drugs. Believing that such an encounter would be accompanied by blinding light, the men cut metal masks to shield their eyes and may have died of drug overdoses. This account is corroborated by the esoteric diary entry found at the scene and by mask-making materials and literature concerning spirits found at the men's homes.”

It is somewhat baffling that, when faced with this stark description of the two dead men’s mental state, official investigators continued to insist that the men were: “duped, murdered and dumped on the hill, though there was no evidence of violence or violent injuries.” Though, no evidence ever surfaced that the men had any interest in purchasing illegal radioactive material…the material for which the supposed “deal” was based.

On the furthest end of the spectrum, UFO believers cite that there were reports of a UFO being seen in the area on the 17th of August. True-believers have speculated that Viana and Cruz were actually contacted by the extraterrestrials; accounting for the alien-interaction based mania that the men’s friend described in detail. This hypothetical concludes with the two men angering the aliens, or being found unworthy, and being killed by the intergalactic visitors.

Whether Miguel Viana and Manoel Cruz were killed in a criminal deal gone bad, were murdered by extraterrestrials, or killed themselves in an attempt to “interact” with the extraterrestrials (similar to the “Heavens-Gate” cult) has not been determined. While one of the three explanations for the Lead Mask Case seems more plausible than the remaining two, the definitive answer to this riddle will probably never be discovered.

What happened to Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana?

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Photo From the Scene
Photo From the Scene

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