Who Forted? Magazine

What Happened on Vintém Hill?: The Mystery of the Lead Masks

It took years for the grass to grow again at the site where they died.  Though much about their deaths and the events that led up to them has puzzled readers and legend seekers since that time, perhaps nothing stood out quite as much as that one curious fact.  That, of course, and the masks they were wearing on their faces.

The year was 1966.  Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana were friends working as electronic engineers; television repairmen, really, in the town of Campos dos Goytacazes, located in the northern area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  It was on August 17th when they left the area, telling their families they needed to buy work supplies, and hopped a bus heading southeast to Niterói, more than 3 hours and 160 miles away.  On August 20th, 3 full days later, their bodies were discovered laying side by side on Vintém Hill by a young man named Jorge da Costa Alves who had been flying his kite at the time.  They were dressed identically in suits, each wearing trench coat style weather resistant jackets and, covering their eyes, lead masks designed to protect one from exposure to radiation.

Jorge hurried home and alerted the police.  Journalists, their curiosities piqued by the oddity, quickly arrived as well.  Though Pereira da Cruz and Viana’s bodies were partially covered by vegetation, there were no sign of a struggle.  They had no external injuries and the area seemed otherwise undisturbed.

Aside from the way they were dressed, and the lead masks upon their faces, the police made note of a few other strange items as well.  Next to the bodies lay an empty bottle of water, a packet containing two towels, and a notebook with a bizarre and cryptic message scribbled inside.  Translations from the Portuguese vary only slightly, but remain perplexing because of the grammatical and spelling errors contained in the note.  It read:  “16:30 estar no local determinado. 18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal mascara.”  Translated, this means:  “16:30 be at the agreed place.  18:30 swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask sign.”  Though one can make some sense of the message, including the deduction that the bottle of water was used to swallow some strange capsule, it is just incomplete enough to provide one more stumbling block in the way of solving the mystery.  What was the effect they were waiting for?  What was the mask sign?  And why did they need protection from radiation to begin with?

In the days that followed, good detective work was able to add a few more pieces to the puzzle.  The shop where they purchased the trench coats was located, and it was discovered as well that they purchased the bottle of water at a bar.  The waitress who served them made mention that Miguel Viana seemed nervous and frequently looked at his watch.  Whatever Miguel and Manoel were doing, wherever they were going, one thing seemed certain:  time was of the essence.

Autopsies conducted in the days following the discovery of their bodies, however, did not lend any answers.  There simply was no cause that could be found as to why these men died.  The capsules they swallowed may very well have had something to do with this, but we simply do not know.  It should be noted here that  toxicological exams; quite normal, particularly in a situation like this, were never conducted.  Why?  It seems that the coroner’s office was so backed up that the victim’s organs were merely left to rot, more of less making the testing of them useless for traces of poison or other contaminants by the time the coroner got around to the job.

In the years since the tragedy, investigators have proposed several theories in an attempt to explain the events that transpired on Vintém Hill.  One was that the two men were lured to the location by an unknown third party and murdered.  Proponents of this idea point to the note, claiming the spelling and grammatical errors were due to the words being dictated by someone else, possibly in an attempt to take advantage of these men’s gullibility in order to rob them.  Acceptance of this scenario requires several assumptions, however, it does seem to be true that the bodies of Pereira da Cruz and Viana were found without any money on their person.

Another contention is that the victims were wannabe time travelers, and that they believed they had discovered a wormhole of sorts through which to travel.  Could the impermeable coats and lead masks have been protective gear meant to shield their bodies somehow?  If so, why was it necessary to ingest the capsules?

Finally, the most popular belief is that Manoel and Miguel were UFO enthusiasts looking to make contact with extraterrestrial visitors.  This particular belief also has some evidence, albeit anecdotal, to back it up.  The victims were both said to be very intrigued by the mysteries of flying saucers, researching them extensively and, it is said, had even built a small laboratory for that very purpose.  Vintém Hill had been something of a UFO hotspot, with strange hovering crafts being seen on a regular occurrence by the townsfolk.  Even, some say, on the very day that Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana made their final climb to the top.

Could this be the “mask sign” they were waiting for; the arrival of an alien spacecraft?  Were the lead masks (which, by the way, these two technicians cut and sculpted themselves in their workshop) designed to protect them from radiation emanating from the ship?  What, then, of the capsules?  Or the two towels that were found alongside them?  Could they have been using them, as Douglas Adams would write over a dozen years later in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” to wave as a distress signal, or to use for warmth on their interstellar travels?

Whatever it was that happened on that hill, we can be reasonably certain of one thing:  it wasn’t suicide; eerie correlations to the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult mass suicide of 1997 notwithstanding.  The two men had obtained a coupon to return the bottle for a deposit back home, and even their story of needing to buy work supplies checked out:  investigators found newly purchased electrical components among their personal effects.  It seems clear they were not expecting this journey to be their last.

Among the facts, anecdotes and supposition, the simple truth is that we don’t know what happened that day in August 1966 on top of Vintém Hill, and we likely never will.  Author Jacques Vallee, who profiled this case in his book “Confrontations,” wrote that, even years later, grass refused to grow at the location where the bodies were discovered.  Though it seems reasonable to assume that the investigators who worked the scene sprinkled formalin around the area to aid in masking the smell of decomposition, and that this likely contaminated the soil, many remain unconvinced.  They believe that something sinister, something perhaps even truly out of this world, was up there that day.

Some mysteries are meant to be solved.  And some others are destined to linger on for years in the minds of the readers and adventure seekers that come across them.  Whatever you think about what happened on Vintém Hill, the mystery of the lead masks and the fate of the two men who wore them seems primed to live on for years, perhaps even generations, to come.  Truly, that is the stuff that legends are made of.

Jason Korbus
Jason Korbus hosts Strange Frequencies Radio, easily one of the best paranormal internet radio broadcasts available today. He's also the curator of one of our favorite blogs, The Fortean Squirrel. When he isn't busy making love to a microphone or writing about mutated rodents, he's chasing phantoms with Phase 3 Paranormal. He has been known to dress up as a werewolf.

13 Comments

  1. Jake Williams

    05/09/2011 at 1:26 PM

    Would love to believe that these guys created a time machine… even if it didnt work at all.

    • Jason Korbus

      05/09/2011 at 7:36 PM

      Yeah. Unfortunately they miscalculated the number of gigawatts they would need, and TOTALLY forgot the plutonium. Oh well, next time, guys! Oh wait…

      • Greg Newkirk

        05/09/2011 at 7:41 PM

        I like to believe that they tried to microwave a burrito while it was still in a foil wrapper.

        “Comeon, dude! It’ll cook faster!”

        “Ok, well let me go get my lead masks just in case.”

        Except they would say that in Portugese.

        • Mia

          01/19/2013 at 11:15 PM

          They were from Brazil -_- .. They wouldn’t have said it in Spanish.

  2. Connie_B

    05/12/2011 at 11:21 AM

    First of all, welcome back! Where have you guys been? And no more WF NEWS??

    GREAT piece! I consider myself a weird aficionado and I hadn’t heard of this story. Loved it. Maybe they were field testing a new AVON sleep mask.

    • Jason Korbus

      05/15/2011 at 12:17 AM

      Hey, thanks! I really got a kick out of that story as I was reading more and more about it.

      As far as WF? News goes, do not fret. Check out older stuff under the “Curious Communications” tab at the top of the screen. And there’s always “The Daily Weird” which is updated pretty regular. Knock yourself out!

      • Greg Newkirk

        05/15/2011 at 9:30 AM

        There are plans for the WF News. MWUAHAHAHAHAHA!

        Actually, it’s not that sinister. We’ll probably just outline the best Daily Weird articles of the previous month.

  3. Lou

    05/12/2011 at 12:48 PM

    IT IS BRAZIL !! HELLO !!!!!! I think it was a party gone bad. Each mad that the other had the same costume. A fight ensued, each delivering the killer blow, which explains why thier bodies were so close together when found.

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  6. Doc

    05/14/2013 at 4:10 PM

    Penny Hill, if you want a full (and maybe wrong) translation!

  7. Alex

    10/05/2013 at 1:35 AM

    I’m not sure that this story really took place. Can’t it be a fiction for earning money by sucking it in UFO magazines ? Too little information about such a story which competes with Dyatloff Pass Case for example.

    Did those two guys really exist ?

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