Death, Drugs, and Aliens: The Enduring Mystery of the Lead Masks Case

Manoel_Pereira_da_Cruz_e_Miguel_José_VianaHistory is rife with mysteries, some stranger than others. What happened to the Amber Room, lost in the chaos and confusion of the biggest war in history? Where did Bela Kiss disappear to after revelations of his horrible crimes came to light? And who made the Costa Rica’s giant stone balls, and why?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see things), the answers to these and other long standing mysteries of history will probably never come to light. However, it is possible to make educated guesses that, while not revealing exactly what occurred, probably get as close to the truth as possible.

One such case were that sort of speculation is possible is the Lead Masks Case. On August 17, 1966, two electronic repairmen named Miguel Jose Viana and Manoel Pereira da Cruz, from Campos dos Scytacazes in Brazil, set out on a bus trip at 9am with three million Cruzeiros in their pockets. They stated that they were on a trip to buy a used car and supplies for their repair business. They arrived at their destination at 2pm, purchased a pair of identical raincoats, and then  stopped at a nearby bar to get a bottle of water. The bartender later reported that Miguel was in a hurry, repeatedly checking his watch. The pair kept the receipt for the water bottle so that they could claim a refund on it later. Three days later, they were found dead on a nearby hilltop, with crudely cut lead masks laying next to their bodies. Who, or what, killed them? No one knows for sure, and in fifty years no one has gotten any closer to a definitive answer.


A hunting trip leads to a terrible discovery

At 3:15pm on August 17th, Miguel and Manoel set off on foot up Marro do Vintem, a hill outside of town, dressed in suits and their raincoats. At about 5:00pm, a local boy named Jorge de Costa Alves saw the men sitting at a higher point of the hill. He returned the next day to find the two men laying on the ground. He thought they may be asleep, so he left them alone.

On Saturday August 20th, Jorge was hunting birds on the very same hill when his nostrils were assaulted by a putrid odor. The boy told his friends about the men’s strange behavior the days before and now the stench that permeated the hill top. His friends relayed the story to the police. Officers found the two bodies neatly dressed in their suits, and still wearing their rain coats. A lead mask, a lead square with a slit cut in it, lay next to each body.

Adding to the strangeness of the scene, notes were found next to the bodies. Some were simple electrical formulas. One mysterious note read:

“Sunday, one capsule after lunch; Wednesday, one capsule at bed-time. Be at the place arranged at 16:30. Take capsules at 18:30. After feeling effects, protect half the face with lead masks. Await the agreed signal.”

Police found no capsules on the bodies, nor any signs of physical trauma. The coroner’s office, claiming it was too busy, never ran a toxicology report. Cardiac arrest was ruled the probable cause of death for both men. The case became known as the Lead Masks Case.


UFO, Spiritualism, and the search for the truth

The mysterious deaths generated a lot of speculation, both then and now. At the time, a popular theory was that the men were robbed and killed, perhaps due to their role in an electronics smuggling ring gone bad. However, none of the evidence points to this. There was no physical trauma on the bodies, and each man had bags of money stuffed in the pockets of his suit. In addition, there was no evidence based upon their movements before climbing the hilltop that they even attempted to buy any electronics, let alone engaged in any smuggling operation.

Another popular idea is that Miguel and Manoel ran afoul of beings from another world. The cryptic wording of the messages lead some to believe that the pair attempted to contact beings from another world, and that the meeting did not go as planned. As strange as it sounds, this explanation is probably close to the truth, although not because aliens landed on the hilltop and stopped Miguel and Manoel’s hearts.

To understand how an attempt to contact otherwordly beings may have contributed to the two men’s deaths, it is useful to pull back and look at a couple of odd incidents that preceded the event. Two months before they died, according to tabloid reports from the day, Manoel and Miguel, along with a friend and fellow electronics technician named Elcio Gomes, built a device of some sort, meant to facilitate communication with intelligent beings on Mars, in Manoel’s garden. The device exploded as soon as it was activated.

Even more intriguingly, two years before the Manoel and Miguel died, another electronics repairman, was found dead on a hilltop with a lead mask next to him. Although details on this case are sketchy, the similarities are enough to infer some sort of connection between the cases.

What, then, was going on among the electronics repair community in Brazil more than fifty years ago? It appears, based on police investigations after the deaths, that Miguel, Manoel, and Elcio Gomes were involved in a group of “scientific spiritualists,” who believed they could communicate with beings from other worlds (as they attempted to do with the experiment in Manoel’s garden.) Police found scraps of lead and metal cutting tools in Manoel’s home. They also found books on spiritualism, which referred to “intense luminosity” associated with contacting spirit beings, which the lead masks were evidently supposed to protect against.

Another facet of the belief system seemed to involve the ingestion of drugs to help facilitate contact with spirits. These drugs were probably psychedelic substances of some sort. Perhaps the  men got a hold of a bad batch of drugs, and died on that hilltop performing some sort of odd ritual. Or, they simply overdosed. It is impossible to know for certain, but this is a reasonable guess. Still, with the lack of any forensic evidence, the exact cause of death in the now infamous Lead Masks Case will forever remain a mystery.



Barclay, Shelly, “The Lead Masks Case.” October 27, 2011. Historic Mysteries. July 12, 2015.

Bowen, Charles. “The Mystery of the Morro Do Vintem.” Flying Saucer Review, March-April 1967. Volume 13, No. 2. pgs 11-14. Retrieved from:,%20Manuals%20and%20Published%20Papers/Specialty%20UFO%20Publications/Flying%20Saucer%20Review/FSR,1967,Mar-Apr,V%2013,N%202.pdf

Dunning, B. “Solving the Lead Masks of Vintem Hill.” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 21 Jan 2014. Web. 19 Jul 2015. <>


2 thoughts on “Death, Drugs, and Aliens: The Enduring Mystery of the Lead Masks Case

    1. Andrew Kincaid Post author

      Not sure. I mean it was raining when they got off the bus, if memory serves, so it might have been convenience. Not sure if their suits matched too. If so, maybe matching clothes was part of the ritual?

Comments are closed.