THE LEAD MASKS CASE – Part One: Protect Metals

Welcome to this month’s edition of The Mask Sign. This time we’ll be tackling The Lead Masks Case. I hope you enjoy. Let’s get right into it.

Unless one is somewhat well acquainted, it’s perhaps rather easy to assume that UFOs are a distinctly American phenomenon. After all, the good old USA is home to Roswell, Area 51, Betty and Barney Hill, the cattle mutilation phenomenon, the Marfa Lights, the Battle of Los Angeles, and FBI special agent Fox Mulder. All of the big hits! The reality, of course, is that UFOs are a global affair. They’ve been spotted over the UK and Saudi Arabia, they’ve crashed into harbours in my own home province of Nova Scotia, Canada, they’ve floated malevolently over the Vatican and streaked ominously across the skies of North Korea. Most pertinent to our discussion today is that, from the very outset of the phenomenon, Brazil has been positively lousy with UFOs.

Brazil was home to Antônio Vilas-Boas, the centre of one of the most famous early UFO accounts, back in the halcyon days when they were still called “flying saucers.” In 1957, Vilas-Boas claimed that he had been abducted off his tractor by extraterrestrial aliens. They coated him in a layer of some kind of clear, viscous goop, which artificially induced a sexual arousal in him, before presenting him with a surprisingly attractive female alien and allowing earth life to do what earth life does. Vilas-Boas was given to understand that the fruit of their, erm, familiarity, a human-alien hybrid, would be raised in space by the aliens. He never backtracked from his story.

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So dapper even aliens wanna get with it.

Twenty years later, in 1977, a number of UFOs descended on a group of people on the Brazilian island of Colares, attacking them with energy weapons which produced radiation burns and sucked the hapless islanders’ blood. This was so distressing that the government at the time set up an investigation unit called Operação Prato (“Operation Saucer”), whose supposedly inconclusive findings were nevertheless classified until the 90’s.

These are only two of the more notable cases in the long and exciting history of UFO activity in Brazil, but they helpfully bookend a somewhat lesser-known event, which is the focus of this month’s feature: O Caso das Máscaras de Chumbo, or, in English, the Lead Masks Case. While it is without the lurid details that typify encounters like those of Antônio Vilas-Boas, or the sensationalism of the Colares UFO Flap, the weirdness lies thick on the Lead Masks Case, a bizarre event shrouded in enigma, something fascinating specifically because we’ll never know just what the hell happened up on that hill in 1966. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Our story centres on two electronics technicians: Miguel José Viana, 34, and the creepily-staring Manoel Pereira da Cruz, 32.

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Natives of Campos dos Goytacazes, northeast of Rio de Janeiro, the pair departed for that city by bus on August 17, 1966. The story goes that they carried a somewhat hefty sum of cash with them, explaining that they were going to buy some electronics parts and a cheap used car. In fact, their actual destination was Niterói, just across Guanabara Bay from Rio itself. In Niterói, they purchased some raincoats at a local shop, and bought a single bottle of mineral water at a bar, taking a receipt so they could return it for the deposit later. The waitress, when questioned after the fact, claimed that Miguel seemed very nervous; he kept glancing around and checking his watch, giving the impression that the pair were running late for something. They walked out of the bar and into UFO history; this was the last time they were, with certainty, seen alive, though some accounts suggest that they were seen later in a Jeep along with some 1-3 unknown persons. As we’ll see, this type of tenuous detail is typical of the Lead Masks Case: hardly any aspect of it is indisputable, but rest assured, there’s plenty of wild speculation and unverified claims to fill in the gaps.

Three days later, a kid named Jorge de Costa Alves was flying a kite on the Morro do Vintém (Vintém Hill, or “Hill of the Penny Coin”) and came upon a rather gruesome sight. Rather than buying a car, Miguel and Manoel had instead apparently climbed the Morro and quietly shuffled off their mortal coils. The two technicians were dead, lying side by side on the hill. They were wearing matching suits and the raincoats they’d bought on the 17th. On their faces (or beside the bodies, depending on whom you ask) were the items that would give the case its name: rough, hand-fashioned chunks of lead, apparently meant to cover the eyes.

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It gets weirder. When the police arrived the next day (tough terrain on the Morro prevented an immediate investigation when Jorge reported the find on the 20th), they found some strange notes stashed in a pocket. One was covered in scrawled electrical formulae, and the other seemed to be some kind of schedule or agenda:

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The grammar is a problem (apparently, anyway; I don’t read Portuguese) but the most common English translation is as follows:

16:30Hrs – be at the determined place

18:30Hrs – swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask sign

There was also a plastic bag nearby, containing the empty bottle from the bar (they still had the receipt as well) and, in a nice Hitchhiker’s-Guide-esque touch, a couple of towels. They also had a small amount of cash on them – but far less than they were thought to have when they left Campos.

Already the questions start swirling in. Was this a suicide? Certainly some kind of chemical seems to have been ingested; ‘swallow capsules’ is pretty unambiguous. However, the coroner who presided over the autopsy (a man with the hilarious name of “Toledo Pizza”) reported no poison in their bodies, nor anything else unusual. There were also no injuries and no signs of a struggle. The deaths were ruled to be from unexplained cardiac arrest; it seems that Miguel and Manoel had simply laid down peacefully and died. The ‘determined place’ is generally thought to be the Morro, but this too is up for debate. According to the waitress, they had left the bar at about 2:30PM; this gave them two hours to ‘be at the determined place’; if that place was the nearby Morro, why were they so concerned about the time? This opens the possibility that they’d planned to go somewhere else first. The fact that they’d held on to the receipt indicates to many that they weren’t expecting to die on that hill. Further, what happened to the ‘metals’ they were protecting? What about the rest of their cash? And what was the ‘mask sign’ (aside from the name of this blog)?

The masks themselves also raise questions, which I think are usually not given enough consideration. I find it interesting that in many cases, especially those where the sources are in a foreign language, certain phrases and expressions are copied in nearly every source, in a sort of half-conscious plagiarism, probably caused by the paucity of variant translations. For instance, nearly every English account of the Lead Masks Case refers to the technicians’ raincoats as “impermeable”, an awkward word in English when “waterproof” would do just fine. Similarly, when describing the masks, most sources say they are “of a kind used for protection against radiation” or “of the kind used for welding”. The sheer prevalence of these phrases has, I think, caused a lot of people to overlook something very obvious: there’s no damn way that’s what these masks were for.

If you don’t believe me, look around the internet right now for radiation masks and / or welding masks and see if you turn up anything that looks even slightly similar to the above. Welding masks generally cover the whole face, and in any case, they’re designed to protect the cornea from the bright light of a welding torch, meaning that they’re essentially extremely thick, dark sunglasses. You still have to be able to see something through them. Otherwise you wouldn’t need a mask at all; you could just close your eyes. And as for radiation equipment, well, yes, lead works well for that, but there’s no kind of radiation I know of that only goes in through your eyes. You can confirm this with anybody who’s felt that uneasy feeling you get when the dentist puts on a full-body lead vest with matching face shield just before he blasts your squishy, totally-unprotected head with radiation to get an X-ray. So, if the masks weren’t meant for radiation or welding, what the hell were they for?

The prominent ufologist Jacques Vallee travelled to Niterói to inspect the scene in 1980, 14 years after the bizarre deaths. In the prologue of his book Confrontations, he reported that grass and other plants refused to grow, even then, in the spot where the bodies were found. People he questioned reported that while the bodies had decayed somewhat by the time they were found, they had no unpleasant smell, and they had not been scavenged by the local animals, who seemed to give them a wide berth. Vallee also provided a helpful diagram of the scene:

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Perhaps most importantly, Vallee reports on the testimony of one Gracinda Barbosa Coutinho de Souza, a respected lady of the upper class:

She told officer Béttencourt that as she was driving along Alameda São Boaventura in Fonseca with three of her children on Wednesday evening [the 17th], her daughter Denise, then seven, told her to look up in the sky over the Morro do Vintem. She saw an oval object, orange in color, with a line of fire around its edges, “sending out rays in all directions,” while it hovered over the hill. She had time to stop the car and to observe it carefully as it rose and fell vertically for three or four minutes, giving off a well-defined “blue ray.”

It was considered somewhat uncouth to discuss UFOs in Brazil at the time, but after this well-regarded lady was willing to put her name to such a testimony, further reports started coming in. Ms. de Souza was not the only person who had seen an oval, orange-coloured shape emitting blue ‘rays’ above the Morro; the sight was confirmed by a “large number” of witnesses, and all of them agreed on the time, which appeared to coincide closely with the deaths of Miguel and Manoel. In fact, the Morro was apparently a pretty common place to witness unexplained lights and similar bizarre phenomena. When the locals were questioned as to why they hadn’t come forward with this information sooner, their response was guileless: well, they hadn’t mentioned these things because they had assumed they were extraterrestrial UFOs, and they didn’t want to get caught up in that dangerous business. Perhaps Miguel and Manoel could have benefited from a similar healthy apprehension. Perhaps I could too, come to think of it. Anyway, aside from these reports, the physical evidence found at the scene furnished nothing but more questions. However, a routine police investigation into the lives of the unfortunate technicians was soon to yield some very strange information indeed.

THE LEAD MASKS CASE – Part Two: Telepathy and Bombs

Believers in the UFO phenomenon and alien-human contact can generally be assigned to one of two ‘camps’. The first is the ‘classical’ alien-hunter, if you will. This group typically believes in the existence of UFOs as physical objects, piloted by aliens with physical bodies. In their mythos, the aliens are usually considered to be inscrutable, with technology far beyond our own and mentalities to match. They are rarely thought to be kindly beings; they may be outright malevolent, or, more often, they are indifferent – the kind of scientific indifference that can and does result in human suffering, much the way human scientific indifference results in the suffering of lab rats or livestock. These aliens interact with people in bizarre and potentially dangerous ways; they abduct us, they perform medical testing and experimentation involving vivisection and sexual invasion, and they harass the military, or they conspire with shady government types to rob us of our rights. The people who subscribe to this view of intelligent alien life are the Max Fenig types. They are technologically competent, often referred to in UFO circles as ‘nuts and bolts’ ufologists; scanning the shortwave bands and the internet for clues implicating governments in cover-up activities, posting up on deserted hills with high-powered cameras hoping to record a UFO, running metallurgical analyses on supposed alien artefacts, and so on. They take as their baseline the assumption that aliens are a species at least somehow comparable to our own, who are invading our planet in a manner that is essentially a military one, albeit highly technological and highly covert.

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“Somebody’s always paying attention, Mr. Mulder.”

The second camp are the ‘spiritualist’ or ‘new age’ alien believers. For these people, aliens are almost always considered to be both extremely intelligent and highly compassionate. They contact humanity not to test on us, enslave us, or conquer us, but to enlighten us. These are advanced beings, both technologically and spiritually, who are hoping to guide us toward our own peaceful evolution as a species. Their goals for us are morally good ones. Specifically, in every single example of this I’ve ever encountered, the aliens are desperate for us to give up our nuclear weapons, to hammer our H-bombs into ploughshares. They also often have an ecological message. There is a widespread human anxiety over separate but interrelated crunch-points implied by the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War and beyond on one hand, and the threat to the environment posed by both ‘peaceful’ industrialization and global war, on the other. Solving these problems seems next to impossible. It’s comforting to think that another advanced species reached this bottleneck and passed through it successfully, and moreover that they’re willing to help us succeed as well. For these believers, aliens usually don’t visit us in physical UFOs (they’re far beyond that) and in fact they generally don’t even leave their ‘home’ planet. Instead, they communicate telepathically with certain humans, who serve as their mediums (the most famous of these probably being Ken Carey, who channelled The Starseed Transmissions), or they possess human bodies outright, as was the case with Ti and Do, the leaders of the Heaven’s Gate cult, who maintained that they themselves were transplanted alien intelligences in human bodies (these are called ‘walk-ins’).

There are those individuals who fail to align with either group, but they’re fairly rare, and the ambiguity is usually due to their unwillingness to make concrete claims about a mysterious phenomenon. Whitley Strieber, the author of Communion, for instance, is famously reluctant to propose definite terms for the UFO and abduction phenomena he has experienced; he refers to the entities he encountered by the ambiguous term ‘visitors’, and he considers even the presumption that UFOs are related to extraterrestrial entities to be an unwarranted leaping to conclusions. Miguel José Viana and Manoel Pereira da Cruz, however, are unclassifiable for a different reason; they represent a highly unusual synthesis of both camps.

When police began asking questions after the grisly find on the Morro, they found that Miguel and Manoel’s lives were highly influenced by a particularly technological and scientific strain of what was then called ‘spiritualism,’— something we might today call ‘new age science’ or even ‘UFO occultism.’ Their first tip came from an examination of Miguel and Manoel’s workshop. Amid electronics gear and scraps of lead, apparently the same initial material from which the masks had been fashioned, they found extensive notes on spiritualism, along with a book by one Bezerra de Menezes on ‘scientific spiritualism.’ According to the Flying Saucer Review, the preeminent UFO periodical of the time, which published a series of three articles on the subject, the book had “passages marked regarding masks, intense luminosity and accompanying spirits”. Unfortunately my unfamiliarity with the language means I’m stymied as far as that book is concerned, as well as with the notes, even providing they’d been transcribed.

But Miguel and Manoel were hardly a outlying, head-cracked duo in an otherwise scientific field of pure objectivism. That wouldn’t be nearly as fun as the truth. As it turns out, the police, quite to their surprise, soon learned that practically everybody involved in the high-level electronics trade in Brazil also had something to do with scientific spiritualism, a hobby that revolved around revelations from beings in higher planes of reality, telepathic communication with disembodied extraterrestrial entities, séances, hallucinogenic drug use, and other decidedly un-scientific endeavours.

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Elsewhere, other scientists were drilling holes in their own heads. It was the 60’s.

This and weirder things were related when police questioned Elcio Gomes, an erstwhile assistant to the hapless Miguel and Manoel (the man’s name may in fact have been “Elcio Correa da Silva” – sources disagree). His testimony further revealed that the ‘scientific’ in ‘scientific spiritualism’ wasn’t mere lip service. There was plenty of the weirdo tech-savvy classical UFO hunter in the ill-fated pair. They may have expected to contact aliens through telepathy, séances, and similar new-age froo-froo antics, but they expected them to come in classic, physical UFOs, and once they got them here, they were apparently preparing to deal with them with good old human technology, with good old human zapping and formulae and, most distinctively, that classic man’s-best-friend, the trusty explosion. As the FSR reports,

Once Gomes was under examination, there were many more statements. Miguel and Manuel[sic], like Gomes, were “scientific spiritualists”; that in common with many other Brazilians they regularly attended sceances; that they were members of a secret society with unknown aims, but apparently devoted to “spiritism”. Another revelation was that almost all electronics specialists and enthusiasts in the district are spiritualists as well. Furthermore, it was told how Miguel and Manuel[sic] were hopeful of entering into communication with beings “on Mars”; that they collaborated in many strange “electronic” experiments; that they and Gomes had engaged in an experiment in Manuel’s garden (this was confirmed by Manuel’s father) when a device they had built had exploded violently.

Once word got around that Gomes had broken his secrecy regarding these experiments, the local residents opened up again, much as they had after Ms. de Souza’s revelations regarding the orange UFO over the Morro on the night in question. The explosion in Manoel’s garden had apparently been massive, shaking walls and causing a huge ruckus. Yet it paled to another experiment that the trio had engaged in at the Atafona Beach. The details, again, had fallen by the wayside. Suffice to say, the three had been spotted on the beach on June 12, setting up some kind of apparatus, after which an “intensely luminous object came down over the shore.” Again according to the FSR,

Five minutes later, when it began to rise, there was a blinding flash and an explosion which rocked the city of Campos, and buildings far beyond. When enquiries were made, local fisherfolk testified that they had seen a flying saucer fall into the sea. At this stage, we begin to read in the reports that the Brazilian Naval and Air Force Intelligence Services were taking an interest in both the deaths [on the Morro] and the explosions [at Atafona]. In the very last report we have on the case, appearing in O Cruzeiro of September 16, there was a story that the Navy’s monitoring service had intercepted a strange conversation over the air between three radio hams on the evening of June 12. The station prefixes were CKJ-22 and CK-22, who were talking to CKJ-21. Details of the conversation were not disclosed, but investigations had shown that no such prefixes existed in the register of amateur radio transmitting stations in Brazil.

It was rapidly becoming obvious to police that Miguel and Manoel were some very strange cats. At the very least, things certainly tended to explode a whole lot when they were around. Their investigation had, however, still failed to produce any kind of explanation as to how or why they had died on the Morro. A certain imprisoned gangster named Hamilton Bezani offered a confession at one point, claiming that he and some others had contacted Miguel and Manoel, offering to sell them some kind of radioactive material. They had given them capsules to supposedly protect them against radiation, and had told them to retrieve the goods from the Morro, a common spot for conducting illicit transactions. The capsules were, in fact, poison. All Bezani had to do was wait, then go up to the Morro and retrieve the cash that the pair had on them to purchase the materials. Police jumped at the opportunity to get this case laid to rest, but they soon pegged Bezani’s confession for a con (later, they speculated that he was trying to get transferred to the prison in Niterói, which was apparently known as being easy to escape from). His story didn’t hold up, he wasn’t able to relate key details he should have known, he couldn’t identify any of his co-conspirators except in extremely vague terms, his story failed to explain the lead masks, and he couldn’t produce the money.

There’s a good reason for that last fact. When Jacques Vallee visited Niterói, he took the apparently unprecedented step of asking Miguel’s family about this supposed missing cash. He was told that while the duo had indeed left Campos with a back-story about buying a used car, his relations had quickly found that he’d actually taken very little money with him. The car, the electronics purchases, all of it was a smokescreen. This is further confirmed by Miguel’s widow, who told Vallee that as Miguel was leaving, he quietly levelled with her: he was taking a trip to Niterói in order to perform some kind of experiment on the Morro. With a cousin, he was more candid: “Buying a car isn’t the real purpose of this trip. When I get back, I’ll tell you whether or not I believe in spiritualism.”

Miguel and Manoel had a rendezvous with something up there; maybe it was an extraterrestrial in a UFO that had stopped their hearts, maybe it was some kind of disembodied intellect that had overwhelmed their brains, maybe it was a drug overdose that dispatched them in a more straightforward manner, Toledo Pizza’s report notwithstanding (in fact, they actually dug the pair up for a second autopsy, but to no avail). Maybe they expected to die, maybe they thought it was a possibility, maybe it took them completely by surprise. But whatever happened, it wasn’t random happenstance. It was something they were prepared for; something they’d researched for and practiced for, developed a plan for. They reckoned with something on the Morro do Vintém that day. We’ll probably never know what.

But, as it turns out, somebody else may have known, at least briefly— because it turns out that Miguel and Manoel weren’t the first Brazilian spiritualists to die with lead masks on their faces.

THE LEAD MASKS CASE – Part Three: Fellow Travellers

Sometimes fate has a weird sense of humour. The parents of Hermes Luiz Feitosa, for example, surely had no idea that their son, whom they named after the messenger of the gods, would one day meet his end in a strange experiment possibly aimed at communicating with beings on a higher plane of reality.

Hermes

That happened in 1962, four years before Miguel José Viana and Manoel Pereira da Cruz would meet a similar fate on the Morro do Vintém. The details of Hermes’ passing are even sketchier than the tenuous and mutually-contradictory hodgepodge of a mess that is the gathered mythology of the Caso das Máscaras de Chumbo. I can’t lock down the date to anything more precise than the year. Even the location is up for grabs. A lot of sources claim that Hermes also died on the Morro do Vintém, though others say it happened on the Morro de Cruzeiro, near Neves, which seems more likely. Despite the slender details, sources agree on one thing: Hermes also had a lead mask, handmade, crafted to cover the eyes, and was found dead of no apparent cause, with no injuries and no toxicology. Feitosa is mentioned in the first of the articles FSR ran on the Lead Masks Case, in 1967:

The mystery was heightened by the revelation that in 1962 another man, a TV technician named Hermes, had been found dead on the top of Morro do Cruzeiro near Neves. His corpse also had a lead mask lying beside it. Speculation continued the outward-bound trend when the Folha de Sao Paulo of August 31 published an article in which a “Professor of Yoga” suggested that the men may have been trying to carry out a telepathic experiment with high-frequency thought waves. He explained that in experiments of this kind, alkaloids such as LSD-25, or Mescalin, are taken to step up mental alertness and the frequency of the brain (whatever that means).

Man. Yoga in Brazil in the 60’s was weird. And just what the hell were all the TV technicians up to?! The authorities were apparently just as confused as I am; when Miguel and Manoel’s bodies turned up on the Morro do Vintém, they reopened the case on Hermes (it had been settled with similarly unsatisfying conclusions) but they failed to find any connection between the two. It seems that climbing a hill, dropping acid, and trying to communicate telepathically with Martians was just so damn common among Brazil’s electronics technicians that it didn’t count as a correlating detail when three different men all dropped dead doing it.

In terms of Hermes’ intent with his sojourn on his own deadly Morro, nobody really knows. The yoga professor’s assertion that it was a “telepathic experiment” suggests that Hermes was trying to contact someone, or something, much like Miguel and Manoel. There is another suggestion on the Portuguese Wikipedia that “Investigations had revealed that the victim had gone to that place with the specific intent to experiment alleged psychic abilities that would have allowed him to pick up radio and television signals without the use of electronic means, but only through the power of mind”. The claim is unsourced, so the question of who carried out these ‘investigations’ and what their results were (if it even happened) remain up in the air.

As for accompanying UFO’s, the official UFO chronology maintained by NICAP (the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) does mention a UFO encounter in Brazil on July 30, 1962. The brief entry specifies “Car motor stopped, then oval UFO seen alongside road.” It is the same year, but without knowing exactly when Hermes met his end, we can’t know if this sighting happened around the same time or not. NICAP’s entry specifies the area as near Pojucara, which is in the extreme northeast of Brazil, quite distant from both Niterói and Neves.

If we widen our discussion to somewhat more circumstantial matters, we find that the Lead Masks Case bears some similarities to a rather darker chapter in the history of ufology, namely the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult. Heaven’s Gate was a millenarian (doomsday) religious group who believed that the world was about to be ‘recycled’ and that survival required humans to leave their physical bodies and join their spirits with aliens who were currently passing by Earth in a UFO hidden in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp. From an initial group of hundreds, Heaven’s Gate underwent ascetic practices and other rituals to train for their ‘graduation’, turning away those who weren’t ready, and eventually arriving at an ‘away team’ of 39. These beings ‘dropped their vehicles’ in March of 1997. Like Miguel and Manoel, they were dressed identically (black tee-shirts, sweat pants, and Nikes, rather than suits and raincoats) and a square cloth covered each of their faces. They had committed suicide by overdose. Aside from the cosmetic similarities, there is a similar underlying duality of belief; like Miguel and Manoel, Heaven’s Gate had a weird mixture of new-age philosophy involving telepathy, and a concrete, classical, physical conception of the UFO phenomenon. Nobody seems to have asked why they would have to abandon their bodies in order to board a physical UFO; why would disembodied intellects ride in a machine?

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Ultimately, we resolve with a mess of speculation. It seems like there is some way of contacting some very strange beings, and it involves covering your face and dying. The event is simultaneously mental and physical. It’s a door through which only the initiated can pass, and like a black hole, the information that goes through it does not come back out. If we could know what happened to these people, they wouldn’t have had to die to find out. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion, but it’s not abnormal; we live in that confused state every day, and we will, until the day we too pass through a similar door.

THE LEAD MASKS CASE – Part Four: Contact

As we’ve seen, the Lead Masks Case is one that is deeply weird and also deeply confusing. The contradictory accounts and lack of straightforward rationale behind the whole thing make it a giant open question. What you’ve read, as incoherent as it seemed, is about the best I can do; it’ll have to suffice, until we drop our own vehicles and learn the real truth behind the mythology. As usual, we’ll settle things off with the Wet Blanket Revue, detailing the more sane possibilities, and the Venusian Conclusion, my personal best attempt at a resolution most pleasing to those of us who don’t care much for sanity.

THE WET BLANKET REVUE – LEAD MASKS CASE

The detail of this case that tends most toward a rational explanation is, of course, “swallow capsules”. We’ve got no idea what those capsules may have been, of course, but generally speaking, when weirdos swallow capsules, there’s a certain potential for disaster.

We’ve covered the results of the autopsies (yes, there were two) and the idea that nothing poisonous or otherwise deleterious was found in Miguel and Manoel’s bodies. And sure, that makes for a better story; so much so, in fact, that pretty much every paranormal story involving somebody swallowing something and then dying will always rush to inform the reader that yes, there was an autopsy, and no, nothing was found. That works out great in terms of storytelling, but unfortunately real life can be a little less cut-and-dry.

An autopsy, to be conclusive, requires a few key elements. First, the body has to be relatively well-preserved. We know that Miguel and Manoel laid dead on the Morro for at least three days before they were recovered, and they were in the morgue another few days before the actual autopsy. Secondly, certain organs need to be preserved in especially good condition; if it’s a poison absorbed in the liver, and the liver is gone, the poison is gone too. In the case of Miguel and Manoel, there’s some doubt as to whether the right organs were in the right state. As it turns out, in a rather bleak detail of the case, this whole event transpired during the outset of what was essentially a military junta in Brazil; in the associated turmoil, suspicious deaths were fairly common, and the coroner’s office found itself overwhelmed. There’s some doubt that the bodies were handled in a timely manner, and even a suggestion that certain of their organs were simply removed and disposed of before the initial autopsy because they were already too far gone to be of any value to the coroner. All of this makes poison or overdose a distinct possibility.

There’s also Hamilton Bezani’s claim that the men were killed for the money they carried, though this seems a stretch. Bezani laid out an extremely complicated plot requiring multiple collaborators and a frankly silly assassination scheme. The money, which they may not have even had, was about enough to buy a fairly shitty old car, so it wasn’t really worth the hassle. A simple mugging would have been much less trouble. That said, foul play isn’t exactly out of the question. The aforementioned junta was fast to crack down on dissidents, intellectuals, and free thinkers, and the UFO / scientific spiritualist community was one of its targets. Though there’s no indication that anybody was killed for believing in UFOs, the articles in the Flying Saucer Review are careful to indicate that ufology work in Brazil was tough, and getting tougher, as the junta did its best to bring the fringes of its society in line with its more conservative vision for the country. The government at the time was certainly not above removing its opponents through secret killings and forced disappearances; maybe the junta’s catchy slogan “Brazil: Love It or Leave It” was applied with a somewhat excessive measure of literality in the case of the two unfortunate technicians.

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So it’s possible that our boys were conned into committing suicide, or that they were rubbed out by a government that couldn’t properly digest their inherent wackiness, or maybe they were just being weirdo UFO-hippies (not an uncommon pastime back then, either in Brazil or in North America for that matter) and they took a little too much of something a little too strong.

None of these options are quite as exciting as the more bizarre possibilities. However, even if we assume that their deaths were entirely earthly and prosaic, we can admire the hell out of these brave men’s dedication to their own looniness. I think that most of us, if we were experiencing tremendous socio-economic upheaval in the wake of a military coup, would postpone our plans to get high as fuck and mind-meld with an alien civilization. Not these guys. They had jobs to do, families to support, they were citizens of a troubled nation with an uncertain future, but they had their priorities, dammit. First and foremost, they were going to get wrecked, protect those metals, wait for the mask sign, because that was the real shit.

THE VENUSIAN CONCLUSION – LEAD MASKS CASE

Try this one on for size: Miguel José Viana and Manoel Pereira da Cruz – alien killers.

These men were scientists, which goes a little way toward resolving the UFO hunter / spiritualist divide mentioned earlier. If we can suspend our disbelief and lend some credence to what they believed, the extraterrestrial phenomenon has both a psychic component and a physical component. Maybe they were simply following the scientific method; developing a hypothesis and then testing it against reality. Maybe the reason they straddled those two camps is that aliens really do manifest this way.

Miguel and Manoel developed their technology along two lines. The first, a psychic component, ‘called’ the aliens and brought their UFOs. The second, physical component was some kind of explosive weapon capable of bringing those bastards down. Following along in their exploits, they certainly do seem to be progressing toward something. First, in the garden; no UFOs present, but some kind of device was tested, which resulted in a massive explosion. Then, the event at Atafona beach; they show up just in time to set up their gadget, and lo and behold, a UFO shows up, followed by an explosion that sends it crashing into the sea. They’d contacted the aliens through their psychic mastery and brought them in for what was supposed to be a peaceful and mind-expanding first contact (during which there’s a 100% probability the aliens would have insisted that we get rid of our nukes) and then BLAMMO!! Go to hell, revolting monsters from beyond the stars!! That trick only works once, of course; they tried again at the Morro, but the aliens had caught on, and they paid the men back for the loss of their ship.

I like this scenario for a few reasons. In the context of the very peace-oriented and enlightenment-oriented new-age UFO mythology, it’s funny for me to think that these guys would do the soul-scouring emotional labour required to develop the magical psychic ability to communicate with aliens, but that they did so not because their intentions were actually peaceful and welcoming, but rather because that was simply what worked. But what I think is really interesting is that humans, of course, really aren’t tranquil, welcoming beings. We’re violent and xenophobic, and that’s a terrible truth, but it’s part of being human nonetheless. We’re also stupid and brash and impulsive and we tend to do idiotic things without first considering the consequences. There’s a way in which blowing up a UFO landing on a mission of peace is a charmingly idiotic and delightfully human thing to do. It reeks of confidence and pride, satisfaction in one’s own essence, willingness to defend human individuality. These damned aliens are trying to change us! They want us to be peaceful and serene, just like them, the fascists! Well fuck that, buddy! Let’s blow those dictatorial sons of bitches to kingdom come!

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Vanity, thy name is Russell Casse.

I follow a guy on Twitter who hunts Bigfoot, meaning he actually hunts him with a loaded firearm in order to one day hopefully kill him, because he thinks Bigfoot is a dangerous predator and he’d be saving human lives by putting him down. I have a soft spot for people like that, and I like to think that Miguel and Manoel fall into that category. I think it goes without saying that I don’t condone warfare or violence in the ‘real’ world, but spending time in the world of the paranormal is kind of like living a metaphorical life. There’s a way in which a ‘true’ story about people trying to contact an alien is really a much more general story about what we, as a species, as a mind, would look like ‘from the outside.’ We’ve never had a chance to look at ourselves from the outside; we can only speculate. That’s why you hear people say “I think one thing aliens would find really strange about us is…” A view from the outside is an objective view; the other sees us as we are, without the justifications and excuses we perform in our thinking about ourselves. Humans are, in an objective sense, needlessly violent. That’s something an alien would just see. That seeing is what real ‘contact’ is. When they contacted Miguel and Manoel, they saw something that exists in all of us.

It would be dishonest for us to greet aliens with a shit-eating grin and tell them all about how peaceful and placid and open-minded and happy we are. They’d see right through it. Maybe, at first contact, we should have the Secretary General of the UN give a short speech, and then have some brash knucklehead walk up and sucker-punch one of the aliens. At least it would be an honest representation of our real nature. Maybe the aliens would be OK with it, maybe they’d be pissed, but at least we’d all be starting off on the same page. Somebody in the UFO community has to be that guy, has to remind us that human foolishness and violence is one of the things that ETs will encounter, or else the whole thing is just a self-congratulatory pack of lies about how evolved we are. We need people like Miguel and Manoel to keep us honest and humble, to show us that the truth is out there, human evolution is out there, but sometimes we blow shit up when we shouldn’t, and we have to keep that in mind. When you meet a stranger, it’s important to put your best foot forward, but if you want to really communicate with somebody, you’ve got to be yourself.

Further Reading

You can find a few Portuguese websites by Googling the Portuguese name of the case (“O Caso das Máscaras de Chumbo”) and using Google’s translate function. These are a little more detailed than the English accounts, though the auto-translate obviously makes it a little quirky. Below are listed English-language sources:

Jacques Vallee, Confrontations (the section on the Lead Masks Case is near the beginning)

These are the original articles from Flying Saucer Review (PDF format). Thanks to Reddit user HangOn2UrEgo (consider a change of handle) for these babies:

The Mystery of the Morro Do Vintem (Charles Bowen) FSR Mar-Apr (v.13/n.2) 1967

No Easy Solution to the Morro Mystery (Charles Bowen) FSR Jul-Aug (v.14/n.4) 1968

Follow-up on the Morro Do Vintem Mystery (Gordon Creighton) FSR Jul-Aug (v.17/n.4) 1971

Thanks for reading! I haven’t quite settled on next month’s topic, though I’ve got some ideas. If you’d like to request something, I’m happy to consider any suggestions. Until then, keep watching the skis. I’m Leonard Nimoy.