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True crime. Casually done.

The Lead Masks of Vintém Hill

We’ve covered quite a few mysteries so far on the show, ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. But today we’ve got one so weird, it blows right off the end of that spectrum. This strange tale from Brazil began with the routine discovery of two dead men on a hillside, but soon spiraled out into a wild web of UFO sightings, secret societies, and shady underground dealings.

Today we’ll be trying to answer the question: what exactly happened on Vintém Hill all those years ago — mundane murder, ritual suicide, freak accident, or intergalactic assassination? Spoiler alert: I’m 99.9% sure it’s not the last one.

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The Bodies

On August 20th, 1966, an 18-year-old from Rio de Janeiro named Jorge de Costa Alves was heading out to fly his kite on Vintém Hill. Partway up, he was hit with the stench of decay, coming from a patch of weeds further up the slope. From afar, Jorge spotted two bodies, lying down in the dirt side by side. He rushed down the hill to fetch the police.

It was another 24 hours before the cops could reach the corpses, on account of the rough terrain and wet weather. Once they got up there, a strange scene lay before them. The corpses were of two men in their thirties, clothed in matching suits and raincoats. Next to their heads lay a pair of identical eye masks, made of lead.

The bodies had been lying out in the open for three days by his point, exposed to the hot and humid Brazilian weather. You can probably imagine what kind of effect that has on a dead body — enough that any superficial signs of physical violence would’ve long since disappeared. From what the coroner could determine later on though, there was no sign that the men had been attacked.

From the looks of things, these two perfectly healthy young men just lay down and died, for no apparent reason…

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Initial Findings 

The situation was already peculiar enough, and a search of their pockets turned up some more confusing evidence. A pair of driving licenses identified the unfortunate pair as 34-year old Miguel José Viana, and 32-year old Manoel Pereira da Cruz. They were TV and radio repairmen from Campos dos Goytacazes, about 200km to the northeast of Rio.

Both men were married with kids, and were well liked in their community. On the face of things, there was absolutely no reason anyone would want to harm them. As for why they were up on the hill in the first place, it was anyone’s guess. 

Several of their belongings offered a few cryptic clues:

The Masks

Central to this mystery are the masks from which it gets its name. When the title reads “lead masks”, you might have imagined something like a welding mask, or some medieval knight’s helmet. But these were nothing like that, and seemed to serve no practical purpose.

The masks looked more like those sleep masks that get handed out on airlines, just without the strap around the back. They appeared homemade, roughly cut from a thin sheet of pure lead. If the men had been wearing these jagged-edged blindfolds when they died, then they wouldn’t have been able to see a thing. Had the masks perhaps been part of some gangland execution?

You’d think they’d just use a standard piece of cloth in that case, rather than pure lead. This led some to speculate that the pair were using the masks to protect their eyes from radiation. In that case though, why not bother covering their mouths, face, and basically every other part of their bodies? 

Industrial workers who are exposed to radioactivity tend to use far bulkier gear, which covers the entire head, with eye holes for practicality. So the flimsy Vintém Hill masks probably weren’t meant for blocking gamma rays. What then? 

We’ll put a pin in that for now.

Notebook

The next clue only made things more perplexing: a small notebook, found in one of the men’s suit jackets. A series of strange alphanumeric sequences was written throughout. Stray into the wrong internet forums, and people will tell you these sequences of letters and numbers contain hidden coded messages, but the far more likely (and more boring) theory is that they represented a shopping list of electrical parts which the men had set out to pick up for their TV and radio repair business.

There was one page though, which simply defied explanation. The very last thing written in the notebook were the words: 

4:30pm — estar no local determinado.

6:30pm — ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara

or

4:30pm — be at the determined place.

6:30pm— swallow capsules, after effect protect metals await signal mask

Now that really did offer something to follow up on — the men had apparently swallowed some mysterious capsules on the day of their death, and perhaps arranged to meet someone on the hill. The grammar in last point on the mysterious itinerary was a bit sketchy, so some have charitably re-written it as:

“Swallow capsules. After feeling the effects, protect half the face with lead masks, and await the agreed signal.”

One source claims that, according to some previous entries in the notebook, it seemed like Miguel and Manoel had also been dosing up on these capsules after meals and before bedtime, in the week leading up to the incident. And apparently, some police handwriting experts determined that the schedule was not written by either of the dead men. (However, I have to admit that with this case it’s extremely difficult to corroborate this and many other facts with more than one source.)

These mysterious capsules were surely the best lead detectives were likely to get, which makes it absolutely astounding that they never even bothered following up on it! A toxicology examination was never run on the cadavers — reports from the time state that the coroner was just too busy to bother.

Without any clear evidence of foul play, the police left it at that, and whatever substances which Miguel and Manoel took that day — or were forced to take — were never discovered. Some reports from the following years suggest that the bodies were later exhumed for testing. However, by that point the internal organs had all but decayed entirely.

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Tracing Their Final Hours

So, searching the scene has thrown up more questions than it answered. Why were the men popping pills? Who, if anyone, were they meeting? What was the agreed signal? We could spend hours chasing our tails on those. Instead, let’s follow the investigators, as they built up a picture of the final hours of Miguel and Manoel.

First, detectives interviewed both their families over in the city of Campos. At 9am on Wednesday the 17th of August, they had told their wives that they were heading down south to pick up some electronic components. Some reports also mention their intent to buy a used car. 

They took around 3 million Brazilian cruzeiros along with them. It’s tough to get an exact dollar value for that amount of cash, due to the wild inflation of the time — the best estimate I’ve managed is somewhere around $1350 dollars. They only had about 5% of that amount left between them when they were found.

Miguel and Manoel then reached the town of Niterój at 2pm, stepping off the bus and into the rain. Their first stop was a clothing store near the bus station, where they bought matching raincoats. This might also be where they got the pair of towels which were later found soaked, in a bag near their bodies. 

Some reports state they then went to an electronics store, before heading onwards to a bar in central Rio de Janeiro, across the Guanabara Bay. There they bought the glass bottle of water later found next to them. Detectives were able to retrace their steps using a receipt from Miguel’s pocket, which could have later been used to reclaim a deposit for the bottle. That suggests that they probably planned on descending the hill at some point. 

It sure seems like they were anxious to get up there too: the waitress who sold them the water mentioned that they seemed agitated. Miguel kept compulsively checking his watch over and over, as if he were worried about missing something important. At 3:15pm, the two electronic technicians started their ascent. One report mentions them hitching a ride with two anonymous men in a 4 by 4. Whether that’s true or not, we know they made it up to their perch shortly after.

The young man who would later find their bodies was a frequent visitor to the spot, and some reports claim that he spotted the two men sitting idly on the hillside at around 5pm that day. He then allegedly returned the day after to find them still lying there. Assuming they were asleep, he left them alone, before finally figuring it out when he returned that weekend.

Why Were They There?

We’re clearly not short on information about the circumstances of that day — some pieces more reliable than others — yet none of it brings us any closer to understanding why Miguel and Manoel were there on Vintém Hill. It seems neither of them were entirely forthcoming with their families, and had some other objective beyond just picking up supplies. 

As usual, where the evidence stopped, some pretty wild theorizing began. Some speculated that Miguel and Manoel had arranged a secret meeting on the hill, perhaps to pick up some illicit goods. Depending who you ask (and this includes even some senior investigators on the case), this could be anything from smuggled foreign electrical parts, to radioactive material. 

True: some electrical parts were rare in Brazil at the time, leading to a thriving smuggling trade, and the two men were dedicated hobbyists known for making their own DIY machines. This might explain how they ended up dead: they had been robbed by the dealer. But what was all this talk of taking capsules, and why cover their own eyes with those masks while some gangster offed them?

Alternatively, if they had been trying to secure some radioactive material to raise the stakes of their little engineering experiments — or even selling it to criminals in Rio — then surely they would’ve brought some better protection! This angle was ruled out when tests of their hair follicles revealed that neither of the men were exposed to any abnormal radiation at any point.

If the idea of underworld radioactive weapons deals seems outlandish, we haven’t even gotten started yet…

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That about brings us to the end of the sane, rational portion of the episode — it’s all down the rabbit hole from here. The detectives on the case had already started dipping their toes into wild conspiracy theory, but now they were about to get pushed right in at the deep end. 

that’s because, the more information they gathered on the two men and their acquaintances, the more it became clear that they were into some really left-field stuff. Hold on to your tinfoil hats folks, because it turned out that Miguel and Manoel probably did plan to meet someone that evening — just not someone from this world…

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1966: Uma Odisséia no Espaço

The year after the two men turned up dead on the hillside, one of their friends was arrested by the police due to inconsistencies in his statements. This was commercial pilot Elcio Gomes. He had allegedly been Manoel’s assistant during some home-brew science projects, and his widow recalled that the two had a major falling out in the days leading up to the deaths.

This made Gomes one of the more likely suspects, but he was ruled out when he provided an alibi — he and a group of mates were in a town 4 hours away. However, the other information he provided during this second interrogation would end up sending the case in a wilder direction than anyone could have imagined.

Gomes revealed that he and the two men were part of a secret society, along with hundreds (potentially thousands) of other electrical enthusiasts in the area. All of them were self-proclaimed “scientific spiritualists”, coming together to achieve a common goal: establishing contact with alien beings on Mars. 

These tech-loving UFO hunters didn’t stop at telescopes and radio broadcasts; they also regularly attended seances to contact the spirit realm, believing they could coax higher beings from beyond the veil of reality into revealing themselves. And yes, as you’ve probably guessed, they really, really loved drugs. 

UFO Rumors

Before we go any further into the wild world of Brazilian UFO cults, I have to issue a little disclaimer: much of the information surrounding this case is steeped in conspiracy theories and tabloid misinformation. In fact, it’s so bad that a publication entitled the Flying Saucer Review is actually the most reliable contemporary source.

They published several articles on the case throughout the late sixties, which actually display a healthy amount of skepticism compared to the Ancient Aliens brand of UFO theories from today. They mostly draw their evidence from various local news reports, which were themselves knee-deep in hysteria.

See, at this point Brazil was in the grip of its very own UFO fever. Reports of sightings were extremely common, even from officers in the armed forces and other reputable sources. Shortly after the two technicians were found dead, one such report was filed for that evening, on Vintém Hill.

A woman named Gracinda Barbosa Coutinho da Sousa went to the police, and told them she had spotted a strange object floating above the hill when driving her children home that night: an orange oval, with a bright fiery ring around its edges. This strange spectral light was hanging over the top of top of the hill. By the time her husband returned to check it out, it was gone. Once this news broke, several other local residents came forward to claim they had seen the same phenomenon.

One report added that, leading up to that fateful day, Miguel had told his sister that he had an important mission coming up, but it was top secret. Was this supposed to be a direct rendezvous with the creatures in the magic orange ship? If you’re a true believer in all that stuff, it might open the door to all sorts of explanations for the deaths — but please, chase those inter-dimensional space ghosts in your own time. 

A more likely scenario is that the two men were tasked with doing some experiment up on the hill, which produced the lights spotted by Mrs da Sousa. After all, Miguel and Manoel were no strangers to blowing shit up in their quest for alien contact. 

Elcio told investigators that, to establish contact with the great beyond, the three of them had built a device in Miguel’s back yard two months before they died. Unfortunately it exploded before they could get any little green men on the line.

Whatever your opinion on alien visitations, we at least know that the two technicians themselves were die-hard believers, so they were most likely up to something UFO-related on that hill. And some believe they might have gone to some pretty extreme lengths for their commitment to the cause…

One More Lead Mask Death

If the events on Vintém Hill that night were an attempt to make contact with little green men, it may not have been the first attempt of this kind. In 1967, a Rio journalist claimed to have unearthed another unsolved case which suggested that these ‘scientific spiritualists’ preferred elevated spots for their mad pseudo-scientific experiments. 

Four years before Miguel and Manoel, a man named Hermes Luiz Feitosa was found on Cruzeiro Hill, about three and a half hours east of Campos. He was also an electronic technician, also found with a homemade lead mask by his side. Whatever killed Miguel and Manoel likely killed this man too.

Is it possible that Miguel and Manoel may have known Hermes? It seems like they were pretty deep into all this techno-spiritual stuff, so it’s pretty likely that they were part of the same group. Gomes alleges that the two dead men maintained a secret radio communication center in their hometown, used to stay in contact with members around the country. 

Perhaps the ritual they were undertaking that night was a common practice among members of the secret club. If so, then it’s pretty likely that the other dead guy had also ingested the same mystery capsules. What might those be? Gomes revealed that psychedelics were seen as a useful tool for establishing contact with extraterrestrials, as they opened the mind up to a wider range of frequencies.

Now, this might all sound like a load of science fiction dreamed up by Elcio Gomes to throw the cops off, but detectives had already found evidence in Miguel’s home workshop which backed it all up. There they discovered a pair of metal snips, and some scrap lead which matched the thickness of the masks. 

On one of the shelves was a book on scientific spiritualism. It was all exactly as Elcio had described. Some highlighted passages warned that any aliens/spirits summoned would give off an “intense luminosity” that could blind humans. A potential solution: homemade lead masks, to shield the eyes from the angelic lights given off by our inter-dimensional overlords. 

Certainly sounds like something dreamed up after prolonged exposure to lead dust…

The Atafona Beach Incident 

As for the strange lights on the hill, Elcio might have offered up a half-decent explanation. If they were caused by some experiment, it wouldn’t have been the first time that Miguel and Manoel convinced bystanders they were witnessing visitors from the stars.

An article on the case written by Flying Saucer Review’s Charles Bowen in 1967 delved deeper into Elcio Gomes’ claims, which included another explosive incident in the summer before his friends met their end. On June 13th 1966, Miguel invited him to witness their latest experiment. He and other members of their community convened on Atafona Beach, out to the east of Campos.

Miguel and Manoel set up their homemade instruments on the sands — I’m imagining some sort of beacon, or radio transmitter (there aren’t any descriptions available). Shortly after turning it on, Gomes reported witnessing an “intensely luminous object” descending over the ocean nearby. The strange craft then shot back upwards into the air, before exploding above the sea. The blast could reportedly be felt up to 15km away.

Local fishermen reported seeing the UFO crashing down into the ocean at the time. Had the two men really summoned alien visitors, and accidentally blown them to smithereens, or just fired off an incredibly over-engineered firework into the sea?

Flying Saucer Review claims that the Brazilian Navy and Air Force began to take interest in the experiments of Manoel and Miguel soon after. But that doesn’t prove they were legit — if you started building highly explosive devices in your garden and shooting them up into the sky, I guarantee a few government agencies would take a keen interest in your hobbies too.

It only takes a quick search of Brazilian UFO reports to reveal this wasn’t an isolated incident: in 1957, a man supposedly collected fragments of pure magnesium from a UFO which exploded over Ubatuba Beach, and sent them to a journalist. Again, these claims were never verified, but it’s possible the “scientific spiritualists” were up to this kind of stuff all around the country at the time.

Perhaps their attempts at contacting ETs were actually what caused all the ‘sightings’ in the first place…

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That was a lot to take in: suddenly a simple murder mystery has turned into a full-blown X-Files episode. To sum it up, Miguel and Manoel were into some strange pursuits, which were surprisingly popular in Brazil at the time. 

Driven by a fascination for UFO sightings around the world, the country spawned a swathe of home-grown encounters, and a secret society of new-age spiritualists who dedicated their spare time to establishing contact.

As for Miguel and Manoel, it’s possible that they may have met their end trying some wacky science project up on the hill, while off their tits on some mystery psychedelic. However, there was no evidence left behind on the hill that they had brought or deployed any kind of device. 

If they were to blame for the strange lights, then perhaps they launched some kind of beacon on a balloon, which drifted off out of sight. Or maybe the whole thing was a hoax, and there never were any lights at all!  In that case, it could be that two guys just went up on a hill to contact aliens, and overdosed on some bad drugs. Happens all the time.

Or, if you want a darker take on their intentions that night, then it’s possible that they ever intended to leave Vintém Hill at all — at least not in their physical forms. Some believe that the two men may have planned to commit ritual suicide. Given their new-age beliefs, it’s not a stretch to add that they planned to move on to a higher state of being, shedding their physical forms by ingesting deadly chemicals.

Please note: suicide by poison probably won’t help you achieve transcendence. Please don’t try this at home.

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The Assasination

We seem prey close to wrapping this one up: chances are the deaths of Vintém Hill were either an accidental or intentional overdose, as part of a new-age ritual. Certainly one of the stranger conclusions we’ve featured on the show, but nothing compared to the other possibilities.

However, this case still has some legs yet. Just when the skeptics of Brazil thought they had the Vintém Hill case all figured out, the authorities threw a spanner in the works: they had found a suspect. In 1969, a further issue of Flying Saucer Review published a follow-up on the case written by one Gordon Creighton. 

He outlines a new, official version of events, gleaned from newspaper clippings from Brazil. According to the newspaper Correio do Povo (Feb 22nd 1969), the cops managed to secure a confession from one of the people responsible for the killings.

No doubt their explanation was pretty disappointing for most Flying Saucer Review readers, because the polícia hadn’t snagged some murderous ET during a routine traffic stop — the killer of Miguel and Manoel was very much terrestrial. A notorious smuggler named Hamilton Bezani had earlier that year revealed to one of his relatives that he was partly to blame.

The police then went to interview him at a Sao Paulo prison, where he was already serving a 50-year sentence for the aforementioned smuggling business. With nothing left to lose, the grizzled veteran crook told them the story from start to finish…

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While on the run from the law, he was holed up at a safe house in Rio. There he was contacted by three associates, known by the aliases Espanhol, Acácio, and Wilson Almão. They offered him a hit job in Niterói, which would pay well enough to tide him over for a few more months in hiding. He accepted. 

The gang then rode to the town by taxi, switching to a stolen car, and went on to a spiritualist center in the suburbs. This was where they would find their targets, by attending a seance headed by Helena, the manager of the centre. This new-age matriarch was actually the one who hired the gang in the first place.

Among those present at the event were Manoel and Miguel. Bezani’s accomplices nodded as they walked through the door: the signal that they had found their targets. While waiting for Helena to set up the session, the crooks chatted with their marks to gather more information.

They discovered that the two men had a lot of cash on hand. It’s suggested this was the target of the gang — tipped off by their group insider, they were to intercept the men and snag the money. Flying Saucer Review quoted Wilson Alemão as saying:

“See, the Spirit of Fortune has descended. But it will shortly incarnate in other bodies.”

Surprisingly poetic for a hired killer. So the gang took part in the seance, then drove with their targets to the Morro do Vintém, perhaps on the pretense of giving them a lift. There, Bezani watched as his companions and Helena forced Manoel and Miguel out of the car, and marched them up the hill. They returned half an hour later, carrying the money, without the two technicians. As they got back in the car, Wilson Alemão said: 

“We have killed them both. We forced them, at revolver point, to ingest the poison.” 

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The reports close by revealing the spiritualist center leader Helena was already in police custody, and the rest of the gang would soon follow. Finally justice would be served in one of the country’s strangest ever criminal cases.

Then… nothing. No reports on what happened to this band of renegades, no follow up on the trial of the woman who sold out her spiritualist disciples. Just pure radio silence for decades. So what in the hell happened!? Were the gang ever caught, or perhaps more importantly: did they ever exist in the first place?

Gordon Creighton quite rightly speculates that perhaps none of those events ever happened at all. It all might have been a tall tale to pin a cold case on a condemned man, perhaps in return for favors in prison. That seems quite reasonable, as the case seems to just fizzle out into nothingness from here.

After that brief moment of lucidity, the Flying Saucer Review then descends into some mild lunacy before Creighton signs off. He leaves open the possibility that perhaps the story was true, but… our alien visitors are actively enlisting the help of earth’s criminals to do their dirty work.

Oh of course, it all makes sense now: Miguel and Manoel accidentally blew up an advanced alien spacecraft with a ramshackle DIY device, so the relatives of those spacefaring super beings hired a bunch of human smugglers to avenge their deaths. 

Cracking movie idea, but it’s a no from me.

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Theories Roundup

That news report is basically the end of the trail for this case. All that’s left is to weigh up our options, and choose whichever one is the least mental (got to be honest, it’s a race to the bottom here). 

Murdered by Earthlings

Let’s start with the ‘official’ version of events: that Miguel and Manoel were killed by Bezani the smuggler and his gang. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going to have to side with Flying Saucer Review on this one, and call bullshit. 

If this gang of thieves really killed the men, why would they leave any money on the bodies? What about the reports from the young man who said he saw them chilling on the hillside alone? And unless they really had just given up right away, the crime scene would’ve showed some signs of a struggle — same goes for any other murder/robbery theories.

It seems like the police may have just been trying to neatly close a case which should have been put to bed long ago, with proper toxicology tests. But if they were planning on wrapping things up, it actually had the exact opposite effect. Their suspiciously slapdash version of events was pure gasoline on the conspiracy theory bonfires.

Alien Hit Job

Which leads to our second possibility. Perhaps, against all odds, these two television repairmen from Brazil had succeeded where millions of others failed, and established contact with alien super-beings. The good thing is, we have nothing to worry about if those creatures ever choose to invade earth, because Miguel and Manoel were able to take down one of their spaceships with a pile of random junk from their local electronics store. 

The real-life War of the Worlds should only last a few minutes if the martians’ spaceships are that flimsy. The alien murder theory then argues that the ETs were out for blood after the duo blasted apart their mates, so they baited them to the hilltop with the promise of another meeting. Once they had them alone, they zapped the poor guys to death. 

I’m reluctant to even give that one a 0% chance, but unfortunately much of the online conversation is dominated with these ideas, so we have to cover them. Alternatives include the idea that Miguel and Manoel were accidentally killed by the otherworldly brilliance of the beings, or managed to summon so-called ‘ball lightning’ and were fried alive. Probably could have dodged it without those daft masks on.

Take from this what you will, but be aware that the Flying Saucer Review wraps up its coverage by heaping praise on the efficacy of Brazilian spirit healers. That’s what we’re dealing with here…

Radioactive Deal Gone Wrong

One of the less wild conspiracy theories around the case again involves the criminal underworld. I’m talking about the radioactive smuggler angle from before. If we entertain the idea that the two technicians may have been involved in buying or selling illegal goods, then a rendezvous gone wrong could certainly explain the missing cash. 

Or would it? Do we really think you could get ahold of radioactive material on a $1.3k budget? My grandparents always talk about how much cheaper stuff used to be, but not once have they ever said you could pick up some weapons-grade plutonium and still have change from a twenty. 

You’d also expect that all their experience handling radioactive material would show up on the tests, but we already know that wasn’t the case. If we toss that idea out, the possibility remains that they may have been somehow involved in other kids of dodgy dealings. 

Perhaps they were trying to source some illicit parts for the society’s experiments, or raising funds by selling illegal devices. However, nobody was spotted inter company all day, and there was no evidence of a struggle.

It was almost as if Manoel and Miguel had laid down and died in a state of pure peacefulness…

Pseudoscientific Suicide

Which might suggest that they had fully intended to die that day. It would certainly explain the undisturbed state of the crime scene, and the mystery capsules. Perhaps, under the delusion that they really were making contact with spirits or aliens while off their tits on LSD, the two men believed they had been chosen.

They might have been taking the aliens up on an invitation to join them on Mars, or in the spirit realm, or some other such nonsense. That suicide motive will sound pretty familiar to anyone familiar with cults.

As for the missing money, if you were planning on shedding the mortal coil and passing over into the great beyond, wouldn’t you want to splash a bit of cash first? Can’t take it with you after all. Either that, or they spent the money procuring some goods for their ritual: maybe even some fatal doses of drugs, to aid them in passing over.

If they really did blow all that cash on a couple of capsules, then they really should have found a better dealer. Doubly so if they never actually meant for the chemicals to kill them…

Plan ol’ OD

Because for me, that’s the most likely scenario of all. Given the fact that Miguel and Manoel were family men, and several signs pointed to them planning to descend from the hill at some point, it’s likely that they were attempting another one of their extraterrestrial contact sessions, and accidentally died of an overdose (or exposure to the elements while tripping).

Just two weeks after they died, a newspaper published a statement from a self-proclaimed ‘professor of yoga’. This guy was familiar with the new-age clubs that Miguel and Manoel were affiliated with. He confirmed that the spiritualists would often use psychedelics like LSD and mescaline to ‘open their minds’ to messages from the great beyond. (much like guy with glazed eyes at house parties, who swears he spoke to God on acid)

The esteemed professor believed a bad batch of drugs may have been the cause of death. 

That would mean Miguel’s “secret, important mission” was heading off to get Fear and Loathing levels of fucked-up, on a hillside with his best bud. 

If so, I’ve actually got some top secret assignments coming up myself. 

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Wrap Up

And that brings us to the end of our parade of possibilities. What do you reckon: aliens? Hitmen? Dodgy drugs? 

I think your answer will very much depend on your tolerance for conspiracy theories and UFOlogy. Myself, I’d contest that this case is not nearly as mysterious as it’s made out to be: more than likely, two slightly wacky pseudo-scientists OD’d while staring up at the stars. Case closed. 

The enduring mystery of the lead masks of Vintém Hill is a result of the climate surrounding it. Brazilian UFO hysteria was intense enough to rival Roswell, and all kinds of new psychedelic drugs had started flooding the markets across the world. Ask your grandparents: the sixties were fucking mental.

While proper science lagged behind in understanding the effects and applications of these drugs, pseudoscience took charge. Suddenly, copious amounts of wild new substances were added to the new-age spiritualist toolkit. In my eyes, it’s likely that all of these factors combined to turn a simple accidental death into one of the most bizarre mysteries in the annals of true crime.

For all his wacky speculation, the Flying Saucer Review’s Charles Bowen summed it up best in his 1968 article:

“By September 1966, it was virtually impossible to extract even one recognizable strand of sense, let alone a chain of evidence, from the tangled skein of discoveries, revelations, theories, and accusations which enmeshed the investigation into the bizarre death of two Brazilian electronic technicians.”

And so we find ourselves here, over 50 years later, debating whether two radio repairmen might have been assassinated by Marvin the Martian. 

Remember my friends, the truth is out there… it’s just often a bit more boring than we think.

Dismembered Appendices

1. The kinds of spiritualist beliefs we’ve looked at today are actually far more prevalent in Brazil than you might think. It boasts 3.8 million followers of ‘Spiritism’ — more than any other country in the world. This new-age nonsense has its roots in France, but it really caught on in South America. In some cities like Palmelo, as many as one in seven people claim to be a medium!

2. Here’s my favorite example of how quickly wild superstitions can make a simple story spiral out of control: the Varginha UFO incident. On a rainy night in 1996 Brazil, three young women spotted a humanoid creature with brown skin, V-shaped feet, and red eyes in a patch of waste ground. A search for the otherworldly “devil” ensued. Meanwhile, two more creatures were spotted in a clinic, fueling widespread reports that the government had captured some ETs. 

The most likely explanation? In 2010, an inquiry ruled that the women had spotted a mud-covered homeless man, now nicknamed Mudinho, crouching by a wall. The two ‘creatures’ in the clinic were most likely a perfectly normal couple with dwarfism. And just like that, a conspiracy theory is born.

Stay skeptical folks. For christ’s sake, please stay skeptical…

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