By Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here
For a long time, I’ve wanted to do an episode that doesn’t just give the results of my findings, but instead follows the process of researching and putting together an episode. A lot of times that’s hard to do, because most subjects include way more information than can be squeezed into twelve minutes, much less include my research and development process. But I finally got one that’s just right. It came from Brazil, back in 1966, when the bodies of two men were found on a hillside. By itself, it might not have been a very interesting case for the police, until they examined the bodies. Each item that they found made the case stranger and stranger. It became known as the lead masks of Vintém Hill.
The idea first came in through my email, as most subjects do, from a listener who’d heard of it and thought it sounded interesting. Dead bodies found on a hilltop in Brazil wearing strange lead masks. I jotted a few notes and put it in my folder. And then one day, while looking for a future episode, I came upon it, and it sounded cool enough that I did a few web searches. Morro do Vintém, or Vintém Hill, is a green prominence in the relatively wealthy Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói. I haven’t been there, and I always like to get a good geographic feel for a location. So I looked it up on Google Earth, studied the angles, and looked at as many photographs as I could find.
A great place to start any research project is Wikipedia. You’ll usually get the popular version of the tale, plus sometimes a few useful references. The story goes that on August 20, 1966, a boy was flying a kite on the hill when he found two dead bodies. Police were summoned and found the two men, Manoel Pereira da Cruz (32) and Miguel José Viana (34), who were electronics repairmen in Campos dos Goytacazes, which is pretty far away, about 200 kilometers to the northeast. They were said to be wearing business suits and raincoats, with a package containing an empty water bottle and two small towels. But the oddest thing of all is that they were wearing lead masks. There was no clue what the lead masks were, or what the cause of death might have been.
The men are believed to have had enough cash on them to buy a cheap used car, around 3,000,000 cruzeiros, which is hard to convert because the inflation rate was staggeringly high in 1966. They took a bus to Rio. On their bodies were receipts for the raincoats they were wearing (since it was raining that day), and a receipt for a bottle of water, needed to return the bottle later to get their deposit back. However, most of the money was unaccounted for, as they had only a small amount left on them. When police questioned the clerk who sold them the water, she said they seemed agitated and concerned about the time, and that it was getting dark and starting to rain. They hitched a ride up the hill with two unidentified men in a Jeep.
And one final touch: they were found with a small notebook. On one page was a list of electronics part numbers, presumably pertaining to their repair business. Some authors have interpreted these as encrypted codes with a special meaning. Normally I’d follow that up to make sure, but (1) I didn’t see a photograph of their part numbers; (2) the time needed to research Brazilian electronics parts numbers from 1966 was probably past the point of diminishing returns; and (3) one contemporary author said he’d already done it with a couple of the codes and found them to be legit. So I decided to let that slide. Unfortunately, I almost always have to leave certain threads like this unfollowed, due to time constraints.
On the other paper of interest was written the following:
16:30 estar no local determinado.
18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara
which is unusual grammar, and translates in English to:
4:30 PM be at the determined place.
6:30 PM swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask signal
This clue seems to be as close as the police ever got to finding a motive or a cause of death. No capsules were found, and if the men had taken any capsules (possibly poisonous), then we never learned the reason or what they were. According to all the reports I could find, toxicology tests were never done on the bodies, and the reason given was that the coroner was too busy. So what about these lead masks?
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