Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for November, 2008

The Brazilian “Lost Thunderbird”: False Fortean Memories

lostThunderbird5ywIt’s an old black and white photo of a “Thunderbird”/Pterodactyl shot down proudly displayed by a bunch of cowboys standing. It’s the elusive Lost Thunderbird Photo, which many people including noted cryptozoologists remember seeing, and yet, no one can produce the photo itself. The best people can come up with are illustrations of what the photo looked like.

A fascinating conundrum: is it a “glitch in the Matrix”, where all evidence of the photo has been erased from reality, except for the memories of those who saw it? Or rather an impressive glitch in our own memories, that is, a false memory? One spontaneously created? Is that even possible?

I side with the false memory explanation, and about it, I stumbled upon a very similar case down here south. Yes, we have our own “lost Thunderbird” enigma, and it is a video!

That, you will certainly recognize, is a clip from the movie “Signs” (2002), where one of the stupid “melt-with-water” aliens terrorizes a birthday party supposedly in Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Now, the fascinating bit: many, many people claim this footage is real, that they saw it many years ago on some TV show. “Fantastico”, a prime time Sunday night show is often referenced, as it used to feature many UFO and paranormal cases.

That we can say for sure, didn’t actually happen. The clip was created by Shyamalan, and features many obvious goofs: the car is too old to be in someone’s garage (not for the last 30 years, Brazil is not Cuba); the video quality is too good to be shot on a home camera, some people there speak Spanish (Portuguese is Brazil’s language), and the final and definite nail is the boy screaming “is behind”.

Why would a Brazilian boy suddenly start screaming in broken English? Well, because that’s an American movie. The boy is in fact actor Kevin Pires, credited on IMDb.

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When shown evidence that the footage couldn’t possibly be real, some people claim it was rather a reproduction of the original, real footage of an alien invading a birthday party in Passo Fundo.

“Let it be known that the scene that appears in the movie Signs, with Mel Gibson, where an alien appears in a birthday party in Passo Fundo is the reenactment of an ufological event that happened in the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s. In spite of pseudoscientific websites and even seasoned ‘ufologists’ claiming the contrary, the fact happened and was aired by Globo TV in their programs Jornal Nacional and Fantástico. The video, obviously, doesn’t have the same quality as the movie, but the reproduction of the scene was extremely close to the real one. We are searching the original footage, if you can help, please contact us.”

Sounds familiar? By the way, those “pseudoscientific websites claiming the contrary” is a reference to my Brazilian website, where I debunked the claim the movie scene was real.

“I wasn’t on the birthday party, but I lived in that time and have always lived in Passo Fundo. And I heard that news when I was a kid and I believe I saw a UFO myself at that time, or at least, the second half of the 1970s.”

“In another community, someone showed up saying the Passo Fundo case happened in 1992 in the Embrapa village, near UPF.”

Some people even claim they saw Shyamalan in an interview claiming that the scene was inspired by a real Passo Fundo video of an alien. I asked where they saw it, but they couldn’t remember it either. My guess is that that doesn’t exists.

“Signs” is a terrible movie, the plot and the signature Shyamalan twist-ending is revolting. But it does have an atmosphere, and in some level, Shyamalan seems to have convinced many Brazilians that that alleged news footage, with many clear signs of being fictional, was actually real. That, in turn, seems to have inspired a bunch of false memories.

Of relevance is that many people are apparently remember exactly what Joaquin Phoenix’s character is doing in the movie: they saw it on a TV news program. People literally feel thay are part of the movie.

Many people will keep looking for that “original footage” of a birthday party in Passo Fundo a couple of decades ago, a video that, if real, would have certainly have come to the attention of many researchers before the movie was shown.

Say what you want about Shyamalan, that he was able to create a new “Lost Thunderbird” phenomenon, implanting false memories into a bunch of Brazilians is impressive. Pardon the terrible joke, but I can’t help:

That’s twisted.

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The Lead Masks Case

mascaras It’s an almost perfect mystery case, with a great catchy name: the lead masks case. Two TV repairmen are obsessed about making contact with extraterrestrials, attempting wild and dangerous experiments. But it seems they went too far: on August 20, 1966, their bodies were found atop Morro do Vintém, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in bizarre and unexplained circumstances.

Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana’s bodies were neatly strewn next to each other, without any sign of violence. They were wearing nice suits and impermeable coats. However, what really caught people’s attention were the lead masks worn by them. They also had a handwritten note:

“meet at the designated spot at $;30PM. At 6:30PM ingest the capsules. After the effect [is produced], protect half of the face with lead masks. Wait for the prearranged signal.”

Later examination of their bodies failed to determine their causa mortis. They simply died without an explanation. Did they successfully contact aliens, but with terrible consequences? Cue to dramatic music.

The case is featured prominently in Jacques Vallee’s classic book “Confrontations” (which also features several other Brazilian cases), where you can find it described in good detail. It’s classified as a Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind and given a 443 SVP Credibility Rating: maximum ratings on source reliability, site visit by a skilled analyst (Vallee himself), and a second-to-maximum rating on possible explanations, where “natural explanation requires gross alteration of several parameters”.

 

SMALL DETAILS

The case remains unsolved. We still don’t know what exactly happened to Pereira da Cruz e José Viana, and it’s unlikely we will ever know for sure, to the despair of their relatives who still grieve the tragic loss of two young men. This is not a debunking of the “Lead Masks/Morro do Vintém” case.

But here we do promote some ordinary investigations, and in this case, I would like to comment on a 2004 TV special on the mystery, which added a couple of small and yet extremely important details to the case. You can watch the first part below, in Portuguese (the rest can be found searching on Youtube).

The central mystery is what/who/how the victims were killed, and that is a question because the autopsy, including toxicological exams, found nothing. Now, the small detail: the exams found nothing because they weren’t conducted. As it happens, the local coroner’s office was full of work at the time, and the victims guts went stored until, when they were finally going to be examined, they were already rotten and useless. No test was made on them. This is somewhat stressed on the TV show. It also stresses that the two men had no money when found.

Another detail: when Vallee revisited the site years later, he was puzzled by the absence of vegetation in the area where the two bodies were found. Mystery? Probably not. In the TV show we are also informed that the police threw copious amounts of formalin on and around the bodies to help cope with the smell – contrary to some accounts, the bodies were decomposing and smelling intensely. They don’t make the connection in the show, but we can suggest that that could explain why there’s not much grass growing there now. The formalin contaminated the soil.

Some more: the strange codes they also had among the other notes. Much fuss is made about this, but this is a question we can most surely say there’s nothing to wonder about. The codes were simply to electronic components. The two were TV repairmen, they told their families they were going in that trip to buy electronic components. And they had the codes for the components written down. This is another connection that neither the TV show nor any account on the case I have read makes explicitly, despite being so obvious. I checked at least one of the “mysterious codes” and was able to find it does correspond to an electronic valve used on TVs at the time.


INGEST THE CAPSULES. WAIT UNTIL DEATH

So, what to make of all of it? One plausible explanation is that the two men were conned by one (or more) fellows, with deadly results. The murderer(s) used the victims gullibility to effectively make them kill themselves.

The notes, including the one about ingesting the capsules, have many orthographical and grammatical errors, and the police thinks they were probably dictated by someone else, with the instructions, or better yet, orders as to what the victims should do.

They may have expected to contact aliens, but ingested poison in the process. The toxicological exams that could have determined this were never conducted.

As is mentioned in the TV show, and also in Vallee’s book, there were reports that the two victims weren’t alone, the murderer(s) were along with them in the hill. They waited for them to die and simply took their money. An especially despicable way to rob someone.

If Cruz and Viana were indeed made to kill themselves through their own gullibility, then this is an important cautionary tale. It’s more worrying than famous cases such as Heaven’s Gate, where in some level the victims knew they were committing suicide.

The victims of the Lead Masks case almost certainly didn’t kill themselves on purpose: before going atop the hill and buying the bottle of water they took with them, they got a coupon to later return the bottle when they returned. They would also actually buy the electronic components in that trip, just as they told their families. Their adventure atop Morro do Vintém wasn’t intended to be their last and desperate attempt to contact aliens. They didn’t know they were going to die there. They were killed.

The lead masks, which names and represents the case, are indeed representative of the danger here. They were crudely made by the victims themselves inside their shop, where the police found the plates from which they were cut.

The saddest thing is, I don’t think Cruz and Viana where nowhere near contacting any aliens despite all their efforts. Lead masks, capsules, even explosions – which they attempted before – are not going to facilitate any close encounter. But they can kill you.

Finally, I must also comment on the fact they had towels with them. Towels are a big part of the sci-fi comedy series by Douglas Adams, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and actually a means to make contact with aliens – to hitchhike around the Galaxy.

I do not intend to joke about their deaths, but it is telling that we can find this coincidence. If Adams’ stories weren’t simply good comedy, would ufologists be speculating seriously about these towels? I guess so.

So, beware. Gullibility kills.

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Long Exposure Ghost

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“Photo taken in 2006, at night in a beach. There was no one there except for the five friends. A woman appeared behind one of the girls. The photo has been in my PC, no one had access to them, I’m the girl in white. The photo was taken ‘in the automatic’ (10 seconds), I positioned the camera over a table at a distance of approximately three meters.”, Jamile Moura wrote us when she sent the photo.

I found it very interesting, and upon looking at the EXIF information in the image, quickly found that the exposure time was very long: 2 seconds. That means anything in front of the camera over at those two seconds would be captured, and if it was moving, if would appear blurred, with a phantasmagoric effect. Just like the lady back there. The clearly defined parts of the image were captured when the flash fired.

So I wrote Jamile and suggested this, that a woman may have passed behind them and they didn’t notice. This is actually very common (I could even suggest our good old invisible gorillas idea), but she kindly insisted there could be no one else there. “Your explanation didn’t convince me, but I thank you [for the suggestion]”.

Upon a closer look and further thought, and mainly realizing the ghost woman blur appear in front of the girl, another idea came up. It was long exposure, but the ghost is actually the girl at Jamile’s left side. She was initially standing for a few moments, then just before the flash fired, she inclined herself. The blur and distortion makes her look different, perhaps older, but her dress and hair is still recognizable.

The guy with a cap was also standing and bent when the flash fired, so there’s a “ghost” over his head too.

“Your new explanation makes more sense than the one before, thanks!”, Jamile replied. Well, thank you Jamile for sending a nice example of a long exposure ghost and not accepting our first quick and dirty idea. The second one is better, we all agree.

We will follow with several other examples of long exposure ghosts in the next posts. Some of them do feature people that went unnoticed in the background (and there’s one of the lamest photos ever received that features such invisible gorilla).

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Crop Circles arrive in Brazil

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“The appearance of two big circles of around 19 meters in diameter and less than a kilometer apart from one another has transformed the quiet city of Ipuaçu, Santa Catarina, into a tourist attraction. The figures were first seen on Saturday (8) in two different crops, wheat and triticale”.
From G1 Surgimento de círculos em plantação provoca mistério em SC

Click for more images at Crop Circle Connector. No one saw the circles being created, but they are clear evidence that we Brazilians now have our own circlemakers, and they started with humble patterns.

Of relevance is that both circles were created near roads, and just days before the harvest – most of the crop has been harvested this week. One of the circles, by the way, was only noticed during harvesting. Whoever created them, obviously wanted them to be noticed. And unlike Doug and Dave they didn’t tip off the press.

Unfortunately, the circles are being “investigated” by Ademar José Gevaerd. The same ufologist/editor who wanted to create an Institute of Ufology named after Sagan (which was quickly changed to Galileo after legal action was threatened), the same ufologist/editor who publicized the prophecies that Jesus was coming back aboard a flying saucer a couple of years ago, and so many other embarrassing moments of local UFO buffoonery. You may take a look at the last subjects of his magazine over at their website. Here’s a translated list, but you will sure want to check their wonderful cover art for each of them:

– September 2008: Aliens in the Moon: Recently released NASA images confirm our natural satellite have alien bases;
– October 2008: They have returned: New and surprising English crop circles stun researchers;
– November 2008: When UFOs land: New case of landing with physical evidence is investigated in São Paulo;
– December 2008: Danger in Space: Nibiru is coming.

No surprise, then, that Gevaerd has been screaming to all news outlets that these are clearly alien signs. We can pretty much guess what the cover article of January will be.

Gevaerd offers no evidence besides the “there’s no obvious sign of trickery, ergo, aliens” talk, though. He does admit he found no physical, chemical or biological anomaly at all, as he didn’t had with him any sort of appropriate equipment. He simply collected samples and hope to have them tested “for DNA” or something. Even if he finds some anomaly, I would be more than skeptical about any of his claims. Disclaimer: as I have always been, I have been clashing with his nonsense for years already.

If you have been reading our blog for some time, you may have already noticed we are having a kind of “crop circle flap” in Brazil since the beginning of this year, after the movie Signs was shown again on TV on prime time during the New Year holiday, and days later some extremely crude “crop circles” composed of tumbled sugarcane were publicized as result of a landing flying saucer. A later case, of tumbled disordered grass, is the one that was the cover article for this month of that magazine.

Now, finally, we have the real deal. Circlemakers are here. I for one salute them.

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“Chupa-Chupa” attack solved: it sucks

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We recently wrote about a couple of news items that suggested that the “Chupa-Chupa” – meaning “Suck-Suck”, alleged balls of light that burned and sucked blood – had returned to terrorize northern Brazilians. Two young girls were even hospitalized with “serious burns”, and we noted how “a confirmed contemporary case of burn victims of the Chupa-Chupa would be something relevant”.

Good news, everyone! Contrary to my pessimism, we have some news, and it seems the case has been solved. José Medeiros and a friend followed the clues and did the basic thing: they contacted the local authorities, including the health secretary of the city of Belterra, Ana Cláudia Tavares.

The secretary informed them that the news was just a rumor. She visited the hospital after reading about the news, and the staff there also confirmed it was only a tall tale. Well, not only: they also found that behind this tale about the return of the Chupa-Chupa are attacks from real suckers… known as bats.

Apparently, the two girls in question were actually attacked by bats. Those kind of attacks are becoming more common recently, as the habitat of the creatures is being destroyed by heavier tourism and expanding urbanization.

I also spoke by phone, on a lead from Medeiros, with a local from Maguari who confirmed there is not anything like a panic going on. Actually, the local told there was nothing happening up there.

This was, all suggests, just a hoax circulated by a free lance journalist to the local newspapers, including Diário do Pará, that just published the story without checking anything.

If a confirmed, contemporary case of Chupa-Chupa victims would be intriguing and warrant a more worried look at the original 1977-78 wave, what does a confirmed, contemporary hoax case of Chupa-Chupa panic warrants?

It does, at least, evidence once more that the phenomenon has a lot to do with psychosocial elements. Even if there were anomalous things happening back then, we already knew that the panic was also fueled by heavy sensationalist media exploitation. Hundreds of news items about the panic, including even several reported deaths, even when published on local newspapers, weren’t necessarily even close to the truth.

In fact, there’s no confirmed case of “death by Chupa-Chupa”, neither back then, nor nowadays.

[With thanks to José Medeiros]

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