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Brazil's Burning Man- Joao Prestes Filho

Since the mid-1940s, the South American country of Brazil has been the setting of a staggering number of unsolved mysteries and inexplicable occurrences. Some of the horrifying tales include the unexplained deaths of two electrical technicians on a remote hillside in Rio de Janeiro in 1966, and the horrifically mutilated human remains that were discovered on the banks of a San Paulo reservoir one afternoon in September 1988.

A large percentage of these strange occurrences have involved sightings of or human interactions with unidentified flying objects. In the overwhelming majority of these reported cases, such encounters have been relatively peaceful in nature, with the people involved having come to either little or no harm. Such incidents include the alleged abduction of Antonio Villas Boas, whilst he was working in the fields near his farm in October of 1957 and the high-profile wave of alleged extraterrestrial encounters that were reported across the municipality of Varginha in 1996. There are however a minority of reported occurrences, where the entities involved have behaved in a far less benign manner towards those who cross their path.

In August of 1962, a family living in Diamantino were awoken by strange noises coming from outside their address. When the head of the household, Rivalino Mafre Da Silva went outside to investigate, he was suddenly enveloped in a strange yellow mist, which was emanating from a mysterious black object hovering nearby. As his terrified children watched on in horror, the mist became thicker, until their struggling father could no longer be seen.

When the yellow fog eventually cleared, both the object and Da Silva vanished, never to be seen again. As upsetting as the circumstances surrounding this disappearance are, they quickly pale in comparison to a similar incident which had taken place 35 years earlier, at a small town name Aracariguama in the southeast of the country. The victim on that occasion, was an unassuming local farmer and fisherman and the fate which befell him remains one of the strangest and most harrowing in Brazilian history.

The Strangest UFO incident in Brazilian history

On the early evening of Monday 4th of March 1946, the population of Aracariguama were to be found lining the streets of Santana de Parnaiba, merrily participating in the city's annual carnival. One resident who was not amongst their number was 44 year-old Joao Prestes Filho who had earlier said goodbye to his wife and five young children, before heading out to spend the rest of the day fishing with some friends at the nearby Tiete river. His day had been successful, having pulled in a sizable catch, but with darkness now descending, he bid farewell to his companions and then made his way back the short distance towards the village.

As his horse-drawn cart re-entered the settlement, there was little movement to be seen aside from the branches of trees swaying gently in the night air. The streets were completely deserted as enjoying was still out enjoying the festivities. Arriving back to his front door after stabling the horse, Joao was disappointed to find that, in their haste to leave for the festival, his family had accidentally left him locked out and so he was forced to gain entry via an open window.

When inside, he put some of his catch in a pot to boil and had just filled the wood burner in order to heat some water for a bath, when he was overcome by a peculiar feeling of being watched. The curious fisherman walked back over to the window he had climbed through only moments before and through the opening, he spotted a bright light hovering in the sky some distance away. No sooner had he laid eyes on it than a beam of brilliant light shot in his direction, and the room he was standing in was suddenly bathed in a warm yellow glow, which washed over his entire body.

The effects of this beam were both instantaneous and agonizing for the unfortunate Joao, with areas of his exposed skin immediately affected by a searing, burning sensation. As he fell to his knees, desperately trying to cover his eyes from the blinding light, the fisherman could already feel all the hair on his face and head starting to smolder. Within moments, the being diminished and the room was once again reduced to the ambient light of the burning stove, leaving Joao suffering in agony on the floor.

Whist the burning beam of light had now faded, the horrendous pain it had inflicted upon him only seemed to intensify. It took all of his strength to hold himself up to his feet and stagger uncertainly across the room towards the main door. It was here that he found his hands had effectively been rendered useless: the nerve endings in his fingers were completely shot, resulting in a numbness that had left them paralyzed. He had to resort to opening the door latch with his teeth, before stumbling out into the street to cry for help.

As he shambled haphazardly across the village, shrieking out in a desperate bid for assistance, Joao could feel a strange wet sensation underneath his feet. When he looked down, he was horrified to see in the dim moonlight that he had left a trail of bloody footprints behind him. With each step he took, the skin on the soles of his feet, which was usually as tough as leather was gradually deteriorating as it came into contact with the ground. Eventually, Joao's shrill and pained cries brought the town's few remaining residents to his aid and he was carried directly to his sister's house.

When the district police chief eventually arrived, he initially thought he was looking at a corpse, so extensive was the damage to the victim's face, and upper torso. Family members who were interviewed after the event described how their relatives skin was dark and bloated like meat that had been overboiled or left out in the sun. Overcoming their amazement that Joao was even still alive, let alone able to describe to them what had taken place, the police acted quickly and drove him directly to the hospital at Santana de Parnaiba.

The degradation of Joao's body

Even with their years of experience, the medical staff who treated the dying man were bewildered and deeply shocked by what they were seeing. The clothes Joao was wearing were completely unaffected by what had happened to him, but were also quickly becoming saturated with blood and fatty tissue, as the skin beneath them literally started to fall away into messy piles on the tiled hospital floor. Members of the nursing staff had to move away to gag and wretch, as sizeable chunks of Joao's seared flesh simply separated from his body, exposing glistening muscle underneath.

In some areas, the degradation was so pronounced that sections of bone now protruded from what remained of the dissolving epidermis. Whilst all of this was happening to him, Joao continued to sit in his bed, steadily recounting what had transpired even as his lips, nose and ears gradually fell away from his face. In his final hours, he seemed almost serene and told of how the pain had completely subsided. Eventually, the soft tissue of his jawline deteriorated to the point where he no longer had the ability to form any more words, rendering him unable to speak to his loved ones.

Although singed and clearly affected to a small extent by the incident, much like his clothes, Joao's hair and beard had inexplicably remained intact. When he finally passed away a few hours later, he had seemed oddly at peace with the tragic fate that has befallen him. The cause of death recorded by the attending physician was extreme cardiac collapse due to unknown stimuli.

The investigators' interpretation

When the authorities returned to the Filho residence the next day, they found nothing out of the ordinary and no sign of any heat or fire damage. The window remained open from where the victim had crawled in and the wood burner he had stalked in order to warm his bath water remained unlit. As one investigator would later be quoted as saying, it was as if the man had suddenly melted away from existence, with no conceivable reason as to why this had happened to him.

The majority of modern day investigators cite this tragic and haunting case as a textbook, example of the close encounter of the second kind, as identified by ufologist J. Allen Hynek in 1972. Such an incident is defined by the fact that the UFO which had been sighted left behind some form of definite physical or physiological evidence for its presence, but that there was no actual interaction with this controllers or occupants.

At the time of the incident, however, not one person involved believed that the cause of this unfortunate man's death had anything to do with extraterrestrials. It would not be until a year later in the summer of 1947, that the world would become obsessed with the phenomenon of UFOs. That year, Kenneth Arnold's widely publicized report of seeing skipping sources making their way across the skies above Mount Rainier would captivate the imaginations of millions.


As with many of its South American neighbors, Brazil is historically a deeply religious country, but simultaneously also possesses a rich culture of alternative superstition and folklore. It was into such traditions and fables of the family and friends of Joao Prestes Filho retreated in the search for a justification behind the loss of their loved one. In their subsequent case reports, the police investigators recorded that the family members would repeatedly claimed that this was not the first time that he, or indeed other relatives had encountered similar deadly fire balls.

Joao had previously confided to his wife that he had been pursued on a number of occasions in the past by mysterious flying lights as he had tried to go about his daily business. When he had been much younger and working as a cattle driver, he claimed to have been forced to seek refuge in a local chapel, after been chased up to twelve red glowing balls of light that had rapidly descended upon him from the skies above.

His younger brother, Emiliano had also reported seeing such fireballs, which he stated would explode if they ever make contact with the ground. He had said that on one occasion. six of the orbs had pursued him to the very edge of a nearby cliff. As he had knelt there praying for his life, they had slowly descended to surround him, before mysteriously vanishing. These incidents have led some members of the family to believe that their bloodline was cursed somehow and that the lights have been sent by the Devil himself to claim the souls of their menfolk.

Tales of similar occurrences can be found in the historical records of cultures from all across the world, with Europeans traditionally referring to the phenomenon as the Will of the Wisp. In Brazilian culture, such manifestations are known as Botata, which translates as fiery serpent. They are widely believed to be some form of playful spirit that delights in tormenting travelers who have become lost.

In the Aracariguama case, it has also been suggested that the lights may have been something far more malicious, rather than mischievous in character. The owners of the nearby Moro Velho gold mine claimed that production at the facility had been interrupted for years by malevolent ghosts known as assombracoes.

These vengeful spirits would manifest themselves as floating orbs with lashing tongues of burning flame and would chase the mine workers away from the gold seams. So disruptive were these attacks, that the mine would eventually be closed down and blocked up, despite still being filled with rich deposits of the precious metal. Observers of a far less paranormal persuasion have suggested that Joao's injuries may well have been sustained by more mundane or accidental means- possibly whilst he was trying to light the fire he needed for his bath and that the story of the floating orbs was manufactured by his family for reasons known only to themselves.

Others have theorized that the horrific injuries may have been the result of a rogue lightning strike, which had occurred whilst Joao had been making his way home from the river. There is also the possibility that this may actually be a classic case of spontaneous human combustion. This is a little understood medical concept, where the victim dies as a result of horrendous injuries sustained after having caught fire, but with no apparent catalyst for either how the fire began or continue to be sustained.

These incidents are also typified by the absence of any lasting damage to furniture or carpeting in the immediate vicinity of the victim. The only difference in this case is that spontaneous human combustion is said to occur rapidly, with the victim perishing within mere minutes. It was stated in various medical reports and statements given by the family that Filho remained alive for many hours before his eventual passing.

One intriguing line of Investigation since the incident has been to try and compare the symptoms sustained by the victim to other instances of severe traumatic injury. In particular, the fact that the only cells affected by the alleged attack were living cells and not the lifeless ones in the victim's hair and clothing indicates that the burns may have been caused by exposure to a high level of radiation, as found in the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts. The mystery of how an average and unassuming rural worker in the middle of a neutral country would be exposed to such radiation has yet to be answered.

The fact that the police chose to demolish the house where the incident occurred in the aftermath of the attack, thus making it more difficult to search for any traces of radioactivity, has in turn led to accusations of a cover-up by the local authorities. The troubling and unique nature of the injury sustained by Joao Filho make the manner of his demise distinctive, even by the standards of the other mysterious deaths that have occurred in the region. And the intervening 70 years have brought investigators no closer to discovering the means by which he met his sad and untimely end.

There are those who point to the fact that Joao may have taken far longer to succumb to his injuries and that the speed with which he passed away is something that has been exaggerated and embedded into the story over the years, as it has been passed from person to person. But even when you peel away any of what may be considered the more outlandish theory surrounding the incident, what we are left with is a man who literally burned to death in his own home, with no sign of a fire ever having taken place. Whatever the cause of Joao's death, be it paranormal or supernatural, no human being deserves to die such a painful and traumatic manner. We can only hope that the peace which he displayed in his final moments is the manner in which his soul has been preserved since his passing.


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