Joao Prestes Filho was returning home from a day of fishing on Brazil’s Tieté River with his friend Salvador dos Santos. Filho, who was driving his horse drawn cart, dropped off his mate and wished him a goodnight. Neither of the two realized at the time that they would never see the other again, at least not alive.
Electricity had not yet made its way to the village of Araçariguama where Filho lived with his wife and five children, so the fisherman was alone as he drove his horse through the inky gloom that blanketed the area. To make matters worse, the village was all but deserted due to the fact that it was carnival season, which no doubt made the rustic community feel as if it had been abruptly abandoned.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that Filho felt a bit like a fur trapper by the name of Joe Labelle, who, just 16 years earlier had stumbled into a chillingly abandoned Inuit village nestled on the rocky shores of Canada’s Lake Anjikuni.
Like most of the citizens of Araçariguama, Filho’s family was off enjoying the celebration, and in their haste to get to the festivities they accidentally left the patriarch of the family locked out of his own home.
In 1997, Filho’s nephew, a then 60 year old Luis Prestes, set the scene for UFO investigators Pablo Villarubia Mauso and Claudio Tsuyoshi Suenaga who had traveled to the region to reopen this fascinating case:
I was small, some 9 years old, but I clearly remember what happened to my uncle Joao. It was carnival week and Joao, who loathed such festivities, decided to go fishing and drove off in his cart. He lived in Araçariguama, a little village only 4½ miles away from San Roque and a hitherto isolated and quiet community. My aunt went off to the festivities with the children and left Joao’s supper already made at home.
Then 92 year old, Vergilio Francisco Alves, Filho’s second cousin, continued to illustrate the events of that fateful eve:
I’ll tell you what I know about the horrible death of Joao Prestes. It was in 1946 during the carnival season. He went fishing in the nearby Tieté River, riding in his cart, while the wife and children went to the festivities. It was the dry season and there was no rain. When he got back, he stabled his horse and fed it some corn. He put the fish in a pot and heated some water with firewood to take a bath. Joao managed to climb through an open window, but as soon as he was inside his home he was suddenly overcome by the sensation that someone, or something, was watching him. Filho glanced back out the window into the sky and it would be at this moment that the ordinary events of the evening would take a horrific turn.
The farmer claimed that he was suddenly struck by a beam of intensely hot light emanating from a glowing object above. Filho stated that he covered his face with his hands and collapsed to his knees. The burst lasted only a moment before vanishing completely.
According to Alves:
A sort of beam of light or yellow light had appeared in his room. He felt his body burning and that his beard, while short, was burning. Panicked, and unable to move his hands, Joao raised the door latch using his teeth and ran into the street barefoot, since he never wore shoes. Prestes added other details to this account:
Upon returning home and opening the window, something resembling fire or a fiery torch entered the room in which Filho was standing. He fell to the floor and felt that his body was on fire. Wrapping himself in a blanket, he walked over 2 miles into the village. Bloodying his naked feet on the sharp rocks of the dark, unpaved road, the shrieking Filho desperately searched for help, insisting that his skin was on fire.
Alves continued his tale:
He ran screaming to his sister María’s house, near the Araçariguama church. He dropped on a bed and said he’d been burned. The police chief, Joao Malaquías, went over immediately, Filho told him there was no one to blame for what had happened, because his attacker had not been of this world.
Those speaking with Filho noticed that his exposed flesh began to look like what one eyewitness referred to as meat that has been allowed to boil for a while. It immediately became clear to all those present that the unfortunate fisherman was not long for this world. Prestes remembered the then 50 year old events as if they had occurred the week before:
I was in Araçariguama when I learned that my uncle was dying at a relatives’ house. I wanted to go in, but it was forbidden, since I was too young and Joao’s physical condition could have caused a traumatic impression… My father said that Joao was only burned from the waist up, with the exception of the hair on his head.
Alves agreed with this assessment:
When I got to María’s house, I found Joao Malaquías, the sheriff, speaking with Joao. He was in bed and having problems using his tongue. His skin, which was fair, was toasted, reddish, as if he’d been roasted. His hands and face had the worst burns. The hands were twisted. His hair didn’t burn, nor did his feet, nor clothing. He was only burned from the waist up. His feet were torn up from running barefoot on sharp rocks.
According to Alves, Filho’s family wisely decided that if there was anything to be done for their wounded relative it would at the hospital.
Malaquías, the sheriff, wanted to take him to a hospital in Sao Paulo, but the road was in bad shape and they went to Santana de Parnaíba.
Prestes recounted the moment that they took his uncle away, it would be the last time he would ever see him.
I managed to see my uncle when they removed him from the house to take him to Santana de Parnaíba by truck, where the nearest hospital was located. I remember that the sheets covering him were blackened, perhaps by the burns on his body… His appearance, according to my father, who escorted him to the hospital, was truly ruinous… He had serious burns all over his body. His flesh was dark and he presented no other bodily injuries. He was admitted into the hospital at once, where the baffled doctors, including Physician Luiz Caligiuri, were unable to diagnose what had happened to the tragically maimed family man.
In 1974, investigator Fernando Grossman, interviewed direct eyewitnesses to the event, including former Army medic and orderly, Aracy Gomide, who cared for Filho during his final, agonized hours on Earth.
Gomide claimed that he did his best to comfort the swiftly deteriorating Filho, who seemed to decompose while still alive. The orderly described the fisherman’s horrifying last hours during which chunks of flesh sloughed off the his arms, exposing portions of bone and tendon. This process also happened to the victim’s face, as his ears, nose, lips and eyelids peeled off, clinging to slender strands of skin before falling onto the bed. Ironically, Filho’s hair and clothes were said to have remained undamaged during the whole affair and even more bizarrely, the man himself was said to have been in no physical pain toward the end of his ordeal.
Witnesses claim that he even chatted with the strong stomached Gomide and others until he lost too much soft tissue on his jaw to continue speaking.
Needless to say, most of Filho’s relatives were unable to bear witnessing these final stages of their loved one’s life, but Gomide endured until the end and stated that the final request that the patient made was for a glass of water. Not long after, at about 10:00 p.m. on March 4, Filho expired and Dr. Caligiuri officially listed the cause of death as cardiac collapse.
There can be little doubt that this ill-fated angler left behind one of the most ghastly mysteries of the 20th Century and with this legacy we are forced to ask the question…
Whatever killed Joao has been a point of controversy and speculation for decades. Scads of books dealing with ufological and paranormal phenomenon all over the globe have retold the shocking tale of the melting man with minute variances with regard to the manner in which he managed to get into his home and the rate at which he decomposed, but the primary facts of the story have remained unchanged.
While many modern ufological enthusiasts judge that this is a clear cut case of an extraterrestrial attack, ironically, most of the villagers did not suspect that Filho had been killed, inadvertently or otherwise, by a UFO. This was only 1946 after all, nearly a year before Kenneth Arnold would report his now famous skipping saucers over Mt. Rainier, an event which ushered in an unprecedented 65 year study of the UFO phenomenon, and the provincial citizens of Araçariguama had no context in which to consider this a UFO event.
Alves claimed that most, including Filho himself, suspected that more supernatural or even demonic forces were responsible, and the entity most often cited in the notorious legends as Boitatá
Boitatá, also regionally known as the Biatatá, Baitatá, Bitatá, Batatá, Batatão, M’boiguaçu, Mboitatá and Mbaê-Tata is an old Tupi word, an extinct language once spoken by native Brazilians, which translates as fiery serpent. This often times malicious spectral illumination is basically the South American equivalent of the nefarious European sprite known as the will-o’-the-wisp.
According to the writings of a 16th Century Canarian priest, José de Anchieta, the Boitatá would often pursue and even kill the native peoples. Alves claimed that this beast was to blame for his cousin’s death as a similar entity has attacked Filho in his youth.
I think that the Boitatá was to blame, since it had attacked him once before… when Joao was a tropero, cattle driver, he was still young and lived with his father in Araçariguama. One day at sundown, as he led the donkeys over a hill, he saw a fire that fell from the sky, a fireball. He was near a chapel that had a cross, and he could feel the fireball passing him, almost knocking him down. Joao would tell me that at that spot you could sometimes see ten or twelve balls emerging from the sky. Some of them were red, others Moon-colored. Sometimes five or six of them would fall to the ground and explode. People would call them the Boitatá lights. These enigmatic entities are known for tormenting those who linger outside at night as well as colliding into one another and emitting a flurry of sparks. Prestes did not mention the infamous Boitatá, but agreed that traditional explanations of Filho’s demise were hard to come by.
My father was a deputy policeman at Santana de Parnaíba and requested the assistance of the forensic unit to research the case, but I don’t know anything about the results. The fact is that nothing burned in the room where Joao was when the fire appeared. He had no enemies or anyone who’d be interested in doing such a thing to him. Even as he died, he repeated that the light had attacked him and that it was otherworldly.
Prestes even indicated that there might be something akin to a family curse at work.
Something equally scary happened to Emiliano Prestes, my uncle and Joao Prestes’ brother. A few months after his brother’s tragic death, Emiliano was walking through an Araçariguama forest, in Agua Podre… A fiery torch appeared above him, causing the terrified Emiliano to run to a canyon’s edge when the thing fell on him. All he could do was kneel and pray for his life. He told us that he felt an intense heat, but luckily the fiery torch moved away and vanished.
According to Prestes, these strange fire balls seemed to plague locals for decades, often frightening horses and nighttime travelers. The lights were seen most frequently between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and were three or four times larger than the Moon. People would feel their heat even at a distance, and they were able to move amazingly fast. My father stopped going to parties at night because of these lights.
While many assumed that the Boitatá took Filho’s life, there were those who believed that the attack had come from Assombraçoes.
While some assumed Filho was assaulted by a flaming, serpentine beast, others believed that it was the work of assombraçoes or ghosts that dwelled in a long closed Morro Velho gold mine, located on Mt. Saboao. A mysterious Canadian by the name of general George Raston founded the mine in 1926 and lived on the spot until it closed in the 1930’s. Alves claimed to have seen these glowing apparitions floating behind the mountain with his own eyes.
We also called those fireballs maes do ouro, mothers of gold. There was also the golden lizard, an elongated tongue of flame that moved in a straight line, slowly, without making a sound. As prevalent as belief in the paranormal may have been in rural Brazil in the 1940s, there are those who have speculated that Filho was nothing more than the unfortunate victim of an accidental death.
In the 1960s, some investigators, most notably renowned Brazilian ufologist Dr. Walter Bühler, began to speculate that Filho’s burns were likely caused by an accidental fire, one that was probably started by a candle.
This hypothesis stands in direct contradiction with the investigation supervised by police chief Malaquías, which indicated that nothing had burned in the farmer’s house.
Dr. Bühler subscribed to the beliefs of a minority sect that contended that UFOs represented angelic visitations, perhaps not unlike the one shared by cosmonauts aboard the Salyut 7 in 1984, and as such his accidental fire theory might have been an attempt to steer any negative press away from UFOs, which he presumed were divine entities.
Others, primarily professional debunkers, have ignored the testimony of the residents of Araçariguama and taken the stance that Filho was merely struck by lightning, but this was the dry season in the area and none of the numerous witnesses to Filho’s condition made any mention of storms occurring until long after he arrived at his sister’s home, therefore, it would seem that lightening is not a likely culprit.
Still others have wondered if the phenomenon known as spontaneous human combustion might be the answer, but if that is the case then it’s one of the few incidents on record to involve someone who survived the initial event and it does nothing to explain the mysterious glowing orb that Filho claimed attacked him that black night.
We can all agree that the thought of a technologically advanced race of malicious beings with little or no regard for human life is not a pleasant one, yet so far it appears as if whomever it may be controlling these bizarre flying machines, the wholesale extinction of life on Earth is not their primary agenda. Nevertheless, as mentioned in the intro, violent encounters with UFOs are not unheard of.
One of the most intriguing theories regarding the fate of Mr. Filho comes to us from Dr. Luiz Braga who, while investigating the incident years after the fact, came to the conclusion that Filho’s bizarre burns, in which the radiation had an effect on living cells, but not the lifeless ones, such as hair and clothing, were similar to the indirect effects of a nuclear explosion, as occurred with certain victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the mankind’s first recorded use of an atomic weapon occurred over Hiroshima on August 6, 1944, there was nothing in the inventory of the Earth’s armies that could project an irradiated beam with such precision in 1946, and even if someone could, why would they waste such impressive technology on a farmer and family man from the backwaters of Brazil, then swiftly pack it away never to be used again? It makes no sense.
The only semi-rational alternative is to theorize that Filho was attacked by some kind of alien technology. Could it be that for reasons beyond or fathoming beings from another world decided to target Filho? It is likely a question that will never be answered, but what is known is the fact that Filho’s family refused to return to the site of the tragedy.
Was it because they felt that the building was cursed or did others suffer sickness in the abode? Perhaps Filho’s next of kin experienced the kind of illness that is now associated with radiation poisoning, but which might have been confused with some sort of a paranormal malady.
Sadly, Dr. Bühler reported that soon after Filho’s death the police condemned the house and it was demolished, potentially eradicating any trace evidence that may have lingered there.