THE INCREDIBLE SAGA OF JOAO PRESTES
by Pablo Villarubia Mauso
In 1946, almost a year prior to the famous incident at Mt. Rainier (USA) which heralded the start of the modern UFO age, a farmer died in a most hideous fashion in Brazil's back country. Within a matter of hours, a strange light had brought about the death of Joao Prestes Filho by intense burns, according to some witnesses, or as a result of his flesh falling off from his bones, leaving bones and tendons exposed -- as others would claim.
The answer to one of the most disconcerting and horrifying cases in the history of ufology started in the small, noisome "Minas Gerais" hotel where historian/ufologist Claudio Tsuyoshi Suenaga and I had lodged in order to research several alleged Chupacabra attacks in the region. We were in the town of Sao Roque -- 47 kilometers away from the city of Sao Paulo (Brazil) when my room mate called my attention, breaking the silence of night, to the pages of a newspaper he had found in the room's grimy bathroom.
With a mixture of ecstasy and emotion, stumbling over words, the young Japanese-Brazilian read out the paper's contents, dated April 12, 1997: "The esteemed Roque Prestes died at 91 years of age on April 6, at his home in this city,.... he was the brother of Joao Prestes (deceased)..." To our astonishment we had stumbled onto the trail of the parents of Joao Prestes Filho, the man who died a terrible death on March 4, 1946; after having been attacked by an unexplained light, his flesh began to fall off his bones in chunks, especially off his jaw, chest, hands, fingers and feet, dooming him to die within a matter of hours. To the horror and helplessness of onlookers, some pieces of flesh remained dangling from his tendons.
The Hotel Minas Gerais was the mute witness to our insomnia and restlessness until dawn, when we contacted a son of the late Roque Prestes by phone. In a matter of minutes and at a brisk pace, we reached the modest home of sixty year-old Luis Prestes on the outskirts of Sao Roque. Luis was still in mourning for the recent death of his father, Roque - a former soldier of the constitutionalist revolution of 1932.
"Up to very recently, shortly before his death, my father recalled his brother's tragic passing on the distant year 1946. I was small - some 9 years old - but I clearly remember what happened to my Uncle Joao. It was carnival week and Joao, who loathes such festivities, dcided to go fishing and drove off in his cart. He lived in Aracariguama, a little village only 7 kilometers away from San Roque and a hitherto isolated and quiet community. My aunt went to the festivities with the children and left Joao's supper already made at home," Luis Prestes would explain as we looked on attentively.
"I was in Aracariguama when I learned that my uncle was dying at a relative's 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 did see him, and Joao told him that upon returning home and opening the window something resembling fire or a 'fiery torch' entered the room in which he was standing. He fell to the floor and felt that his body was on fire. Wrapping himself in a blanket, he walked over two kilometers into the village. My father said that Joao was only burned from the waist up, with the exception of the hair on his head. I managed to see my uncle when they removed him from the house to take him to Santana do Parnaiba by truck, where the nearest hospital was located. I remember that the sheets covering him were blackened, perhaps by the burns on his body. Joao died shortly before being admitted to the hospital," Prestes related as we caught his account on tape.
"A number of books published in English, Japanese and even Russian have said that Joao Prestes died in a hideous manner, with pieces of his body, such as his ears or parts of his face, melting off. Is this true?," I asked.
"No. His appearance, according to my father, who escorted him to the hospital, was truly ruinous, but it wasn't that extreme. He had serious burns all over his body. His flesh was dark and he presented no bodily injuries," explained our interviewee, making partial changes to the story which had appeared in books and hundreds of articles published on the case. "My father was a deputy policeman at Santana de Parnaiba and requested the assitance 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 Jose 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 'otherworldy,' explained our interviewee. The following item of information brought us back to reality with a start. "Back then, people would constantly see fireballs known as 'assombracoes' (ghosts) in Aracariguama and its vicinity. Some believed they came from the gold mine that's now closed. Other weird things would happen too. My late father told us that around 1922 he was able to see a lobisomem (wolf-man) while with my grandfather and an uncle. My uncle apparently threw a rock at it and hit its hand. The next day, a neighbor turned up with his hand bandaged. Other people told similar stories," Luis Prestes informed us. The idea that the Sao Roque area could be some fantastic "window area" through which an astonishing variety and quantity of anomalous phenomena jelled in our minds.
The theory seemed to match the following data imparted by our informer. "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 Aracariguama forest, in Agua Podre - the same one from which the lobisomen appeared in 1922 and where the light burned Joao. 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." Luis's account added even further mysteries to the area.
The "fiery torch" or "fireball" was also seen on several occasions by Luis's father. The oject would frighten horses and riders alike as they made their way through Aracariguama's dark nights to reach their humble abodes. "The lights were seen most frequently between 3 and 4 in the morning, 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," Luis Prestes recalled.
Before ending our interview, feeling satisfied by the new information shedding light on the Joao Prestes case, just as we were thinking to add nothing further to the proceedings, Luis Prestes gave us a valuable clue; the possible existence of the last witness having seen Joao's dying moments. "He's an elderly gentleman, but very lucid and strong. He lives close to my neighborhood in San Roque. This is his address."