The manhunt for a convicted murderer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison outside Philadelphia has come to an end after nearly two weeks, with authorities confirming Wednesday morning that Danelo Cavalcante was in custody.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers were searching for Cavalcante, 34, who escaped August 31 from Chester County Prison, where he was held after his conviction last month in the 2021 killing of his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandão.
But it was two tactical teams – one from the Pennsylvania State Police, another from US Border Patrol – who moved in on Cavalcante Wednesday morning and deployed a police dog that subdued the fugitive before he was taken into custody, according to Lt. Col. George Bivens of the state police, who led the search.
Here’s a timeline of his escape and the manhunt.
On August 16, about two weeks before he absconded, a jury convicted Cavalcante of first-degree murder in Brandão’s killing – a crime that in Pennsylvania carries a mandatory life sentence without parole, according to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.
The two were neighbors and dated for about a year and a half, the victim’s sister, Sarah Brandão, told CNN. He was kind at first to Brandão and her children, Sarah said, but that changed over time. Sarah said her sister told her he was “extremely jealous” and “became a different person” when he drank.
A probable cause affidavit indicates Brandão filed a protection from abuse order against Cavalcante in 2020. But Cavalcante murdered Brandão in April 2021, prosecutors said, stabbing her 38 times in front of her two young children. They are now in Sarah’s care.
Cavalcante is also wanted in his native Brazil in a 2017 homicide case, according to the US Marshals Service. When Brandão learned of the case, she threatened to expose Cavalcante to police, the district attorney’s office said in a statement on August 23, after he was formally sentenced. That was his motive for the murder, according to prosecutors.
Cavalcante fled the prison within days in an escape that was partially captured on camera.
Surveillance footage showed him in a narrow space between two walls in an exercise yard, placing his hands and feet on either side and “crab-walking” up, out of view. He then ran across a roof, scaled a fence and pushed his way through razor wire to escape, the prison’s acting warden, Howard Holland, later said.
The first known sighting of Cavalcante after his escape occurred the next day, when Ryan Drummond says he saw the fugitive inside his home in Pocopson Township, not far from the prison.
Describing the sighting as an “acute moment of terror,” Drummond told CNN’s Michael Smerconish that his family was getting ready for bed when he heard a noise downstairs around 11:30 p.m. and noticed a door was slightly ajar.
“That’s when my stomach dropped,” he told CNN.
Drummond switched the light on and off several times to signal to the intruder that he was being watched, and “after a little bit of a pause,” the intruder switched the light again in the kitchen. Drummond told his wife to call 911, he said, and then saw Cavalcante “walking methodically” out of the kitchen into his living room before leaving the house.
Cavalcante was spotted early the next morning around 12:30 a.m. on a residential surveillance camera about 1.5 miles from the prison, the district attorney’s office said on Facebook.
Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police, which is leading the search, said later that a state trooper also saw Cavalcante in the area.
A security camera captured the fugitive in the evening two days later at Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden that sits several miles from Chester County Prison and would soon become the epicenter of the search effort.
The camera captured the fugitive twice, once walking north and then about an hour later going south.
By that time, Cavalcante had obtained several items, Bivens said, including a backpack, a duffle sling bag and a hooded sweatshirt.
The next night, Cavalcante was spotted by a resident in a creek bed on the resident’s property in Pennsbury Township, Bivens said, a few miles southeast of the prison. He fled into the woods before police could capture him.
A trail camera image showed Cavalcante in or around Longwood Gardens but officials learned about this sighting Thursday evening, according to Bivens.
Authorities reported two sightings of Cavalcante within the perimeter of their search area, which encompassed Longwood Gardens.
The manhunt shifted significantly over the weekend after authorities said Cavalcante managed to escape their search perimeter and steal a van about three-quarters of a mile away.
According to Bivens, the owners – who identified themselves as a local dairy farm – had left the keys inside their delivery van, which Cavalcante used to flee some 20 miles north to East Pikeland Township.
There, Cavalcante attempted to contact an acquaintance he’d known years prior, Bivens said. He spoke with the acquaintance on a Ring doorbell camera, which captured his new clean-shaven look, but the person wasn’t home and did not respond to meet Cavalcante, Bivens said.
The fugitive then went to nearby Phoenixville to contact another acquaintance. That person was also not home but called police after a female resident saw the escaped inmate.
Sunday, September 10: Abandoned van located
State police didn’t learn about the sightings until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Bivens said, giving them their first indication Cavalcante had gotten out from under them and changed his appearance.
Additionally, the second sighting that night indicated he was using a white vehicle, which investigators eventually narrowed down to the dairy’s stolen 2020 Ford Transit van.
They located the stolen van later in a field that morning, around 10:40 a.m., abandoned behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township, slightly west of the sightings the evening prior. Bivens said it had run out of gas.
The search then shifted to this area, in the northern part of Chester County.
The next spotting occurred in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, around 8 p.m. Monday, when a motorist told police she saw a man crouched at a wood line on Fairview Road, Bivens said in a news conference Tuesday morning. She went back, but the man was gone.
Authorities formed a perimeter around that area, Bivens said, and a Border Patrol tactical team saw footprints identical to the prison shoes Cavalcante was wearing. The shoes were found soon after, and a resident told authorities work boots had been stolen from her porch.
Then, police received another call from a resident on Coventry Road, Bivens said, reporting a short, Hispanic male who was not wearing a shirt had entered his garage while the resident was inside and stole a .22 caliber rifle. The resident drew a pistol and fired at the man as he fled. Cavalcante’s sweatshirt was found near the edge of the driveway.
Cavalcante was always considered dangerous, Bivens said, but he’s now “armed and extremely dangerous.”
“He’s killed two people previously. I would suspect that he’s desperate enough to use that weapon,” Bivens said.
The manhunt ended on Wednesday, when Pennsylvania State Police announced they had captured Cavalcante.
Shortly after midnight, authorities learned a residential burglar alarm had gone off near Prizer Road, within authorities’ latest search perimeter, Bivens said at a news conference. Cavalcante was not found, but the alarm prompted investigators to move more resources into that area.
Around 1 a.m., a Drug Enforcement Administration helicopter using thermal imaging technology detected a heat signal west of Pennsylvania Route 100 and north of Prizer Road, Bivens said. Authorities tracked that signal, but a weather system and lightning forced the aircraft to leave.
Around 8 a.m., the tactical teams from the state police and Border Patrol began moving in on the area where the heat source was located.
“They were able to move in very quietly,” Bivens said. “They had the element of surprise.”
Video shows moment escaped Pennsylvania killer is captured
Cavalcante tried to escape, crawling through thick underbrush with the stolen rifle, Bivens said. Border Patrol deployed the dog, which subdued Cavalcante, who suffered a minor scalp wound. He resisted but was forcibly taken back into custody, Bivens said.
From there, Cavalcante was taken to a state police facility for processing and to be interviewed, Bivens said. Eventually, he’ll be transferred to a state correctional institution to serve his life sentence.
But he will also face more charges: Cavalcante is expected to be arraigned on a felony escape charge that was filed the day he escaped, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said in a news release Wednesday.
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