Convicted killer Cavalcante, who evaded Pa. State Police for two weeks, is captured

By: - September 13, 2023 1:37 pm

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante is taken into custody by Pennsylvania State Police on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in South Coventry Township, where he was apprehended after two weeks on the run. (Pennsylvania State Police photo)

A border patrol dog pinned down escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante on Wednesday morning before state police and federal agents arrested him in a rural part of Chester County, ending a manhunt that kept residents on edge for two weeks.

Television news showed Cavalcante, who was convicted last month of stabbing his girlfriend to death in front of her children in 2021, being led shirtless and wrapped in an emergency thermal blanket to the state police barracks at Avondale.

Police said he would be processed and interviewed about his escape from the Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 before being transferred to a state correctional institution where he will serve a life sentence for the murder.

Within two hours after Cavalcante was taken into custody around 8:20 a.m., officials described for reporters how the sprawling search escalated overnight.

After a surveillance aircraft spotted Cavalcante, state police Special Emergency Response Team members kept him penned within a wooded area in South Coventry Township amid lightning and heavy rain, officials said.

Pennsylvania State Police Col. Christopher Paris said in a news conference surrounded by searchers that Cavalcante’s arrest was the result of cooperation between state troopers, local police, county detectives and agents from several federal agencies.

“At the end of the day, all the people behind me here work for justice and for the victims,” Paris said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro led off the news conference, saying he was thankful that the pursuit ended without injuries to officers or members of the public and to the officers who left their families to return to the field day after day.

Shapiro also thanked members of the public for remaining vigilant and assisting authorities with tips on sightings and suspicious activity.

“I hope the good people of Pennsylvania and indeed the folks all across this nation got a chance to see how government is supposed to work, how law enforcement is supposed to work, where we all come together, where we focus on the mission,” Shapiro said.

In a moment of levity, Shapiro said that if the owner of the stolen Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt Cavalcante was wearing when he was captured contacted authorities, he would make sure it was replaced with a newer, Kelly green version.

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said the chain of events that ended the manhunt began unfolding shortly after midnight Wednesday when state police responded to a residential burglar alarm.

Troopers didn’t find Cavalcante at the home where the alarm was triggered, but a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft orbiting overhead picked up an infrared image of a person in the area. Strong storms that passed through the region overnight forced the plane to land, but state police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents maintained a tight perimeter in the area until morning, Bivens said.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, tactical teams converged on the spot where the aircraft picked up the heat signature.

“They were able to move in very quietly, they had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred,” Bivens said.

Cavalcante attempted to escape, crawling through the thick undergrowth carrying the stolen rifle, Bivens said. A border patrol team released a dog, which subdued Cavalcante, and troopers and federal agents forcibly took him into custody. He suffered a minor bite wound that was treated at the scene, Bivens said.

Cavalcante had escaped from Chester County Prison by climbing up the narrow space between two walls in the prison exercise yard, security video from the facility showed. It was the second time this year that a prisoner escaped using the same method.

In May, inmate Igor Bolte, who was serving a three-month sentence for assaulting a police officer, climbed up to the prison roof by bracing himself between the walls and escaped. He was apprehended a short time later. Prison officials added razor wire to the roof but Cavalcante was able to push past it, authorities said.

Since Cavalcante’s escape a guard on duty in the prison’s watchtower when Cavalcante escaped has been fired, a county spokesperson told WHYY-FM.

In a statement Wednesday, the Chester County commissioners said prison officials made some immediate changes to the facility to improve security and brought in contractors to make permanent changes to the exercise yards. Officials will also review security measures and procedures for communicating with residents near the prison, the statement said.

The search, initially contained to an area within about two miles of the prison, intensified on Saturday after Cavalcante stole a van from a dairy and drove about 20 miles north where he attempted to contact former coworkers.

On Monday night, a South Coventry Township resident reported Cavalcante walked into his garage and stole a .22 caliber rifle. The homeowner reportedly fired several shots at Cavalcante but did not hit him, police said.

The manhunt caused businesses, roads and schools to be closed as searchers combed wooded subdivisions and fields on the edge of the Philadelphia suburbs.

Police warned residents to keep doors and windows locked and ensure that vehicles and outbuildings were secure after several burglaries were reported in the area where Cavalcante was believed to be hiding.

Asked about criticism over the length of Cavalcante’s evasion of searchers, Bivens said he was always confident that Cavalcante would be found and returned to prison.

“You had an individual whose choices were to go back to prison and spend the rest of your life in a place you don’t want to be or continue to try and evade capture. He chose to evade capture,” Bivens said.

Bivens said police were aware that there were people who intended to provide help for Cavalcante to remain at large, but authorities successfully prevented that. Bivens did not elaborate on how the aid to Cavalcante was prevented.

He also said that he was not concerned about news footage that showed uniformed law enforcement officers appearing to pose with a handcuffed Cavalcante for a photograph. “I’m not bothered at all by the fact that they took a photograph with him in custody,” he said, “they’re proud of their work, they kept the community safe and I say thanks to them, and good job.”

Paris noted that Bivens has overseen three successful searches for fugitives in Pennsylvania and said it was not lost on him that Cavalcante was captured on the ninth anniversary of the ambush at the Blooming Grove state police barracks in Pike County.

On Sept. 13, 2014, self-styled revolutionary and survivalist Eric Frein used a sniper rifle to kill a state trooper as he left the barracks and gravely wounded another who came to the first officer’s assistance.

Frein fled into the Pocono Mountains wilderness and led police on a 48-day manhunt that cost the state $12 million. He was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges and sentenced to death.

Cavalcante was also a suspect in a murder in his native Brazil. Prosecutors said at his trial that he killed Deborah Brandão after she threatened to report him as an undocumented immigrant to U.S. authorities.

Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said one of the first calls her office made after learning of Cavalcante’s capture was to the Brandão family who she said had been living in a “complete nightmare.”


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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.