Prison escape, multiple sightings and a stolen rifle: Timeline of the Danelo Cavalcante manhunt and capture

Chester County residents are growing increasingly frustrated as police scramble to keep up with the ‘dangerous’ killer’s moves, writes Andrea Blanco

Thursday 14 September 2023 11:03 BST
(Chester County DA)

Fugitive murder convict Danelo Cavalcante has finally been captured 14 days after his prison escape in northwestern Pennsylvania.

For nearly two weeks following his escape from the Chester County Prison on 31 August, Cavalcante not only eluded hundreds of US Marshalls, SWAT, FBI and state and local law enforcement officers but also managed to sneak past the established search perimeter time and time again - and even stole a rifle from a home.

Over the weekend, the fugitive drove more than 25 miles from his initial hiding spot in Longwood Gardens after stealing a van that he then discarded in East Nantmeal Township. Then on Monday night, he broke inside a garage in South Coventry Township and stole a .22 rifle before fleeing the scene.

Residents of the suburban Pennsylvania county grew increasingly frustrated as police scrambled to keep up with Cavalcante’s moves.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, police announced Cavalcante’s capture.

Here’s a timeline of the stunning case.

31 August - Cavalcante escapes Chester County Prison

Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania, at around 8.50am on 31 August.

Cavalcante has managed to sneak past the initial search perimeter established by law enforcement (Chester County DA/Google Maps/Indy composites )

At the time, other inmates in the exercise yard were playing basketball. Video of the incident showed him crab-walking up a wall and pushing through razor wire in order to gain access to the prison’s roof.

He then jumped down into another area of the prison and left on foot. The unconventional method is exactly the same that was used by another inmate back in May, Chester County Prison acting Warden Howard Holland said.

Cavalcante was convicted last month for the April 2021 murder of his former girlfriend Deborah Brandao

During that incident, the inmate was captured within minutes after a tower officer reported the break to prison staff. In Cavalcante’s case, the tower officer tasked with surveilling the escape route failed to report the jailbreak, which went unnoticed for nearly an hour.

Cavalcante’s absence was only noticed during a head count when his block returned back inside around 9.50am after the basketball game. The jail was then put into lockdown and the 911 centre was notified 10 minutes later.

Danelo Cavalcante ’s escape from Pennsylvania prison captured in video (Chester County District Attorney's Office)

The tower officer who was tasked with surveilling the area where Cavalcante’s block was at the time of the escape has since been fired.

“We can confirm that the corrections officer on duty when Danelo Cavalcante escaped was terminated yesterday afternoon,” a source told CNN in a statement on 8 September. “He was an 18-year veteran of the prison.”

Acting warden Howard Holland said that an investigation into the escape was being conducted by the state attorney’s office.

Mr Holland said that following the escape attempt in May, the prison had brought consultants in to increase security at the facility. Razor wire — which Cavalcante pushed through — was placed to prevent access to the roof, but officials didn’t expect “the human element” to fail, Mr Holland said.

This photo provided by the Chester County, Pa., District Attorney’s Office shows Cavalcante hours after his escape

“While we believed that the security measures we had in place were sufficient, they have proven otherwise,” Mr Holland said. “And we will work to enhance our security ... One key difference in [this] escape is the role of the tower officer whose primary responsibility is to oversee the inmate in the exercise yard.”

Mr Holland declined to say what the prison officer was believed to be doing during the escape, only noting that he was at the post.

1 to 7 September – Sightings in Longwood Gardens, Pocopson and Pennsbury townships

Following his escape. Cavalcante was spotted several times in Popocson and Pennsbury townships.

He was seen at the intersection of Route 926 and Route 52, north on Route 52 to Parkersville Road, southeast to Route 926 and west to the intersection of Route 926 and Route 52.

Local authorities received a report of an attempted burglary in the area just an hour before Cavalcante was captured on a trail surveillance area in Longwood Gardens botanical parks on 6 September. He was seen walking through the area with a duffel bag, backpack and hooded sweatshirt he apparently stole while on the run.

Cavalcante captured on trail camera at Longwood Gardens (Chester County )

That sighting led officials to move the search area farther south after they determined that Cavalcante had likely slipped through the original perimeter set by hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, but they said his movements showed he was feeling the pressure of the massive search and that his options were dwindling.

On 7 September, authorities said they had expanded the search perimeter to between eight and 10 square miles.

Police searches in Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, 3 September (© Copyright 2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer)

The manhunt forced officials in two school districts within the large search area to cancel classes, citing “an overabundance of caution.” Longwood Gardens cited the same reason as it remained closed for an entire week.

“That pressure we put on him is working. We squeezed him hard enough in a period of a few days where he couldn’t get some relief, and he squeezed out,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt Col George Bevins said at a press conference on 5 September. “I wished we could’ve got him, but it’s a large, dark area, with difficult terrain.”

Yet, in the following days, Cavalcante would sneak more than 20 miles past the perimeter.

9 September – Cavalcante captured on former coworker’s doorbell camera in Phoenixville

Cavalcante showed up at an old associate’s home around 9.50pm on 9 September and requested through the doorbell camera to meet with him.

The individual was out having dinner with his family and had a brief conversation with Cavalcante in Portuguese. He later arrived at his home, reviewed the footage and alerted local police to the sighting.

An image provided by the Pennsylvania State Police showing Cavalcante wearing a hoodie (Pennsylvania State Police)

Doorbell video images showed Cavalcante to be now clean-shaven and wearing a green hooded sweatshirt, black baseball cap, green prison pants and white shoes.

The fugitive then travelled to the home of another former coworker’s home in Phoenixville. A female who was at the home when Cavalcante rang the bell called a friend, who eventually informed law enforcement about the sighting.

Police say Cavalcante has changed his appearance (PA State Police)

Once notified of the developments, authorities started looking into the possibility that Cavalcante had stolen a vehicle. It was later determined that Cavalcante stole a white 2020 Ford Transit near a dairy farm in Longwood Gardens that he used to drive to Phoenixville.

10 September – Authorities find van stolen by Cavalcante in East Nantmeal Township

Around 10.40am on 10 September, police found the van that Cavalcante had stolen in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township, about 15 miles from Phoenixville.

Lt Col George Bivens said he believed Cavalcante abandoned the vehicle at least in part because it was low on fuel. Authorities are concerned that he would attempt to obtain another vehicle or has already done so.

Cavalcante discarded the stolen van in East Nantmeal Township (Chester County DA)

The area where Cavalcante abandoned the van is roughly 25 miles, or a 40-minute drive, from the previous eight-mile perimeter police had established near the popular Longwood Gardens botanical park.

Mr Bivens said that he is confident Cavalcante remains in Pennsylvania as he “does not have the resources” to leave the state.

PA State Troopers, US Border Patrol, Chester County Emergency Management, and FBI collaborate on the intergovernmental manhunt for Cavalcante (© Copyright The Philadelphia Inquirer 2023)

“We don’t have a defined search area at this point,” Mr Bivens said on 11 September. “We are considering and acting and investigating any tip or piece of information we receive. There are areas in Nantmeal Township that may have more of our resources.”

The search for Cavalcante is no longer contained to a perimeter, Lt Col George Bivens said (© Copyright The Philadelphia Inquirer 2023)

Mr Bivens said that he was aware of some weaknesses in the previous 10-mile perimeter, but refused to acknowledge that the several agencies collaborating in the manhunt had made any mistakes. He went on to say that the perimeter was “strong” but not infallible.

“No perimeter is 100 per cent secure. It’s not a wall, it doesn’t have a ceiling ... all of the elements that you might use to contain someone,” he said.

11- 12 September - Cavalcante steals rifle, spotted in South Coventry Township

Around 8pm on 11 September, a motorist told 911 dispatchers that a male figure had crouched near the woodline near Route 100.

Troopers responding to the scene investigated the sighting and found footprints on the mud consistent with Cavalcante’s prison shoes, which were also found in the area.

Mr Bivens said that although authorities arrived at the scene within minutes, Cavalcante managed to travel a significant distance during that time.

“Just because they found a footprint doesn’t mean that we know what direction he travelled,” Mr Bivens said during a press conference on 12 September.

A resident of the area called shortly after to report that a pair of workboots on her porch had been stolen.

Law enforcement officers continue the search for escaped convict Danelo Cavalcante in Glenmoore, Pa., Monday, Sept. 11 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Then at 10.10pm, a homeowner reported that a “short Hispanic man” broke inside his garage.

Mr Bivens said that Cavalcante stole a .22 rifle with a scope and a flashlight on it. The homeowner opened fire on Cavalcante with his pistol but the fugitive is not believed to have been injured.

Cavalcante fled before Pennsylvania State Police arrived at the scene.

Law enforcement officers gather as they search for Cavalcante in Glenmoore, Pa (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Near the edge of the driveway, authorities found clothes that Cavalcante had been spotted wearing over the weekend.

Around 500 officers were hunting for Cavalcante on 12 September as one school district remained closed and residents were told to secure their homes and be vigilant.

The search is focused on South Coventry Township in Chester County — near Route 23 to the North, Route 100 to the East, Fairview and Nantmeal roads to the South and Iron Bridge and County Park roads to the West.

13 September - Cavalcante captured

Pennsylvania State Police announced the capture of Cavalcante on the morning of 13 September.

Aerial footage showed officers leading the handcuffed fugitives out of a wooded area and into a transport vehicle.

Danelo Cavalcante (CBS Philadalphia)

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