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September 13, 2023

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante captured, ending the 13-day manhunt for escaped Chester County prisoner

The killer climbed the prison walls on Aug. 31. He was caught Wednesday, with the help of a K9 unit after being spotted with a thermal imaging camera

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Cavalcante Captured Chester County D.A./Facebook

Danelo Cavalcante, the convicted murderer who escaped Chester County Prison on Aug. 31, was captured on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Pennsylvania State Police display photos of Cavalcante during a press conference. The photos show the escaped prisoner the morning he was caught.

Danelo Cavalcante was captured and taken into custody alive Wednesday morning, Pennsylvania State Police said. The convicted murderer had escaped Chester County Prison nearly two weeks ago. 

Cavalcante, 34, was caught by police shortly after 8 a.m. in northern Chester County, where police had been focusing their search since the weekend. He was taken to the state police barracks in Avondale, in southern Chester County, where troopers will attempt to interview Cavalcante, authorities said. After that, he will be transported to a state prison.

MORE: Atlantic City man sentenced to 70 years in prison for 2019 fatal shooting at Pleasantville High football game

In the hours before Cavalcante was rearrested, police deployed an array of resources that included hundreds of law enforcement officers, tracking aircraft, thermal imaging cameras and police dogs. He was spotted hiding in a wood pile near Prizer Road and Route 100 in South Coventry Township.

As police closed in on him, Cavalcante briefly attempted to elude capture by crawling into nearby thick underbrush, but he was stopped by officers and at least one K9 unit, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a press conference less than two hours after the search ended.

Cavalcante resisted being apprehended, Bivens said, but was subdued by an officer. The escaped prisoner sustained a "minor bite wound" from a police dog, Bivins said, but was otherwise not injured. No law enforcement officers were injured, the trooper said.

Bivens praised state troopers and other law enforcement involved in capturing Cavalcante, and he deflected when asked about the escaped prisoner's proficiency at avoiding being caught for 13 days. "I don't know that he was particularly skilled," Bivens said. "He was desperate."

He added, "It's never easy to find someone who doesn't want to be found in a very large area."

The Brazilian native, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in August, had escaped Chester County Prison on Aug. 31, before being transferred to a Pennsylvania State Prison, where was to serve a life sentence.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro was at Wednesday morning's press conference and said the state police's search for Cavalcante is an example of what "truly dedicated professionalism is all about."

The manhunt for Cavalcante intensified around 1 a.m. Wednesday when police were notified about a burglar alarm in the area. The alarm didn't lead to Cavalcante, but it prompted police to deploy an aircraft with a thermal imaging camera. Bivens said the camera detected a heat signal that was moving, and while the overnight storms in area forced police to stop using the aircraft, that preliminary information mobilized officers on the ground.

Cavalcante was tracked to the woodpile, and at 8 a.m. tactical teams began to close in on Cavalcante, Bivens said. "We had the element of surprise," he said. 

Still, Cavalcante tried to flee, but he was caught shortly after. He was carrying the .22-caliber rifle he had stolen from a home in East Nantmeal Township on Tuesday. During the capture, no shots were fired by police or Cavalcante, Bivens said.

Some of the details about Cavalcante's escape and how he remained elusive for nearly two weeks may never be known. He will be processed at the Avondale barracks, where state troopers and other law enforcement will attempt to interview him, but any new information will depend on how forthcoming Cavalcante is with authorities.

After Avondale, Cavalcante will be transported to a state prison to continue serving his life sentence.

It has not been determined if Cavalcante will be charged with escape. Additional charges could potentially mean transporting him back to Chester County for court dates and maybe even a trial. In Pennsylvania, when a state prisoner has to appear in court — whether it's for hearings about appeals or charges in other cases — it is typical they transported to the county where those charges originated. That typically also means the person would stay in custody in the local county prison.

Cavalcante's sister, Eleni Cavalcante, was taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers during the weekend after she did not cooperate with the search for her brother. Police said she faces deportation.

Despite numerous confirmed sightings since his escape nearly two weeks ago, Danelo Cavalcante repeatedly circumvented search perimeters established by police — at first in Pocopson Township, where Chester County Prison is located, in East Marborough Township, where he was caught on camera in Longwood Gardens, as well as in Kennett and Pennsbury townships. After he obtained a van, he headed more than 25 miles north in the county, where he was tracked in East Nantmeal and East Coventry townships.

Cavalcante was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, at her Schuylkill Township home in 2021. She was stabbed to death in front of her children. During his trial, Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said Cavalcante killed Brandao because she had threatened to go to police with information about a homicide he committed in Brazil nearly six years ago.

Brazilian law enforcement say Cavalcante shot and killed a man in November 2017 after a dispute about a debt related to the repair of a vehicle, and there has been a warrant for his arrest since June 2018. After the shooting, he hid in the terrain of rural, northern Brazil before fleeing that country using a false identity

Last Thursday, a prison guard who was on duty when Cavalcante escaped was fired from Chester County Prison. The 18-year veteran of the prison was manning the watch tower when Cavalcante made his crab-walk escape and was able to flee the prison. In response to the escape, as well as a similar escape that occurred in May, Chester County officials have announced that some changes will be made to bolster the prison's security. 

"Chester County Prison officials have made some immediate changes to bolster security in the prison, have brought in security contractors to make permanent changes to the exercise yards, and are reviewing and — where needed — changing procedures for both security measures and communication to residents who live close to the prison," Chester County Commissioners said in a statement on Wednesday.