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September 11, 2023

Danelo Cavalcante's sister refused to help police find escaped killer before her ICE detainment, authorities say

Immigration officials say Eleni Cavalcante could face deportation. At the convicted murderer's trial, prosecutors said he left her thousands of dollars in cash

Eleni Cavalcante, the sister of escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante, was taken into custody by federal immigration officials after she did not cooperate with authorities in their search for the runaway inmate, police said Monday.

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

U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement officials say they detained Eleni Cavalcante because she is no longer legally permitted to reside in the U.S. She could now face deportation.

"She is an overstay. That is a process that would play out for anyone in her same circumstance... She has failed to cooperate, so there was no value in law enforcement keeping her here at this point," Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Bivens would not confirm whether she provided any assistance to her brother since he escaped Chester County Prison on Aug. 31, but said her detainment should serve as a warning to others. 

"I'll (leave) that to others to draw their own conclusions," Bivens said. "What I would say is, if someone is thinking about offering assistance and acts on that, we will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what they have done."

Anyone who offers help to Cavalcante will face prosecution, Bivens added. 

Authorities are now 12 days into the manhunt for the 34-year-old escapee, who was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, at her Schuylkill Township home in 2021. Despite at least eight confirmed sightings since his escape, Cavalcante has repeatedly circumvented an expanded police perimeter and utilized the dense cover at Longwood Gardens to elude investigators.

Cavalcante was last seen Saturday night in northern Chester County, about 25 miles from the prison. He appeared on a Ring doorbell camera in East Pikeland Township at the home of a former associate he sought out for help, police said. His face had been freshly shaved. Earlier Saturday, Cavalcante stole a refrigerated van from a dairy business near Longwood Gardens and later abandoned the vehicle in East Nantmeal Township, west of where he was spotted on the Ring camera. 

The homeowners were not at the property at the time of Cavalcante's appearance, but were able to have a conversation with him through the Ring app. They then called 911, Bivens said. The conversation was in Portuguese, Cavalcante's native language in Brazil, and was recorded and turned over to police. 

"I would characterize it as urgent, but friendly," Bivens said of the exchange. "It was someone he clearly had not spoken to in some period of time, and so there was a reacquaintence and an effort to get assistance."

At least two hours passed before state police were able to follow up on the lead that the homeowners in East Pikeland passed on to local police, Bivens said.

"We did not receive that information until about 12:30 that night. What steps the police department took to investigate that, I'm only speculating. Whether there was an issue or a concern because it was not in English ... I personally have not spoken to the officers. I know our investigators. What I can tell you is that period of time lapsed before we became involved."

Cavalcante appeared at another coworker's residence, who also was not home, later that night. That homeowner also contacted police.

Authorities maintained a presence in northern Chester County on Monday. The manhunt no longer has a defined perimeter, Bivens said. State and federal law enforcement are using a number of different tactics and technologies to try to track him down, but Bivens did not get into specifics about the resources being used.

Investigators have not revealed whether they have evidence Cavalcante is receiving help. They do know that he has attempted to reach out to people he knows. The risk that he'll get assistance from those closest to him is among the reasons authorities did not want to take chances with his sister.

"She potentially could provide assistance, and I'm not confident that she would not in the future if we let her out," Bivens said.

During Cavalcante's trial last month, his sister's boyfriend, Francisco Lima, testified that he provided Cavalcante help after he fatally stabbed Brandao. He and another man helped Cavalcante bandage his hands, gave him a change of clothes and put gas in the car he used to flee to Virginia. (Cavalcante was captured the next day.) Lima also said that Cavalcante gave him a bag for his sister that had thousands of dollars of cash in it.

Chester County prosecutors said Cavalcante killed Brandao because she had threatened to go to police with information linking him to a fatal shooting in Brazil in 2017. There is an active warrant for his arrest in that country.

Bivens did not say whether Cavalcante has tried to connect with any of his other family members in the Chester County area. The people he's tried to reach while on the run are not especially close to him.

"These people had not — to my knowledge — had any contact with Cavalcante in years," Bivens said. "So they were not friends. They were prior work associates, for example, and they were not people that we would have expected."

Investigators believe Cavalcante remains in Chester County and that he has not had the resources at his disposal to flee the area. But Bivens did say it's possible that Cavalcante has been able to find a weapon.

"We obviously always have treated him as being dangerous, and we have always treated him as potentially being armed," Bivens said. "He's been carrying a pack. There's no way to know exactly what's in that pack or what he obtained early on in this investigation and search."

At this stage in the manhunt, authorities believe Cavalcante is operating without a clear plan.

"I believe that his actions show he's desperate. I believe that there was an opportunity to escape. I don't believe there was a lot of planning that went into that. And now he finds himself on the run. I think he is desperate (because of) the fact that he has reached out to people with a very distant patchwork of support."

The reward for information leading to Cavalcante's arrest was increased to $25,000 on Monday. Anyone with information on Cavalcante's whereabouts can call 911 or the state police tip line at (717) 562-2987.