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September 06, 2023

Danelo Cavalcante escaped Chester County Prison with a feat of strength caught on video

The convicted murder acrobatically scaled walls, exploiting the same weakness in the facility's security another inmate used to get out earlier this year — one that prison officials thought had been fixed

Crime Prison Escape
Cavalcante climb walls Source/Chester County D.A.'s Office

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, broke out of Chester County Prison on the morning of Aug. 31. Authorities released a video of his escape on Wednesday as the weeklong search for the convicted murderer continues in an expanded perimeter.

To escape Chester County Prison, convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante stretched himself between two walls and shimmied upwards with his body horizontal. Then he squeezed through razor wire to access a building's roof before making his escape last week. Prison officials released video of Cavalcante's audacious breakout on Wednesday and said that the escape is now a criminal matter being investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

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

Cavalcante's method of escape is similar to one used by another Chester County Prison inmate who briefly escaped in May, acting warden Howard Holland said. However, in Cavalcante's instance, the corrections officer stationed in the observation tower looking down on the prison's Yard C did not notice the inmate had disappeared.

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His absence wasn't discovered until a count of inmates nearly 45 minutes later, giving Cavalcante the head start he needed to flee the grounds on Aug. 31. Cavalcante remains on the run.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania State Police confirmed he was seen near a residential property in Pennsbury Township on Tuesday night, about 2 miles east of Longwood Gardens in East Marlborough Township, where he had been caught on camera on Monday night, and less that 3 miles from Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township.

Still, it appears Cavalcante was outside the perimeter established in southern Chester County on Tuesday, which is surrounded by hundreds of local police, Pennsylvania State Troopers, U.S Marshals and other law enforcement.

This is the video of Cavalcante climbing the prison walls released by Chester County authorities at the briefing Wednesday afternoon. 

Holland described Cavalcante's maneuver to get up the wall as "crab-walking." Cavalcante, 34, stands 5 feet tall, and Holland said the walls he scaled to the roof are about 5 feet apart and 15 feet high. Once up the wall, he gained access to the rest of the roof through an opening at the top of the yard's perimeter fence, which had been lined with razor wire after the escape in May. Cavalcante pushed his way through the razor wire, Holland said.

Igor Bolte, 30, had escaped from Chester County Prison on May 19, climbing the same walls to access the roof, but Bolte's disappearance was noticed by the officer overlooking the yard in the watchtower. Support was called in and Bolte was captured minutes later in a residential area roughly half a mile away.

"We are currently formulating plans to enhance security," Holland said, adding that a consultant has evaluated the prison's security needs. The exercise yard from where Bolte and Cavalcante escaped will be fully enclosed, like a cage. Additional security cameras will be installed and the prison will adjust how officers are positioned in the outdoor yards, among other measures, he said.

Holland said the "human element" of Cavalcante's escape is a factor to consider in the investigation, given that the installation of the razor wire didn't stop him.

"The one thing we didn't take into account was a failure on the human element side," Holland said. "We only focused on the physical infrastructure and not necessarily the human element."

While the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office nows leads the criminal investigation about the escape, prison officials are conducting an internal investigation, looking at why the officer in the tower did not notice Cavalcante was missing. Officials did not name the officer who had been on duty, but Holland did say the person has been placed on administrative leave.

In August, Cavalcante, a native of Brazil, was found guilty of murder for fatally stabbing his girlfriend Deborah Brandao in 2021. She was killed in front of her children, and Cavalcante is sentenced to life in prison. He was being held at the county prison before his transfer to a state prison.

Brandao, 33, was killed at her home in Schuylkill Township. During his trial, the prosecution said Cavalcante stabbed Brandao because she had threatened to go to police with information about a homicide in Brazil nearly six years ago. Brazilian law enforcement say Cavalcante fatally shot a man in November 2017 after a dispute about "an alleged debt related to the repair of a vehicle," and there has been a warrant for his arrest since June 2018.

After killing his girlfriend, whom he stabbed more than 30 times, Cavalcante fled Chester County in a car and was arrested in Virginia a day later.

State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said he believes the prolonged manhunt is taking a toll on Cavalcante.

"I'm quite confident that we're wearing him down. Regardless of the location, the background that a person comes from, these are hot, humid temperatures," Bivens said. "He's not living in shelter, has no regular means of obtaining food other than if he's able to break in some place and scavenge something. So it's a difficult existence out there for somebody that's trying to do this."

Bivens believes Cavalcante's goal is to head south, but he would not share details about where police suspect he might be headed. Authorities think he may be having some trouble navigating the area.

Black-and-white images from the trail camera at Longwood Gardens show Cavalcante wearing baggy pants and a dark hooded sweatshirt. He was shirtless in another photo. In both images he has backpack and another bag with him. Longwood Gardens was closed to the public on Wednesday for the second day in a row. With the search area moving east, Longwood's website said the 1,100-acre botanical garden will re-open on Thursday.

Nearby Kennett Consolidated School District and Unionville-Chadds Ford School District each canceled classes again Wednesday because of the search for Cavalcante. On Thursday, some of the schools in each district will re-open and others will stay closed, depending on their locations.

Bivens said Wednesday the enlarged search perimeter is now between Rt. 926 to the north, Rt. 100 to the east, Hillendale Road to the south and Rt. 52 to the west.

Police released few details about Cavalcante's sighting Wednesday night in Pennsbury. Bivens said a resident had spotted him near a creek bed in the rear of his property and then saw him flee the area. 

During the initial days of the manhunt, Cavalcante was spotted four times within 2 miles of the county prison. 

Early Saturday morning, Cavalcante was recorded on a home security camera on the 1800 block of Lenape Road in Pocopson, just 1 1/2 miles from Chester County Prison. One Pocopson resident said he believes Cavalcante broke into his home late Friday night and stole some food, but police have not confirmed that encounter.

On Sunday, he eluded a state trooper who gave chase after spotting Cavalcante from a distance. Then Tuesday, after he was seen at Longwood Gardens, police expanded their focus to a 3-mile radius and warned residents in the search area to keep their doors, cars and windows locked, and check security cameras regularly.

In Wednesday's heat, one police dog was hospitalized due to sickness from the weather, Bivens said. 

Cavalcante is 5 feet tall and weighs about 120 pounds, with curly black hair and brown eyes. Investigators say he has not significantly altered his appearance since his escape from prison. He speaks Portuguese and Spanish. 

Anyone with information about Cavalcante can call (717) 562-2987 or 911. The award for information leading to his arrest doubled on Wednesday to $20,000.