CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Convicted killer who escaped Pennsylvania prison spotted more than 20 miles from search area and changed his appearance, police say

Sep 10, 2023, 5:00 PM

Police monitor a wooded perimeter in the rain during a manhunt for convicted murderer Danelo Cavalc...

Police monitor a wooded perimeter in the rain during a manhunt for convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on Saturday. (Mark Makela/Getty Images via CNN)

(Mark Makela/Getty Images via CNN)

Originally Published: 10 SEP 23 01:14 ET
Updated: 10 SEP 23 17:19 ET

(CNN) — The convicted killer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison 11 days ago was sighted overnight more than 20 miles from the area where authorities had focused their search efforts, officials said Sunday, after he managed to slip through the police perimeter, steal a van and flee north.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, has since abandoned the vehicle and altered his appearance, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a Sunday news conference, urging residents to secure their homes and vehicles to avoid facilitating his escape. Earlier photos showed him with facial hair, but he’s now described as clean-shaven and wearing a green hooded sweater.

The developments Sunday dramatically altered the state of the dayslong manhunt which began after Cavalcante fled August 31 from the Chester County Prison where he was held. Last month, he was convicted of first-degree murder.

In the days since, efforts to locate Cavalcante were largely focused on the area immediately surrounding the prison, particularly in and around Longwood Gardens, about three miles from the prison where several sightings were reported. At least two sightings were reported within the search area as recently as Friday, according to state police.

But on Saturday evening, Cavalcante stole a 2020 Ford Transit van about three-quarters of a mile from the police perimeter, said Bivens, who is leading the search. Authorities believe he then traveled to East Pikeland, where he went to the home of an acquaintance he’d known several years ago, at 9:52 p.m.

“Cavalcante spoke with the individual via video doorbell at that residence and inquired about meeting with that individual,” Bivens said. “The individual was at dinner with his family and did not respond to meet Cavalcante. Cavalcante then left that residence.”

At 10:07 p.m., Cavalcante tried to contact another acquaintance in the area of Phoenixville. That person was also not home but called police after a female resident saw the escaped inmate.

State police learned about the sightings around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was authorities’ first indication he had left the Longwood Gardens area, Bivens said.

“No perimeter is 100% secure, ever,” he said, adding, “I wish it had not happened.”

The second attempted contact also indicated Cavalcante might be using a white vehicle, Bivens said. Authorities identified one such missing vehicle near Longwood Gardens, whose owners did not realize it had been stolen. The keys had been left inside.

Authorities located the van at 10:40 a.m., abandoned in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal, Bivens said. It had run out of gas.

Investigators are now searching the surrounding area, Bivens said, adding he still believes Cavalcante is in Pennsylvania. He has not set up a perimeter, telling reporters, “There are a number of other things in play that don’t require that physical presence up there. And those are all equally or even more important at this point.”

Additionally, Bivens confirmed Cavalcante’s sister had been detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He did not detail the reasons why but said authorities “take steps to try and minimize or eliminate” any help the inmate might receive. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Asked by CNN’s Polo Sandoval whether Cavalcante’s attempts to contact past acquaintances indicated a desire for support, Bivens said, “He is absolutely looking for support. He needs that support. He doesn’t have it.”

Victim’s family is ‘terrified’

Cavalcante fled about two weeks after he was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2021 killing of his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandão, 33, in Chester County. Authorities said Cavalcante stabbed Brandão 38 times in front of her two children, who are now in the care of her sister.

Cavalcante is also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, his native country, a US Marshals Service official has said.

The escape was caught on surveillance video, which showed Cavalcante fled by “crab walking” between two walls in an exercise yard, placing his hands on one wall and his feet on another and shimmying out of view. Cavalcante then ran across a roof, scaled another fence and got through razor wire, the prison’s acting warden previously said.

The escape was neither seen nor reported by the tower guard on duty at the time. Officials fired him on Thursday, a source with knowledge of the decision told CNN.

While authorities leading the search face tough questions, the fugitive’s ability to flee the perimeter may bring some relief to the immediate area surrounding the prison. Residents there had been on edge amid a heavy police presence that cleared Sunday morning as the search efforts shifted north.

Among them was Ryan Drummond, who told CNN he saw Cavalcante in his Pocopson Township home the night of September 1.

Describing it as an “acute moment of terror,” Drummond said he heard noise in his house and noticed an old French door off the side of their deck was slightly ajar.

“That’s when my stomach dropped,” he told CNN’s Michael Smerconish.

Drummond told his wife to call 911, he said, and saw Cavalcante “walking methodically” out of the kitchen into his living room before leaving the house via the French door.

But Cavalcante’s continued escape is likely little comfort to his victims’ family, who have barricaded themselves inside their home, Chester County District Attorney Deborah Ryan said last week. The family has a 24-hour police protection detail, she said, but “they are terrified.”

They remain under police protection, Bivens said Sunday.

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Convicted killer who escaped Pennsylvania prison spotted more than 20 miles from search area and changed his appearance, police say