Pennsylvania prison escape: Manhunt intensifies after 4 credible sightings of convicted murderer

Authorities say a recording of Danelo Cavalcante's mother is being broadcast from helicopters flying over the search area.

By6abc Digital Staff, Katie Katro, Maggie Kent WPVI logo
Monday, September 4, 2023
Pocopson Township resident believes escaped killer was in his home
Pocopson Township resident believes escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante was in his home

POCOPSON TWP., Penn. -- The manhunt has intensified for a convicted murderer who escaped the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania.

Federal and local law enforcement have been searching for 34-year-old Danelo Cavalcante since his 8:50 a.m. escape on Thursday.

FULL PRESS CONFERENCE: Authorities provide update on search for escaped prisoner in Chester County.

Authorities say there have been four credible sightings since the escape within the search area near the intersection of Rt. 926 and Rt. 52, north on Rt. 52 to Parkersville Road, southeast to Rt. 926 and west to the intersection of Rt. 926 and Rt. 52 in Pocopson Township.

Lt. Col. George Bevins, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that Cavalcante was spotted Sunday afternoon from a distance by a state trooper, who gave chase but lost him.

"We have secured that area and continue to actively search it while there are a number of challenges, we are confident that if he is in there, we will find him," said Bivens.

Cavalcante was captured on video around 1:43 a.m. Saturday, on the 1800 block of Lenape Road in Pocopson Township. It's about 1.5 miles from the prison.

He was observed wearing pants, a white T-shirt and white sneakers, and he had a backpack.

Authorities believe that he's been wearing prison-issued pants and prison-issued shorts underneath when he escaped on August 31. They do not know at this time where he obtained the backpack.

"His appearance has remained unchanged," said District Attorney Deb Ryan.

Danelo Cavalcante was spotted on surveillance video Saturday morning on the 1800 block of Lenape Road in Pocopson Township, about 1.5 miles from the Chester County Prison.

'I think there might be someone downstairs'

Police have responded to well over 100 tips from neighbors in the area, including allegations of possible break-ins to residential homes in the vicinity within a one to two-mile radius of the prison.

Ryan Drummond claims he saw Cavalcante inside his home on Friday night around 11:45 p.m.

"I woke up my wife and said, 'I think there might be someone downstairs,'" recalled Drummond.

After hearing a rustling downstairs, Drummond says he rushed to his upstairs landing.

"What I decided to do was flip the switch three or four or five times, paused, and then he flipped a light switch from downstairs. This was the moment of, 'Oh my God this guy is down there,'" said Dummond.

After making sure his children were sleeping in his bed, Drummond says he watched Cavalcante walk out of his home.

"I saw him walk out of the kitchen through our living room, open up that door, (and) walked out. He was wearing a white shirt, had a bag," he added.

Police arrived but the man escaped back into the thick wood and brush after taking some food.

"Peaches, apples, green snap peas were missing. We have a bunch of little steak knives and he could have taken one of those," said Dummond.

Investigators are urging residents to stay vigilant as the search continues.

"We are requesting that residents in the area of Pocopson Township remain inside. Lock your doors, lock your cars. He is still considered an extremely dangerous individual. There is evidence to suggest that he's still in that local residence. We do not believe he has gotten more than one to two miles away from the prison," said DA Ryan.

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania.

How residents can help

Authorities say the community can help in several ways, including familiarizing themselves with the photograph of the prisoner.

Residents are being asked to secure their general property and to check on their neighbors.

"If they're not at home, please let us know so we can check their property and their absence," said Bivens.

Residents should also be checking security cameras and call police if there's anything suspicious.

Cavalcante's mother aiding the investigation

Authorities say a recording of the prisoner's mother is being broadcast from helicopters flying over the search area.

"It's done in Spanish or actually Portuguese, and it's being broadcast in an effort to facilitate his peaceful surrender," said Bivens.

West Chester University remains open

West Chester University says there will be an increased police presence on campus as the search for the prisoner continues.

"Out of an abundance of caution, all buildings will continue to require a WCU ID for access or a physical key. All building access will be through the main entry of the buildings. Do not forget your WCU ID when seeking access to all buildings. Continue to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Classes will be in session on Tuesday, September 5," the university posted on Facebook.

Convicted for stabbing former girlfriend

Cavalcante was convicted of first-degree murder on Aug. 16 for fatally stabbing his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, 38 times in front of her two young children in Schuylkill Township in 2021, officials said. At the time there was an active warrant for his arrest for an alleged murder that occurred in his native country of Brazil in 2017, according to Ryan.

A jury took just 15 minutes to convict Cavalcante.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole last week for the fatal stabbing and was set to be transferred to a state correctional institution in four weeks, Ryan said.

Prosecutors say he killed his girlfriend to stop her from telling police about the charges against him in Brazil. He was captured in Virginia after Brandao's killing and authorities believe he was trying to return to his home country.

When did he escape?

The escape happened around 8:50 a.m. Thursday, the Chester County District Attorney's Office says. Cavalcante was seen walking on Wawaset Road in Pocopson Township around 9:40 a.m.

How did this happen?

Authorities are still trying to figure out how he was able to escape the prison.

"There is no evidence at this time that anyone has helped to facilitate this escape, or is assisting him at this time," said DA Ryan. "We believe he is hiding here locally and he is alone."

Howard Holland, the acting warden of the prison, said Thursday an investigation is underway into how the escape happened.

"Once we knew we had an issue with an inmate not being there, we immediately followed our protocols, locked down the prison, did what we call a special count to confirm there was only one person missing," Holland said.

Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or the U.S. Marshals' Tipline at 877-WANTED-2.

There is a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to Cavalcante's capture.

What does Danelo Cavalcante look like?

Cavalcante is five feet tall and weighs 120 pounds with long, shaggy black curly hair and brown eyes.

He was last seen wearing a white t-shirt with grey shorts with white sneakers. He is a Brazilian man who speaks Portuguese and Spanish and some English.

Cavalcante has family in Phoenixville and his victim's family is also in Phoenixville. Police have been in contact with them.

Authorities say after Cavalcante murdered his ex-girlfriend, his family helped him flee. Investigators are warning his family members they too will be prosecuted if they are helping him.

Danelo Cavalcante

'We all just hope that they find him'

Videos show state and local authorities combing through people's backyards as the manhunt continues.

Officials are using all their resources to search the woods, nearby creeks, and even people's homes for any sign of the escapee.

"It's not something you see on a normal basis," said Ryan Drummond from West Chester, who got a video of authorities tracking Cavalcante through his backyard.

"We all just hope that they find him, and we know that it's definitely not from a lack of effort," he said.

Storms of local and federal law enforcement are hunting for the missing fugitive, and patrolling residential streets is part of their ongoing efforts.

"It's a heavily wooded area consisting of over 271 homes. Not easy for our investigators to get to," noted U.S. Marshal Robert Clark.

As investigators say Cavalcante is extremely dangerous, residents are staying vigilant.

"I just can't believe it and I really hope that they catch him soon. I hope everybody's paying attention and they're locking their doors and staying alert," said Desiree D'Onofrio.

Investigators are hoping to track him down before he can flee further.

"We do not want him to escape the area we believe him to be in right now," said Clark.

The manhunt continues for a convicted murderer who escaped the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania.

Not the first escape in Pennsylvania

It's not the first time an inmate was able to escape from a Pennsylvania lockup this year.

A homicide suspect was on the run for over a week after fleeing the Warren County jail on July 6 by climbing on exercise equipment, going through a window and scaling down a rope fashioned from jail bedding. He was caught looking dirty, wet and "worn out" from living in the wilderness to evade arrest, authorities said.

On May 7, two inmates escaped from the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center by cutting a hole in a fence surrounding a recreation yard, and were gone for nearly 19 hours before officials knew they were missing. Both were captured the next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.