Captured Pennsylvania fugitive tells officials he planned to head to Canada or Puerto Rico

Sep 14, 2023, 10:21 AM | Updated: Sep 15, 2023, 2:34 pm

Law enforcement officers escort Danelo Cavalcante from a Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Avon...

Law enforcement officers escort Danelo Cavalcante from a Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Avondale Pa., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. Cavalcante was captured Wednesday after eluding hundreds of searchers for two weeks. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

They caught him just in time.

After eluding a police dragnet in southeastern Pennsylvania for two weeks, escaped murderer Danilo Cavalcante could sense authorities were closing in. He knew he had to make a break for it or face capture. So he formulated a plan: The 34-year-old fugitive would carjack someone within 24 hours and try to flee to Canada or Puerto Rico.

But there would be no car, no ride to the border, no way out.

Cavalcante — dirty and wet and hiding in thick underbrush — was captured by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection tactical team Wednesday morning. The team’s search dog, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Yoda, bit him on the scalp and then latched onto his leg as Cavalcante, still armed with a rifle he’d stolen a few days earlier, made one last futile effort to crawl away.

Hours later, inside a Pennsylvania State Police barracks, the Brazilian national, speaking in Portuguese through an interpreter, revealed to investigators his plan to forcibly take a car.

“He said the law enforcement presence in this perimeter was becoming too intense, and that he felt that he needed to get out of the area,” Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Clark, recounting Cavalcante’s interview, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Cavalcante provided other details about his life on the run since his brazen escape from the Chester County jail on Aug. 31, in which he crab-walked his 5-foot, 120-pound (152-centimeter, 54-kilogram) frame up two opposing prison walls topped with razor wire, then jumped from the roof.

He said he didn’t eat for the first three days after busting out, surviving on creek water and then, finally, stealing watermelon from a farm and cracking it open with his head.

“I don’t know that he was particularly skilled. He was desperate,” state police Lt. Col. George Bivens, the leader and public face of the intensive search, said at a news conference Wednesday. “You have an individual whose choice is go back to prison and spend the rest of your life in a place you don’t want to be, or continue to try and evade capture. He chose to evade capture.”

Using the difficult terrain to his advantage, Cavalcante stayed put for days at a time and only moved at night, hiding in foliage so thick that search teams came within a few yards of him on three separate occasions. He said he covered his feces with leaves in an effort to hide his tracks from the hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement agents who were out looking for him.

The sprawling search area consisted of miles of dense woods, residential neighborhoods and even Longwood Gardens, one of the nation’s top botanical gardens, where a surveillance camera captured him walking through the area with a duffel bag, backpack and hooded sweatshirt.

As the days wore on — and police dogs, armored carriers, horses and helicopters became a familiar presence — residents grew increasingly uneasy.

“Many neighbors had a police officer on their deck with a machine gun while they slept,” resident Jennie Brown, said over Labor Day weekend. “I’ve never felt more scared and more safe at the same time. It’s a really strange feeling.”

Cavalcante, meanwhile, seemed to have serendipity on his side.

He swiped a backpack that happened to have a razor in it, which he promptly used to shave off his beard in order to change his appearance. He pilfered a pair of boots to replace his worn-out prison shoes. He slipped out of an initial police perimeter and stole a dairy delivery van that had been left unlocked with the keys inside, ditching it miles away when he ran out of fuel.

At one point, Cavalcante told investigators, he heard a message broadcast from a police chopper in Portuguese, urging him to surrender.

He thought about it. He didn’t want to be caught, but he also didn’t want to die, Clark said.

“He said, ‘I knew that I had to pay for what I had done. However, I wasn’t willing to pay with my life,’” Clark said.

Late Monday, Cavalcante stole a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition from an open garage and fled when the homeowner, who was in the garage, drew a pistol and shot at him several times.

The homeowner missed, but Cavalcante’s luck would run out soon enough.

Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, a Drug Enforcement Administration plane equipped with thermal imaging picked up the heat signature of a figure on the move. The figure didn’t resemble a deer, a fox or some other animal. It looked like a person.

It looked like Cavalcante.

Stormy weather then moved in and grounded the plane, but tactical teams formed a tight perimeter to hem him in. The weather cleared hours later, and the officers advanced on him. He had no idea they were there until it was too late.

Cavalcante, who was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing his ex-girlfriend, and who is wanted for a 2017 killing in Brazil, was taken to a state prison in the Philadelphia suburbs after speaking with investigators from the U.S. Marshals Service and detectives with Pennsylvania State Police and Chester County.

“There are highs and lows in an investigation like this,” State Police Commissioner Col. Christopher Paris said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “The resolve was constantly there … And we knew that he was desperate. We knew that he was where we were looking.”


Associated Press reporter Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this story.


This story was first published on Sept. 14, 2023. It was updated on Sept. 15, 2023, to correct that The Associated Press, quoting officials, misspelled the fugitive’s first name. He is Danilo Cavalcante, not Danelo Cavalcante.

National News

Associated Press

Stock market today: Asian shares fall after Wall St ends worst week; Biden withdraw from 2024 race

Asian stocks were mostly lower Monday after President Joe Biden exited the 2024 race. The downbeat start to the week followed losses Friday on Wall Street as businesses around the world scrambled to contain disruptions from a massive technology outage. U.S. futures were little changed and oil prices rose. Biden announced his withdrawal from the […]

38 minutes ago

FILE - San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris poses for a portrait in San Francisco, June 18...

Associated Press

Vice President Kamala Harris leads list of contenders for spots on the Democratic ticket

President Joe Biden’s decision to step down as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president opens the door for other contenders to become the Democratic nominee in November. The president has thrown his support behind Vice President Kamala Harris, and other prominent Democrats moved quickly to rally around her candidacy, but it’s unclear just how smooth […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Alaska police and US Coast Guard searching for missing plane with 3 people onboard

Alaska authorities are conducting a search for a missing airplane with three people onboard. Alaska State Troopers received a report from the U.S. Coast Guard of a missing plane shortly before 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement. The single-propeller, 1948 Beach Craft Bonanza was flying near Mount Crillon […]

1 hour ago

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event ...

Associated Press

JD Vance makes solo debut as GOP vice presidential candidate with Monday rallies in Virginia, Ohio

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — To move overnight to set up Monday rally. Republican JD Vance will make his first solo appearances on the campaign trail Monday, a day after the 2024 presidential race was thrown into upheaval as President Joe Biden dropped out of the race, making the Democratic candidate an open question. Vance, an […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and President Joe Biden arrive for an event in the East ...

Associated Press

Takeaways from a day that fundamentally changed the presidential race

President Joe Biden’s abrupt decision to bow out of the presidential race and endorse Vice President Kamala Harris to be the Democratic candidate against former President Donald Trump caused a political earthquake on Sunday. It also changes the contours of a presidential race — which most voters said they did not want to see — […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington. She's al...

Associated Press

Harris looks to lock up Democratic nomination after Biden steps aside, reordering 2024 race

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris moved swiftly to lock up Democratic delegates behind her campaign for the White House after President Joe Biden stepped aside amid concerns from within their own party that he would be unable to defeat Donald Trump. Biden’s exit Sunday, prompted by Democratic worries over his fitness for office, […]

1 hour ago

Captured Pennsylvania fugitive tells officials he planned to head to Canada or Puerto Rico