Escaped Pennsylvania killer Danelo Cavalcante captured using heat technology, Border Patrol dog

Norman Ray
Norman Ray

Global Courant

Escaped convict Danelo Cavalcante captured by police in Unionville, Pennsylvania on Sept. 13, 2023

P.A. State Police

Escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante was captured Wednesday morning after authorities tracked him down using thermal heat technology from an aircraft before a U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit dog ultimately pinned him down, authorities said.

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After almost two weeks on the run, Cavalcante, a 34-year-old convicted killer who broke out of prison Aug. 31, was arrested, found wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie.

He was transported in a convoy to the Avondale State Police barracks where he arrived wrapped in a foil blanket shortly before 9 a.m., Pennsylvania State Police’s Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news briefing.

He did not have any significant injuries, except for a minor dog bite, Bivens said.

Chester County authorities were heard announcing Cavalcante was in custody in a broadcast radio call at 8:18 a.m.

“Chester County all stations radio room, Chester County government and various other agencies working on the prisoner escape. I’m proud to announce the subject is in custody. Repeating, subject is in custody,” a Chester County official said.

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A photo showed Cavalcante being taken into custody following his capture.

How Cavalcante was captured

The arrest comes one day after police set an eight to 10-square-mile perimeter in northern Chester County. 

Bivens said that early Wednesday morning, shortly after midnight, a burglar alarm went off at a residence within the perimeter, which was investigated but with no sighting of Cavalcante. 

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A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft picked up a heat signal around 1 a.m., started to track it and tactical teams converged upon the area. 

Bivens said that a storm with lightning caused the aircraft to leave the area and briefly slowed down the tracking process. Tactical teams secured that area and held it overnight until aircraft could return, he said. 

On Wednesday morning, shortly after 8 a.m., tactical teams converged upon the heat source in a wooded area west of PA 100.

The teams had “the element of surprise,” Bivens said.

“Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that occurred,” Bivens said. “He began to crawl through thick underbrush, taking his rifle with him,” he said, noting Cavalcante still had a .22 caliber firearm that he had stolen Monday night.

The Border Patrol Tactical Unit at the scene had a dog with them that ultimately subdued Cavalcante and team members from BORTAC and Pennsylvania State Police moved in. 

Law enforcement officers gather as the search for escaped convict Danelo Cavalcante continues Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in Pottstown, Pa.

Matt Rourke | AP

“He resisted but was taken into custody and no one was injured,” Bivens said. 

He said the surprise attack and use of the Border Patrol dog played a “large role” in preventing Cavalcante from using the firearm.

Medical personnel looked at the bite and Cavalcante was taken to the Avondale station for further processing and interviewing. He will later be transported to a state correctional institute to serve out his life sentence. 

“It is a true pleasure to stand here this morning and talk to all of you about bringing this manhunt to a successful conclusion and without getting anyone else hurt, most importantly,” Bivens said.

When asked by a reporter why officers took a photo of Cavalcante following his arrest, Bivens said he was aware of the photo op.

“Those men and women worked amazingly hard through some very trying circumstances. They’re proud of their work. I’m not bothered at all by the fact that they took a photograph with him in custody,” he said. “I say thanks to them and good job.” 

A screen grab captured from the video shared by the Chester County Prison shows Prisoner Danelo Cavalcante, a native Brazilian who illegally immigrated to the US after a warrant was issued for his arrest for murder, escaping from Chester County Prison in Pennsylvania, United States on August 31, 2023.

Chester County Prison | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

His escape and sightings

A sprawling manhunt was launched after the 5-foot-2, 120-pound Cavalcante was caught on surveillance footage crab-walking up a pair of parallel walls onto the roof of Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township to escape on Aug. 31.

An 18-year veteran guard who missed spotting Cavalcante’s escape has since been fired, a county spokesperson said. That guard, who has not been identified, had a cellphone in the tower, a violation of Chester County Prison policy, according to the county representative.

Cavalcante was convicted Aug. 16 of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing a 33-year-old former girlfriend and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is also wanted in his native Brazil, in connection with a 2017 slaying there.

For almost two weeks he eluded police, as officials searched for him in a heavily wooded area that likely slowed both sides of the search.

Some local schools closed, helicopters scoured the area from the skies, police provided 24-hour protection to the family of his victim, and patrol cars blared audio of Cavalcante’s mother appealing to him in Portuguese to surrender.

The fleeing killer had been spotted numerous times by surveillance cameras in the search area. He had also managed to shave and change clothes during his time on the outside, images of the escapee have shown.

Cavalcante managed to get into and drive a white 2020 Ford Transit van with a refrigeration unit on the top, before dumping it in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township on Sunday, state police said.

Several sightings of Cavalcante were reported Monday evening.

A motorist reported seeing a man crouched in the wood line along the south side of Fairview Road west of Route 100 and responding teams later found his prison shoes.

That same night, a call came in from a homeowner who reported opening fire at Cavalcante after finding him stealing a rifle in the garage. Police said the inmate was unharmed in that incident.

The perimeter set Monday stretched from PA 23 to the north to PA 100 to the east, Fairview to the south and County Park Road to the west. 

What’s next for Cavalcante

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Michelle Henry said Cavalcante will be taken to a state correctional institution where “he will be housed for the foreseeable future,” though it’s not clear which facility that is. 

He will be arraigned on a felony escape charge that was filed on Aug. 31. 

At his arraignment, prosecutors will seek for Cavalcante to remain in custody, as he’s already been sentenced to life behind bars, Henry said.

“The Office of Attorney General will handle the investigation and prosecution regarding Mr. Cavalcante’s escape from Chester County Prison,” the statement said.

Chester County Commissioners said in a statement Wednesday that Cavalcante’s capture “ends the nightmare of the past two weeks,” and thanked the various law enforcement agencies that mobilized to find him. 

The commissioners, Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline, said the county’s prison officials have made “some immediate changes to bolster security,” have brought in security contractors to make permanent changes to exercise yards, and are reviewing changing procedures for security measures and communication to residents who live near prison grounds. 

Escaped Pennsylvania killer Danelo Cavalcante captured using heat technology, Border Patrol dog

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