Authorities expand search area for killer who escaped Pennsylvania prison after latest sighting

This photo provided by the Chester County Prison shows Danelo Cavalcante. Cavalcante, convicted this month of fatally stabbing his girlfriend escaped Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 from the suburban Philadelphia prison and prosecutors say he is also wanted in his native Brazil in a separate slaying. (Chester County Prison via AP)

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) — Authorities have moved and expanded the search area for a convicted murderer who escaped from jail in suburban Philadelphia last week, after he was spotted on a trail camera at one of the nation's premier botanical gardens.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, has been spotted five times since he escaped Thursday. The most recent sighting of the Chester County Prison inmate came Monday night at Longwood Gardens, where surveillance video captured him walking through the area with a duffel bag, backpack and hooded sweatshirt.

That sighting led officials to move the search area farther south after they determined that Cavalcante had likely slipped through the original perimeter, but they said his movements show he's feeling the pressure of the massive search and that his options are dwindling.

The expanded search spurred two nearby school districts to cancel classes Tuesday as a precaution, and authorities urged residents to keep their homes and vehicles locked. They also asked residents to check the homes of vacationing neighbors and look out for missing cars, bicycles or any other mode of transportation Cavalcante could use to aid his flight.

"You’re dealing with someone who is desperate and doesn’t want to be caught,” George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said during a news conference Tuesday. “If he can find some shelter, if he can find some food, he’s going to take advantage of whatever he finds.”

Authorities haven’t disclosed how Cavalcante managed to escape, saying it is under investigation. He received a life sentence last month for killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her children, and escaped while awaiting transfer to state prison.

“He’s a bad guy. He needs to be in custody and we are determined to capture him,” Bivens said.

Longwood Gardens, which is closed on Tuesdays, said it discovered that Cavalcante was spotted in its video at 3:30 a.m. and turned it over to state police.

The hunt for Cavalcante has some residents in the area feeling anxious.

Joe Annechino, of Unionville, said he used to leave his garage door open at night. No longer.

“I just put a couple of new bolts on two doors. I keep the car locked. So, yes, unfortunately, I have changed my way of thinking about my exposure to whatever,” he said.

Danielle Lawrence, from Pocopson, said her residence backs up to the jail, and she didn't hear the alarm until hours after the escape last week.

“Thursday was beautiful, it was 70 degrees out, my windows were open, my doors are unlocked, my garage doors are open doing yard work and he could have been in my development for hours before I was even alerted,” she said.

Peter Doehring, of Kennett Square, said he has a developmentally disabled daughter and they're being cautious by avoiding less populated areas.

A jury convicted Cavalcante of murdering Deborah Brandao in 2021. He is also wanted in his native Brazil in a 2017 killing and is considered extremely dangerous, authorities said.

Prosecutors say he killed his ex-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 Brazil.

Law enforcement officers have been using drones, helicopters and dogs in their search for Cavalcante and have been broadcasting a message in Portuguese recorded by his mother, urging him to peacefully surrender.

The jail is roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

It’s not the first 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 Correction 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 we captured the next week.


This story has been corrected to show that the name of the jail is Chester County Prison, not Chester State Prison.