Caught: Manhunt Ends as Escaped Murderer Danelo Cavalcante Captured in Chester County

A DEA airplane picked up a heat signal and a tactical team started to track the heat signal.
Caught: Manhunt Ends as Escaped Murderer Danelo Cavalcante Captured in Chester County
Escaped fugitive Danelo Cavalcante, 34, a Brazilian who escaped from Chester County Prison, is taken into custody by law enforcement officers in Chester County, Pa., on Sept. 13, 2023. (Pennsylvania State Police/Handout via Reuters)
Beth Brelje

After eluding hundreds of law enforcement officers in a 13-day manhunt, convicted murderer Danelo Souza Cavalcante is again behind bars. He was captured by a law enforcement dog, just after 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a wooded area of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

An illegal immigrant from Brazil, Mr. Cavalcante escaped Aug. 31 from Chester County Prison in Pennsylvania where he was waiting to be placed in a state prison to start serving a life sentence for stabbing his former girlfriend Deborah Brandão to death in front of her two young children.

Mr. Cavalcante, 34, is also wanted in Brazil for a 2017 homicide.

While his fellow inmates played a game of basketball in the county prison exercise yard, Mr. Cavalcante climbed up the wall of an exterior hallway, hoisted himself onto the roof of the prison, eased himself through some razor wire, and was able to leave the building undetected by guards.

Heat Signal

The final tracking started with a report of a home burglar alarm Wednesday morning, shortly after midnight. At about 1 a.m., a DEA airplane picked up a heat signal and a tactical team started to track the heat signal. The airplane had to leave the area because of storm conditions, so searchers secured a small perimeter around the last place the heat signal was seen. After the storm they found the heat signal again and boxed him in, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a Wednesday morning press conference.

Shortly after 8 a.m., a tactical team converged on the forested area where Mr. Cavalcante was.

“They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred. That did not stop him from trying to escape,” Lt. Col. Bivens said. “He began to crawl through the underbrush taking his rifle with him as he went. One of the Customs and Border Patrol teams had a dog with them, and they released the dog.”

Law enforcement surrounded him, and he continued to resist and was forcibly taken into custody.

Mr. Cavalcante did sustain minor bite wounds from the dog and medical personnel at the scene “took a look at that,” Lt. Col. Bivens said. Mr. Cavalcante was taken into custody, transported to a state police station for processing and an interview with an interpreter. He speaks Portuguese and some Spanish, but very little English. Ultimately he will be transferred to a state correctional institute where he will be housed and begin to serve his life sentence.

“K-9s play a very important role, not only for tracking, but also in a circumstance like this, safely capturing someone,” Lt. Col. Bivens said. “Far better that we're able to release a patrol dog like this and have them subdue the individual and not have to use lethal force. Our preference is always to use other means. K-9s play a very important role.”


There were numerous sightings in Chester County, and as Mr. Cavalcante stole items to make his way, he was seen on doorbell cameras and field cameras. Over the weekend he stole a van and drove it until it ran out of gas. He changed his appearance, cutting his hair and changing from a prison shirt to a hooded sweatshirt.

But the tension in Chester County increased after Pennsylvania State Police announced Mr. Cavalcante had stolen a weapon the night of Monday, Sept. 11, in a chain of events that started with a motorist in South Coventry Township noticing him crouched down near the woods.

Searchers were nearby and moved to the area where the motorist saw him. They found footprints in the mud made by prison shoes and tracked them until they found the prison shoes abandoned.

Shortly after that, officials received word that a pair of work boots had been stolen from the porch of a home in the immediate area.

At 10:10 p.m., a resident on Coventryville Road called 911 to report a short Hispanic male with no shirt and wearing dark pants had entered his garage while the homeowner was in the garage. Mr. Cavalcante grabbed a rifle, with scope and mounted flashlight, that was leaning in the corner. The homeowner drew a pistol and fired at Cavalcante as he fled with the rifle, state police said. They found the sweatshirt and a white T-shirt he had been wearing near the edge of the driveway. The search continued overnight and the next day.

Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said the family of Ms. Brandão, the woman he killed, is glad the escape is over.

“One of the first calls we made upon learning about this capture was to the Brandão family who, as you can imagine, had been living in a complete nightmare,” Ms. Ryan said. “They are so grateful to the men and women who helped with this capture. They can now finally sleep again. I can't thank law enforcement enough for their efforts.”

Mr. Cavalcante’s sister Eleni Cavalcante was taken into custody this week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. She did not cooperate with authorities in their search for Mr. Cavalcante, Lt. Col. Bivens said. Ms. Cavalcante has overstayed and now is now in deportation proceedings.

Police and the district attorney will discuss whether Mr. Cavalcante will face any additional charges.

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]