WEST CHESTER, Pa. –
A murderer on the loose in suburban Philadelphia was able to escape from a jail yard by climbing up a wall and over razor wire last week, prison officials said Wednesday.
A security video of the escape shows Danelo Cavalcante, 34, standing in a passageway before bracing his hands against one wall and his feet against another, then walking his way upward out of the camera’s view. There was a guard in an observation tower who has since been put on administrative leave, and there were no guards walking in the yard, said Howard Holland, the acting warden of the prison.
Cavalcante escaped in the same way as another inmate in May, and the prison added the razor wire after the earlier escape, Holland said.
The escape and manhunt have attracted international attention and become big news in his native country, where it has been a daily fixture on TV news and in newspapers. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro ran a lengthy story in Wednesday editions with the headline `Dangerous hide-and-seek.’
Cavalcante received a life sentence last month for killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, in front of her children in 2021, and escaped while awaiting transfer to state prison. Prosecutors say he killed her to stop her from telling police that he’s wanted in a 2017 killing in his native Brazil.
He had been captured in Virginia after Brandao’s killing and authorities believe he was trying to return to Brazil.
Two suburban Philadelphia school districts remained shuttered and one of the nation’s premier botanical gardens was closed Wednesday as authorities worked to flush out the fugitive.
Cavalcante has been spotted six times since he escaped Thursday from the Chester County Prison. The most recent sighting came Tuesday night when he was spotted in a residential area, but he soon disappeared into the woods as a resident called authorities. The last previous sighting had been Monday night at Longwood Gardens, where trail surveillance video captured him walking through the area with a duffel bag, backpack and hooded sweatshirt he apparently stole while on the run.
That Longwood Gardens sighting led officials to move the search area farther south on Tuesday after they determined that Cavalcante had likely slipped through the original perimeter set by hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, but they said his movements show he’s feeling the pressure of the massive search and that his options are dwindling.
The ongoing manhunt forced officials in two school districts to cancel classes for a second straight day. Longwood Gardens, which is closed on Tuesdays, cited the same reason in announcing it would not open Wednesday.
Authorities have urged residents to keep their homes and vehicles locked, to check the properties of vacationing neighbours and to look out for missing cars, bicycles or any other mode of transportation Cavalcante might use.
“It’s unnerving to know that I can’t stand in my backyard with my dogs. My husband has to come outside with me and, you know, it’s just an uneasy feeling,” said Danielle Lawrence, of Pocopson, which is near the county’s jail, roughly 25 miles (40 kilometres) west of Philadelphia.
Ryan Drummond, 42, whose Pocopson home was broken into late Friday by a man believed to be the escapee, voiced similar views.
“We’re still operating in this half-normal life right now, meaning the kids are off school. Parents are trying to do the COVID balance of working and managing their children,” Drummond said Wednesday.
The intruder left with “a peach, an apple, maybe a few snap peas” that he found on the kitchen counter, Drummond said, along with a white hat that he soon lost as he fled past a neighbour’s yard.
“Everybody wants this to be over,” said Drummond, who said his frustration lies not with the search efforts but with the prison. “How can it be going on almost a week at this point?”
He believes Cavalcante came in through French doors that had a broken lock — and perhaps was nearby when his family was talking about the problem as they locked up the house that night.
“He must have been watching, or listening, or underneath the deck while we were having that discussion about the door,” Drummond said.
Associated Press Correspondent David Biller contributed to this report.