Escaped Pennsylvania killer Danilo Cavalcante was planning to flee to Canada before he was captured, US marshal says

The convicted murderer who escaped a Pennsylvania prison last month is back behind bars – now facing additional charges – after a nearly two-week manhunt that captured national attention and unsettled the surrounding community.

Police caught Danilo Cavalcante, 34, by surprise in the woods of South Coventry Township on Wednesday morning, where a police dog played a critical role in his dramatic capture.

The escaped inmate was planning to leave the country, according to Robert Clark, supervisory deputy US marshal for Pennsylvania’s eastern district.

“His endgame was to carjack somebody and to head north up to Canada and he intended to do that in the next 24 hours,” Clark told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.

Clark, who did not speak with Cavalcante, cited what deputy marshals told him about an interview that the prisoner had with law enforcement officials after his capture.

“He said the law enforcement presence where he was, was immense and he felt that he needed to leave,” Clark said.

Cavalcante is now being held in a Pennsylvania maximum security prison, State Correctional Institution – Phoenix, in Montgomery County, where he will serve a life sentence for his murder conviction.

He’s also been charged with felony escape and is due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on September 27, court records show.

An attorney has not been listed in court documents for Cavalcante and the public defender’s office declined to comment. Pennsylvania authorities updated the spelling of Cavalcante’s first name to Danilo in court documents Wednesday.

The inmate, who was convicted last month of first-degree murder for killing his former girlfriend and sentenced to life in prison, escaped from Chester County Prison in a rural area some 30 miles west of Philadelphia on August 31.

He managed to evade authorities for 13 days, during which time Cavalcante slipped through search perimeters, broke into homes, stole a dairy van, changed his appearance, showed up at the doorsteps of people he knew years ago, stole a firearm and was shot at by a homeowner.

Officers escort Danilo Cavalcante from a Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Avondale on Wednesday. - Matt Rourke/AP
Officers escort Danilo Cavalcante from a Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Avondale on Wednesday. - Matt Rourke/AP

Hundreds of law enforcement officials searched through challenging, heavily wooded terrain, in some cases just missing the escaped inmate.

“We came close a couple of times where he was able to elude us,” Chief Chester County Detective David Sassa told CNN. “He told us at some points, the tactical teams walked past him.”

The terrain was so thick, officers standing just 5 feet apart could not see each other, Sassa said.

“He was resourceful. He did the things he knew he could do. He wanted to shelter in the woods,” Sassa added. “He did things that he was comfortable with, he moved at night, he told our investigators that at some points he stayed still for a day, a day and a half.”

When he was captured in South Coventry Township – roughly 20 miles from the facility he escaped – Cavalcante had the appearance of someone who was in the woods for an extended period of time, Bivens said Wednesday.

“Which is exactly what we were trying to do all along,” Bivens said. “The whole point was to keep him stressed, keep him moving, and keep him off his game.”

More than 20 officers in tactical gear and camouflage uniforms took Cavalcante into custody Wednesday, escorting him to an armored vehicle. He was handcuffed with blood on his face and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie, video showed.

About 500 law enforcement officers – including members of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and US marshals – had set up a perimeter in South Coventry Township this week to search for Cavalcante from the ground and the air.

Surviving for nearly 2 weeks on the run

Cavalcante answered investigators’ questions after his capture without hesitation, Clark told CNN.

“He had hunkered down in an area that was very, very secluded, very, very wooded and he didn’t move for the first couple days,” Clark said, citing Cavalcante’s post-capture interview with investigators.

Cavalcante did not eat for the first three days of his escape, and when he did find a watermelon at a farm, he used his head to open it, Clark said in an interview Thursday with CNN’s Brian Todd.

“He drank stream water, he was hiding his fecal matter under leaves and foliage so that law enforcement couldn’t track him,” Clark said.

As hiding in the woods became tough, Cavalcante told investigators he considered surrendering, according to Clark.

“He was becoming desperate,” Clark said. “But it wasn’t difficult because of the environment or the terrain, it was difficult because the law enforcement presence was increasing every day.”

“Three times, he described that law enforcement officials almost stepped on him within 7 or 8 yards,” Clark added. “That just proves to you how thick the vegetation and the foliage was.” He did not indicate when these near encounters took place.

Cavalcante was surveilling the location where he stole a truck from a dairy farm on Saturday, as well as a property where he stole a rifle this week, Clark said.

The rifle Cavalcante took from an open garage Monday night added a heightened sense of danger to the search and the surrounding community.

Clark said Cavalcante moved only at night and slept during the day. He moved primarily on the edge of tree lines and tried to familiarize himself with local roads, Clark said.

Authorities said the dairy van Cavalcante is accused of stealing and later abandoning was taken from a farm. Clark said there were two vehicles at the property Cavalcante considered using.

“He decided to take the newer vehicle and it had about a quarter tank of gas,” Clark said. “He couldn’t get very far, so he decided to go to an area that he was familiar with,” Clark said.

Escaped inmate Danilo Cavalcante is shown after being captured on Wednesday - US Marshals Service Philadelphia
Escaped inmate Danilo Cavalcante is shown after being captured on Wednesday - US Marshals Service Philadelphia

Cavalcante ditched the stolen van behind a particular barn because he had previously worked in that area and knew it well, Clark told CNN.

Cavalcante told investigators he had heard audio messages in Portuguese that law enforcement officials played from their helicopter.

“We actually had a Brazilian-speaking law enforcement officer asking him to surrender, advising him to surrender. He said he heard those messages and he thought, ‘Wow, they have a Brazilian working for them now,’” Clark said.

Investigators also played audio messages from Cavalcante’s mother, pleading for him to surrender. Clark said it’s not yet clear if Cavalcante also heard those messages.

“Cavalcante stated that he had realized what he had done but he wasn’t willing to trade his life for it,” Clark said.

Cavalcante escaped the prison by “crab-walking” between two walls up to a roof, scaling a fence and traversing across razor wire before disappearing into the forest.

“This person had high capabilities that maybe a municipal prison isn’t always set up for but now we know we have to be set up for these things,” Josh Maxwell, chair of the Chester County prison board, told CNN Wednesday night.

Another inmate broke out of the Chester County jail in May by climbing up to the roof, just as Cavalcante did, according to court documents obtained by CNN. That inmate, Igor Bolte, was captured in a nearby residential neighborhood just minutes after his escape and returned to custody.

Investments are being planned to shore up prison security, including added fencing around prisons, Maxwell said.

“There’s still 600 folks in the prison and we’re making investments right now to ensure that there isn’t any way that someone can follow this route ever again,” he said.

‘Our nightmare is finally over’

“Our nightmare is finally over,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said Wednesday morning.

Ryan said one of the first calls she made after Cavalcante’s capture was to the family of the woman he killed, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão. Prosecutors say Cavalcante stabbed Brandão 38 times in front of her two young children in Pennsylvania in April 2021.

The children are now in the care of one of Brandão’s sisters in the United States.

Sassa said he was one of the detectives to respond to the scene of that “horrific” murder.

“I was in that trial. I watched him, he showed no emotion. He did not apologize … To see a week later, him escape the way he did was shocking to me,” Sassa said.

Brandão’s family had been “barricaded inside their homes not feeling safe anywhere” since his escape, Ryan said.

“They were shrieking with joy and happiness that he’s incarcerated,” Ryan said. “They have lived their own personal nightmare.”

Brandão’s sister, Sarah Brandão, said in a typed statement after Cavalcante’s capture that her family is “profoundly grateful for the support and hard work performed” by law enforcement.

The escape and days that followed evoked the feeling of losing her sister again, Sarah said.

“The past two weeks were extremely painful and terrifying, as they brought back all the feelings of losing my sister and the idea that this criminal could hurt us again,” the statement, which was translated into English, reads.

Deborah Brandão’s older sister, Silvia Brandão, told CNN Brasil on Wednesday that the nearly two weeks of the manhunt for Cavalcante caused “great anguish” to her family.

“He was arrested, he was captured … and will pay, pay for the monstrous crime he committed to my sister, in a cowardly way, in front of children and in broad daylight,” she said in an interview translated into English. “May he pay for his crime. Thank God, we are relieved, my family is relieved.”

Brandão said the family is working to return her sister’s ashes to her native Brazil. “Despite all the pain, she is a warrior, a great mother who did not deserve all of this and we want to bid a dignified farewell to her,” she said.

CNN’s Danny Freeman, Lauren Mascarenhas, Rob Frehse, Alessandra Freitas, Kristina Sgueglia, Duarte Mendonca, Samantha Beech, Ashley R. Williams and John Miller contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at