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Chester County Press

Officials release video of Cavalcante’s prison escape

09/07/2023 12:05PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw                   At a Sept. 6 press conference in West Chester, Acting Warden Howard Holland of the Chester County Prison and Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police shared a new video that showed convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante’s Aug. 31 escape from the prison.

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

In the twist and turn of an investigation that began when a convicted murderer escaped from a local prison on Aug. 31, and who over the course of the last seven days has managed to successfully elude an army of local, state and federal authorities, yet another bizarre piece of evidence regarding Danelo Cavalcante was introduced on Sept. 6.

At a press conference held at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester attended by local, state and national media, authorities displayed a video taken on the early morning of Aug. 31 at the Chester County Prison that showed Cavalcante, 34, in an alleyway near the prison’s ‘C’ exercise ward, estimated to be about five feet in width. He was filmed placing his hands on one wall, his feet on another wall and horizontally crab walking his way toward the prison roof, which he reached by breaking through razor wire.

In a timeline of the escape introduced by Acting Warden Howard Holland, Cavalcante and other prisoners in his block entered the exercise yard at 8:33 a.m. At 8:51 a.m., Cavalcante escaped from the prison by climbing the wall, pushing through razor wire, running across the roof, scaling another fence and pushing his way through more razor wire, en route to escaping the prison grounds.

At 9:35 a.m., Cavalcante’s block returned to the prison from the yard, and at 9:45 a.m., it was reported that Cavalcante was not present. At 9:50 a.m., the prison was on lockdown and the escape sign began to sound.

The physical methodology of Cavalcante’s tactic was a duplicate of the one used by prisoner Igor Bolte, who escaped the prison on May 19 and was subsequently apprehended by prison officials minutes later.  In providing the details of Cavalcante’s escape, Holland said that Bolte’s escape allowed prison officials to identify an inefficiency in the exercise yard, which led to additional razor wires placed in the exercise yard that blocked access to the prison’s roof.

“Chester County Prison uses proven counter measures of security that are an industry standard,” Holland said. “For example, high fencing, razor or barbed wire, secured doors and gates, video cameras and most importantly correctional officers – all of which were in place and remain in place.

“One of the issues brought to light as we conducted our internal investigations on Cavalcante’s escape was that once additional razor wire was added to the escape route following Bolte’s escape in May, it was determined by our security advisors that this one level of security was sufficient. In fact, what was perhaps overlooked was the fact that addressing the single point of this counter measure should have been bolstered by additional means.”

Holland said that on Sept. 5, engineers were brought to the prison to develop proposals that would enclose all its outside exercise yards, install additional security cameras, address the position of officers at exercise yards, and include other security assets that will enhance overall security at the prison.

“While we believe the security measures we had in place were sufficient, they were proven otherwise,” he said.

‘A failure on the human side’

Holland then introduced what he called “the human element” in Cavalcante’s escape. During Bolte’s escape, the tower officer on duty observed Bolte leaving the yard area and contacted security immediately, which led to his quick apprehension. During Cavalcante’s escape, Holland said that the tower officer on duty did not observe – nor report – the escape.

Holland said that while the prison has about 160 cameras monitoring movement at the prison, the officer on duty did not observe Cavalcante’s escape because “we were focused on other things.”

“The action of the tower officer present at the time of Cavalcante’s escape is a key part of our internal investigation and we will be taking appropriate action against personnel based on the results of that investigation,” he said. “The one thing we didn’t take into account was a failure on the human side. We only focused on the physical infrastructure.”

Holland said that the tower officer on duty at the time of Cavalcante’s escape is now on administrative leave.

District Attorney Deb Ryan said the investigation into Cavalcante’s escape has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office, and when asked why investigators waited six days before releasing the video to the public, she said, “Today was the day that we believed we needed the acting warden to explain to the public about how [Cavalcante] escaped.”

Expanded search perimeter

For Cavalcante, who was convicted of first-degree murder in August and is serving a life sentence without parole for killing his former girlfriend Deborah Brandão, his avoidance of being apprehended has befuddled and aggravated a community who have been made less safe by the presence of a convicted killer looming on the periphery of their lives.

Despite having the latest forms of detection technology available to them, apprehending Cavalcante continues to be an exceedingly challenging task for the hundreds of local, state and federal authorities who have been assigned to track him down.

To date, their efforts have yielded middling success, largely supported by tips and sightings provided by community residents. Over the past week – while a resident’s surveillance camera and a trail-cam at Longwood Gardens have lent proven evidence of the escapee’s whereabouts, it has been reported that only one officer assigned to the investigation has had a sighting of Cavalcante.

In his latest update, Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said that another sighting of Cavalcante on the evening of Sept. 5 sent teams along Chandler Road in Pennsbury Township, but who were not able to locate him. He said that during that mission, a search dog suffered severe heatstroke, was hospitalized and is now in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. 

Bivens said that the search area for Cavalcante – once confined to a 1.5-mile radius in Pocopson Township during the first days of the escape -- has now expanded to a search perimeter that is bordered at the north by Route 926, at the eastern side by Route 100, at the south by Hillendale Road and Route 52 on the western side.

Despite the widening search area, Blevins said that he does not believe Cavalcante has broken that designated perimeter and added that the escaped prisoner is attempting to head south.

“Everything that I have been able to see, the various sightings we have had, and other aspects of this investigation, lead me to believe that he is still [in that perimeter],” he said. “My reference to his heading south is more so in the area we are searching. [I have some ideas about] what his final destination and the pathway to get there [are], but I am not prepared to share those at this point.”

Blevins said that the authorities have one key advantage in finding Cavalcante.

“These are hot, humid temperatures,” he said. “He is not living in shelter. He has no regular means of obtaining food unless he breaks in someplace or scavages for something, so it’s a difficult existence that will take its toll. Imagine if you were being hunted. It adds a whole new level of stress…and that level of stress has to be wearing on him.

“We’ve had a number of similar searches in the past,” Blevins added. “Some take hours. Some take days. Some take weeks. Some take months. We’re committed to the search, and we will find him.”

Pennsylvania Crimestoppers has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Cavalcante that brings the reward total to $20,000. Those who wish to report a sighting or any information to authorities is asked to call a tip line at (717) 562-2987.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].