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Pennsylvania murderer escaped by scaling a wall topped with razor wire, prison official says

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — A murderer on the loose in suburban Philadelphia escaped from a jail yard by climbing up a wall and over razor wire last week, prison officials said Wednesday.
Roads are blocked by officials near Chester County Prison where convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped last week as they continue to search for him, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in Pocopson Township, Pa. Officials expanded the zone they're searching for him after he was spotted on cameras at Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden in the area. (AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa)

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — A murderer on the loose in suburban Philadelphia escaped 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, 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 became big news in his native country, where it has been a daily fixture on in the news. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro ran a lengthy story in the Wednesday edition 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. A resident called authorities.

The last previous sighting had been Monday night at Longwood Gardens, where trail surveillance video captured him walking through the botanical garden grounds with a duffel bag, backpack and hooded sweatshirt.

That sighting led officials to move the search area farther south 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.

Authorities have urged residents to keep their homes and vehicles locked, to check the properties of vacationing neighbors 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 kilometers) 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 neighbor’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.


This story has been updated to show the name of the prison is Chester County Prison, not Chester State Prison.

Tassanee Vejpognsa And Bruce Shipkowski, The Associated Press

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