After the dramatic capture of Danilo Cavalcante, investigators say the convicted murderer explained how he was able to evade capture for nearly two weeks following his escape from a Pennsylvania jail, including moments when officers passed within yards of him.
Cavalcante disclosed the new details in an interview with investigators after he was apprehended Wednesday morning in a wooded area of South Coventry Township, Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Rob Clark told CNN.
The 34-year-old escapee said he at one point considered surrendering as hundreds of law enforcement officers – by foot and by air – scoured the heavily-wooded terrain for him, according to Clark.
“He said it was very difficult living out there, but it wasn’t difficult because of the environment or the terrain. It was difficult because the law enforcement presence was increasing every day,” Clark said.
The intense manhunt began on August 31 when Cavalcante broke out of the Chester County Prison by “crab walking” up two walls and fleeing over the roof. For nearly two weeks, the surrounding community was on edge as authorities announced the fugitive had changed his appearance, slipped the search perimeter and stolen a rifle.
The fugitive told investigators he spent the first few days surviving on spring water and hunkering down in an area with shrubbery “so thick that unless you were stepping on him, you wouldn’t be able to find him,” according to Clark.
He went three days before he was able to eat his first meal – a watermelon snatched from a local farm, which Cavalcante said he cracked open with his head, Clark said.
“He was a desperate man just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis,” the US marshal said.
On three occasions during the search, Cavalcante saw law enforcement officers walk within yards of him amid the thick brush, Clark said.
Cavalcante explained that he only moved under the cover of nightfall, strategically traveling along the edge of tree lines and trying to familiarize himself with local roads, according to Clark. The escapee also hid his fecal matter so investigators couldn’t track him, he said.
At times, Cavalcante – who is from Brazil – heard a Portuguese audio message blaring from a helicopter overhead, which was recorded by police asking him to surrender, he told investigators.
“He said he heard those messages and he thought, ‘Wow, they have a Brazilian working for them now,’” Clark said.
Law enforcement also played audio messages from Cavalcante’s mother, but Clark said it’s unclear whether he heard them.
Clark did not interview Cavalcante but was briefed by deputy marshals who interviewed the captured inmate. Clark said he was “very forthcoming” about his time on the run.
Cavalcante slips through search perimeter
Cavalcante eventually decided he would need to slip out of the search perimeter set by law enforcement, so he began to surveying parts of the perimeter and local dairy farms, including a farm where he stole a truck on September 9, according to Clark.
There were two vehicles at the farm that Cavalcante considered using, Clark said.
“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.
The stolen van was found the next day behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township, police have said. Clark said Cavalcante ditched the van behind a particular barn because he had previously worked in that area, and knew it well.
On the day he stole the van, Cavalcante attempted to contact two people he had known previously, but neither of them were home when he arrived, according to Lt. Col. George Bivens of the state police. One of the acquaintances spoke to the fugitive through their Ring doorbell camera and the other called police after she learned he had been spotted by another resident.
Community concern about the fugitive was escalated on Monday when authorities announced Cavalcante had stolen a .22 caliber rifle from a resident’s open garage on Coventryville Road. Bivens warned the fugitive was now “armed and extremely dangerous.”
Two more days would pass before tactical teams homed in on Cavalcante and took him by surprise – successfully capturing the fugitive with the help of a police dog, authorities announced Wednesday.
Cavalcante is now being held in a Pennsylvania maximum security prison where he will serve a life sentence for murdering his former girlfriend in 2021. He is also facing a new charge of felony escape, court records show.
An attorney has not been listed in court documents for Cavalcante and the public defender’s office declined to comment.
The capture came just in time. Clark said Cavalcante had planned to carjack someone and flee to Canada on Wednesday, but was thwarted.
“You have to assume that he was capable of just committing whatever he needed to do in order to flee that area,” Clark said.
“So I’m just grateful that we were able to get him surrounded,” he added.
CNN’s Dakin Andone, Celina Tebor, Emma Tucker and Nouran Salahieh contributed to this report.