Update: On September 13, Danelo Cavalcante was captured by the Pennsylvania State Police, which used a heat-detecting drone to pin the fugitive down after two weeks on the run.
After a gymnastic escape from a jail in Pennsylvania, convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante has been on the run from the law in rural southeastern Pennsylvania for 13 days. There have been multiple sightings of Cavalcante: On Monday night, he reportedly broke into a house, stole a 22-caliber rifle, and was shot at on his way out. But finding the Brazilian, who successfully escaped custody in his home country before coming to the United States, has been a stiff challenge for U.S. Marshals and local police. To get a better understanding of how the manhunt could unfold from here, I spoke with former White House chief information officer and security expert Theresa Payton, the former co-star of the TV show Hunted, who has trained U.S. Marshals on investigations.
What are some of the challenges for law enforcement in this search?
This is somebody who knows how to stay off the grid. Cavalcante committed a crime in Brazil, he escaped authorities there, and he created a new life for himself in the United States. So the typical modern-day intelligence techniques are going to be a little more challenging. He’s probably not going to try to use a burner phone, and he doesn’t seem to be using the internet. Because he is a former rancher, he knows how to live off the land, and he knows how to be resourceful. So that makes him very dangerous.
And if you know anything of that geography in eastern Pennsylvania — even though there are a lot of Ring cameras and security cameras on a lot of people’s private residences and businesses, there are huge acreages of farmland nearby that are worked and owned by the Mennonites. And those areas are not going to have the same level of technology. He’s breaking into homes to access food and water. That is how he’s leaving his tracks.
The weather hasn’t been the greatest in that area, so it’s probably hampering efforts to use drones, surveillance helicopters, and search dogs — a lot of times when it’s too hot or wet, using search dogs isn’t as helpful. But I would expect that U.S. Marshals and law enforcement can get access to drones that are audio and visual tracking and heat sensing.
Can you explain why law enforcement officials establish a perimeter — and what happens when a fugitive like Cavalcante breaches it?
When a perimeter is set up, you put a grid-like pattern together and everybody gets their assignments according to the grid. This is done even for national events, whether it’s a presidential visit or the Super Bowl. You create this pattern, and everybody knows what their duties are — you don’t need people overlapping on tasks and then missing something. You also want to let civilians know to be on the lookout and to be safe.
Once the perimeter is broken, the conversation among all the different authorities that have jurisdiction in the area is about setting up a new perimeter and whether you even want to announce that to the public. You’re tipping your hand to the fugitive. We have an incredibly resourceful, evasive person on the run. He is going to be paying attention to the news. He is going to be paying attention to leads and tips. I did notice in one of those surveillance pictures, he’s smiling.
U.S. Marshal Robert Clark stated on Monday that they are “planning for the long game in this manhunt.” What does that mean to you?
It’d be getting an idea of what Cavalcante may be doing next and having people stationed in the right position to anticipate his next move. Another part of an active manhunt is really understanding the fugitive’s patterns of life before they went on the run. If we know your patterns before going on the run, it gives a good indication of what you’re going to do under stress.
Obviously, we’ve seen how he Spiderman’d his way out of the prison he was in. He’s physically fit, slight of build, and is able to climb things and run and do whatever he needs to do to get away. As soon as he got a getaway vehicle, instead of getting away, he went to people he knew to see if they would help him. I think that’s an interesting point about his behavior on the run. Now the questions are: Has he decided that he is disconnected and cut off? When will be the next time he comes back onto the grid for food or water or ammunition or whatever reason? Law enforcement will be putting the chess pieces in place to be ready for when he makes that next move.
What does the end game look like in a search like this? Not to speculate, but it’s hard to imagine a fugitive with a history of violence would surrender peacefully. Police now report that he has a stolen rifle.
Looking at his pattern of life up until being on the run, they’re deciding what his behavior profile looks like. Is he going to take hostages? Will he go out alone or in a blaze of glory? They’re studying all that, and they will have criminologists looking at his criminal past, his behaviors, and coming up with a psychological profile of where he’s at.
My concerns are related to the geography. There is a lot of fresh water in that area. There’s a lot of farms and grain storage. There are a lot of potential places for him to hide. You’ll notice he stole a dairy truck and abandoned it when it ran out of fuel. There are a lot of opportunities for him to take advantage of a situation and stay on the run.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.