Key to Fugitive's Survival: a Watermelon Farm

Danelo Cavalcante eluded capture for two weeks in Pennsylvania, allegedly planned a carjacking
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 14, 2023 2:50 PM CDT
Fugitive Planned Carjacking, Escape to Canada
This photo released by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, shows Danelo Cavalcante.   (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections via AP)

So how did escaped prison inmate Danelo Cavalcante survive for two weeks in the woods of Pennsylvania? Authorities have revealed more details about Cavalcante's time on the lam—and his plans to stay free—before his capture on Wednesday.

  • Watermelon: Cavalcante lucked out by stumbling upon a watermelon farm soon after his escape on Aug. 31 and living off the fruit, reports NBC News. He told authorities he would crack open the watermelon with his head, per the AP. He also drank water from a stream.
  • Elusive: The 34-year-old convicted murderer traveled only at night, when he would try to break into local dwellings and garages. He managed to steal a van, a rifle, extra clothes, and a razor with which he shaved off his facial hair. He buried his feces and hid in foliage so thick that he said officers all but stumbled over him on three different occasions before his capture.

  • Desperate: "I don't know that he was particularly skilled," said Lt. Col. George Bivens, who led the search. "He was desperate." In fact, Cavalcante (speaking in Portuguese through an interpreter) said he considered giving himself up more than once because while he did not want to go back to prison, he did not want to die, either.
  • The plan: "His endgame was to carjack somebody and to head north up to Canada and he intended to do that in the next 24 hours," deputy US marshal Robert Clark tells CNN. Cavalcante eventually hoped to get to Puerto Rico.
  • The hero: When police finally zeroed in on Cavalcante after picking up a heat signature, authorities say he disobeyed commands to surrender and began crawling away through vegetation. That's when Yoda, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois dog with the Border Patrol, bit him on the top of the head and "latched onto his thigh," per the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think he was in pain at that point," said Clark. "He was probably in excruciating pain."
(More fugitive stories.)

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