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Before Danelo Cavalcante, a manhunt in the ’90s had Pennsylvania on edge

The two-week search for a convicted murderer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison ended Wednesday after Danelo Cavalcante was captured, officials said. But decades before Cavalcante used a “crab-walk” to scale the walls of the Chester County Prison exercise yard, another manhunt in the ’90s had Pennsylvanians on edge.

In one of Pennsylvania’s largest manhunts before Cavalcante, convicted killer Norman Johnston managed to elude police in three different states — Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware – and stayed on the lam for 19 days.

“People were scared. This was a four-time convicted murderer,” former Pennsylvania State Police Captain Henry Oleyniczak, who led the 1999 search, told CBS News. “They didn’t know what he was going to do or what was going to happen.”

A correction investigation report obtained exclusively and reviewed by CBS details eerie similarities between the two escapes, manhunts and captures more than 20 years apart.

The choices made by the escaped killers during their time on the outside were nearly identical. Both Johnston and Cavalcante stole vehicles and contacted relatives and friends to help them. Hundreds of law enforcement officers swarmed Chester County to search for both escaped killers during the hot August months. Residents reported multiple sightings. And both manhunts ended just miles from the prisons from which they escaped.

Even with the drones, heat-seeking technology and the advanced communications available today, both men were eventually captured using tried-and-true policing methods, search dogsand tips from the public.

In 1999, it all started sometime during the early morning hours of Aug. 2, when convicted killer Norman Johnston left behind a makeshift “dummy” on the bed of his prison cell. A corrections officer opened the cell door, tried to shake Johnston and discovered the dummy in the bed, the corrections report said.

The dummy was made of crumpled newspapers and paper bags shaped like a person curled into a fetal position with the “knees drawn” up. The head was a plastic bag, filled with pillow stuffing, to which Johnston had glued hair. It wasn’t clear where Johnston got the hair from, although there was a barber shop on the facility grounds, the corrections report said.

Johnston had about a 10-hour start because he counted on correction officers not taking a close look into the cell. The subsequent investigation revealed that inmates routinely blacked out lights with pen ink or broke them so corrections officers couldn’t clearly see what was happening inside the cells.

Johnston had shimmed out of his cell window – which was 1 foot wide and 4 feet tall – after cutting the center bar with a hacksaw blade. Corrections officials believe the blade and screwdriver needed to remove the bar and security screen were smuggled to Johnston through the mail. The items arrived at the prison addressed to other inmates and were passed to him through an internal network of inmates and staff. Investigators believe that a corrections officer and staff nurse brought him the items needed for the escape either in a “bag of instant coffee, antacid bottle or chewing tobacco.”

The focus of the manhunt, then and now, was Chester County, a rural community “where people don’t lock their doors,” said Oleyniczak.

Oleyniczak said that even though Chester County residents were scared, there was a mystique around the “Johnston Gang,” led by older brother Bruce, who illegally sold tractors, trucks and other automobiles. Numerous books have been written about their criminal exploits and themovie “At Close Range,” starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, was made based on their lives.

The family had deep roots in Chester County and Oleyniczak said there were businesses selling T-shirts during the manhunt that said “Run Norman Run.”

One of the main differences between the searches, Oleyniczak noted, was that “there was no desire from the community for Cavalcante to stay out longer.”

Oleyniczak said his team decided to take a “high-key” approach to the search. They established a perimeter, alerted the public and held media briefings every day. “We needed the public to be the eyes and ears to help us catch Johnston,” said Oleyniczak.

One of the first things that Johnston did when he reached the heavily wooded forests surrounding the prisons was steal a vehicle –similar to Cavalcante on Monday night. A hundred law enforcement officers swarmed the 600-acre Nottingham County Park where Johnston first escaped, according to testimony Oleyniczak gave. The heat and humidity made it difficult to locate Johnston; the summer brush and tree cover were so thick that they “couldn’t cut through it,” he said.

Johnston made a phone call to a relative looking for help, according to the testimony. State police found Johnston with a backpack of neatly folded clothes and “rolls of quarters,” Oleyniczak said. Similarly, Cavalcante called his sister and former co-workers, authorities said.

To find Johnston, Oleyniczak called in additional air support and additional communication support was called in when a second stolen vehicle was found the next morning and residents of the Nottingham Towers Apartments called 911 with sightings.

A $40,000 award was offered and Johnston’s story was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” About 60 leads were generated from the show, but no Johnston. On Aug. 16, 1999, almost two weeks after he escaped, Johnston got into a fight with an unarmed University of Delaware police officer in Newark, Delaware.

The next day, the search task force brought bloodhounds to the area to retrace the steps Johnston made in reaching Newark. Johnston told state police “he was up all night from the sounds of the dogs,” Oleyniczak recalled.

A Border PatrolK-9, Yoda, was instrumental in the capture of Cavalcante.

On Aug. 18, Johnston stole another vehicle by the Pennsylvania and Delaware state lines – the search had come full circle. Like Cavalcante, the stolen vehicle was spotted by Kennett Square in Pennsylvania.

Law enforcement swarmed the area and spotted Johnston around 10:30 p.m. when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed. He ran from the car and made his way on foot near Mendenhall, Pennsbury Township, in Chester County. At 5:30 a.m., a worried couple called 911 after hearing a noise in front of their home. By 5:45 a.m., police swarmed the home and apprehended Johnston, who according to local news reports, told authorities, “I’m tired.”

Cavalcante set off a resident burglar alarm that alerted law enforcement to his location. He was captured Wednesday and was transferred to SCI Phoenix, a state maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said.

Johnston, now 73, is being held in SCI Forest in Chester County, according to online prison records.

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