WASHINGTON (AP) — While the nation has been transfixed by the two-week manhunt for escaped prisoner Danelo Souza Cavalcante in Pennsylvania, another fugitive drama has been playing out in the nation’s capital with comparatively minimal attention.
Christopher Haynes has been on the run for a week, since escaping from police custody at George Washington University Hospital on Sept. 6. Haynes, 30, had been arrested earlier in the day on murder charges relating to an Aug. 12 shooting in the district. His escape prompted a several-hour shelter-in-place order last week for the entire GW campus and brief roadblocks on nearby streets.
Cavalcante, a 34-year-old Brazilian national who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, was captured Wednesday morning in southeastern Pennsylvania after an extended pursuit that received wall-to-wall live coverage. Haynes is still at large and awaits a trial.
The contrast between the two manhunts has been stark: while the national media has tracked every development in Cavalcante’s flight, Haynes has basically dropped off the map. Police were able to provide an image last week of Haynes wearing a black t-shirt and gray briefs and moving through a local backyard. But the only updates since then have been the offering of a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture, a news release Tuesday increasing the reward to $30,000 and providing additional details about the escape.
Brian Levin, criminal justice professor emeritus at California State University San Bernardino, believes the difference in public attention and media coverage comes down to a number of factors. For starters, there’s the viral video of Cavalcante’s innovative escape from Chester County Prison as he braced himself between two walls and performed a sort of vertical crab-walk up and out of sight.
“There were all these aspects that were Hollywood-esque,” Levin said. “The video of that crab-walk up the wall looked like something out of a movie.”
Haynes also staged a dramatic-sounding escape, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. However, no video of that escape has yet emerged.
After being brought to the hospital complaining of ankle pain, he attacked the officers escorting him and escaped as they were attempting to handcuff him to a gurney. Police Chief Pamela Smith, who assumed the job six weeks ago amid spiraling violent crime rates, later admitted that the officers had not properly secured Haynes, providing an opportunity for his escape.
Levin said the Cavalcante manhunt also featured a steady trickle of new developments that increased public interest as the hunt dragged on. There were repeated Cavalcante sightings, along with reports that he had shaved his facial hair, stolen a van and, at one point, stole a rifle and was shot at by an area resident.
“There was a new twist with virtually every news cycle. There were so many new twists that the public became fixated on what’s coming next,” Levin said. “Whereas with this D.C. fellow, there haven’t been any new details where the stakes and intensity would grow with each news cycle.”
Levin added that the American public has a longstanding fascination with this sort of true-crime flight-from-justice tale. “The American crime narrative culture is something that dates back 100 years — to the days of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson,” he said.
Cavalcante’s fugitive flight also spread fear across a wide rural and suburban community, with schools closing and authorities sending out warnings to all area phones, telling residents to lock their doors and stay on alert. They were able to establish perimeters where they focused their hunt.
But Haynes escaped in the midst of a large city not far from a subway station. Police this week said that they had received multiple reports of possible sightings of Haynes. But other than the several-hour-long shelter-in-place order for the GW campus on the day of his escape, there have been no other public signs of the pursuit.
“Finding Christopher Haynes is a top priority for the Metropolitan Police Department. The search remains active and ongoing and MPD is working closely with our local and federal partners to ensure that Haynes is brought to justice,” the MPD said in a statement earlier this week.
Dan Mears, a criminology professor at Florida State University, pointed to the urban vs. semi-rural settings as an element in the disparity. Washington residents are experiencing a multi-year spike in violent crime, particularly murders and carjackings.
As of Sept. 14, there have been 190 homicides in the district this year, still well below the numbers set in the late 1980s but a 28% jump from 2022. Of those murders, 120 (63%) are listed by the MPD as unsolved.
“In D.C. you always have homicides, even when the numbers aren’t rising,” Mears said. “There’s definitely an issue in urban areas of people getting inured to it. You see in the paper that homicides are rising and you turn the page.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Brian Levin is a criminal justice professor emeritus at California State University San Bernardino, not a criminal justice professor at the school.