Manuel Cruz, 54, had a deep tan and a long beard when he was arrested Wednesday in the forested hills where he once had been a shepherd, Inspector Carlos Gomes told The Associated Press.
"He wasn't very strong but he wasn't in very bad shape," said Gomes, who, along with 11 other officers, arrested Cruz in what police dubbed "Operation Cro-Magnon" Wednesday.
Gomes said Cruz, who was "dirty and smelly," had a guard dog and a gun with him but he didn't fire on police who approached on foot.
"His initial reaction was very aggressive but he came peacefully once we had him," Gomes said.
Cruz was serving a 10-year sentence for murder when he fled during a weekend furlough in the village in 1993.
The murder conviction stemmed from an argument over goats with a local woman, during which Cruz pushed her and she hit her head on the ground, according to a local parish council president.
Police said Cruz was taken back to a prison in the nearby city of Braga to serve the remaining 7 1/2 years of his sentence.
Cruz had been hiding in caves and hollowed-out banks of earth in "very hilly, very hostile terrain" surrounding Anisso, about 240 miles north of Lisbon, Inspector Gomes said by telephone. The village has a population of 312, according to the local council's Web site.
The council president said locals had tipped off police several years ago that the fugitive was hiding in the area, adding that on at least one occasion he escaped a police operation to catch him. Police did not immediately comment on that claim.
Family members and local people provided the fugitive Cruz with food, and he had a dog that alerted him when people approached, the council president said in a telephone interview.
"He was a quiet person, he wouldn't hurt anyone. People liked him," he said. "He told people he was afraid of prison and wouldn't go back there."
The daily newpaper Publico reported that, apart from his dog, Cruz had only a battery-powered radio for company. Jornal de Noticias said he cut long grass to make his bed.