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Friend of Oregon fugitive caught in Montana believes he was framed

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 27 2014 10:57:56 PM MST
THREE FORKS, Mont. -

NBC Montana sat down with a Three Forks resident who was good friends with an Oregon fugitive arrested in Montana, after being wanted for multiple sex crimes and on the run for 15 years.

The FBI alleges Daniel Chafe recruited girls to start what he called the "Cobalt Clan" in the late 1990s.

Authorities said his goal was to have a large number of children he could rule over.

Prosecutors formally charged him with raping two girls in 1998, and he now faces a total of 18 sex crime related charges.

But on Sep. 13, 1998, a friend told police he and Chafe were fishing on the Snake River in Washington State when Chafe fell in.

Police were unable to locate him, and he had been on the run for 15 years up until his arrest just under two weeks

For at least the past six years, 55 year-old Daniel Chafe apparently lived under the alias "Zac Taylor" in Three Forks, west of Bozeman.

He reportedly ran a computer repair business in the small town.

NBC Montana went to Three Forks on Monday to talk with residents about Chafe, and it didn't take a long to find a number of people who knew the man who called himself Zac Taylor.

"I was surprised just about like everybody else around here," said resident Wesley Milner. "He didn't seem like he was a dangerous man."

"Well it's a little concerning, especially for someone like myself who's a parent of two young children and these things we definitely want to be aware of," said former Three Forks resident Joe Turner, "but at the same time, I try not to be someone to judge because we've all done things in our past that we regret."

A man who knew Chafe while he lived under his said he was close friends with Zac Taylor for fifteen years.

"I don't believe a word of it," said Steven McNeil. He was talking about the story behind Daniel Chafe, and what allegedly happened before Chafe met McNeil fifteen years ago.

He knew Chafe as Zac Taylor. They both often ate breakfast at the Three Forks Cafe.

They were supposed to meet up on the evening of Jan. 15, but Taylor never made it. He was arrested for 18 alleged sex crimes, from rape to sodomy. That's when McNeil learned Taylor was actually a man named Daniel Chafe, wanted out of Oregon.

"Well I didn't know anything about what happened previously," he said. "I have since found out what lead up to the whole situation."

McNeil said he got in touch with Chafe's wife to learn what happened, and said the story she told him is much different than what the FBI says.

"There were some people that were out to kill him and the police, sheriff, or whoever, in Oregon wouldn't listen to him, so he left," he explained.

He told NBC Montana that Chafe got mixed up in the personal life of an influential and powerful official, and it got him into trouble.

"He was the kind of person who would help people," McNeil said. "There was a wife and a daughter that were being molested or abused...and he and his wife rescued them....obviously he upset some high level people, and so they put this thing out and because of the fact that his life was threatened, he left."

McNeil said he doesn't think Chafe actually committed any of the sex crimes, but rather, that the person had him framed.

He explained he doesn't think the charges are backed by evidence, and doubts they will hold up in court.

McNeil said he hopes folks that knew his friend Zac Taylor won't be quick to judge, because the man he knew was a much different person.

"That they would take some of the character of the individual into affect," he said.

McNeil also told NBC Montana that when Chafe first came to Montana, he worked at the hospital in Ennis doing computer work, but was let go because "Zac Taylor" didn't have a social security number.

We called the Madison Valley Medical Center in Ennis on Monday evening, but they would not confirm or deny that information.