THREE FORKS, Mont. - An Oregon man on the run from the law for 15 years and hiding out in Montana was arrested this month on 18 counts of sex crimes, police said.
The news came as a shock to the small Montana town of Three Forks where the man had spent years living a new life.
The FBI alleges Daniel Chafe, a 55-year-old computer repairman, once recruited girls between the ages of 14 and 16 into what he called the 'Cobalt Clan' back 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 18 counts of sex crimes from sex abuse to sodomy. According to the FBI, during the investigation of these charges, Chafe had moved to Alto, New Mexico, where he worked for a local Internet service provider.
On September 13, 1998, Chafe went missing. That’s when a friend told police Chafe had fallen into the Snake River in Washington while the two were on a fishing trip. Police were unable to locate him.
The case was featured on national TV programs such as America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries. But investigators now believe that Chafe did not drowned. He in fact, started a new life; one that landed him in Montana for 15 years, allegedly under the name Zac Taylor.
Town divided by revelations
The news of Chafe’s arrest came as a shock to his Montana neighbors. Chafe has no prior criminal history in the county.
Kelly Smith, a deputy clerk at Three Forks City Hall, said she knew a lot of people in the community who had used Chafe's computer repair business. He first applied for a city business license in 2008.
"I don't think anyone in town had any idea," Smith said.
Other residents were very divided on their reactions,according NBC Montana.
"I was surprised just about like everybody else around here," said resident Wesley Milner. "He didn't seem like he was a dangerous man."
Former Three Forks resident Joe Turner worried if Chafe had posed a public threat.
"Well it's a little concerning, especially for someone like me who's a parent of two young children and these things we definitely want to be aware of," said 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."
Steve McNeil knew Chafe for 15 years while he lived under his alias Zac Taylor and he thinks his friend was framed. “I don’t believe a word of it,” McNeil said of the charges against his friend.
The two were supposed to meet up at the Three Forks Café on the evening of January 15, but Chafe never made it. Instead he was arrested for the sex crimes.
That's when McNeil learned his friend’s real name. “Well, I didn't know anything about what happened previously,” McNeil said. “I have since found out what led up to the whole situation.”
McNeill believes the story Chafe's wife told him and thinks Chafe was set up.
“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,” McNeil said. “"He was the kind of person who would help people. 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 hoped Chafe’s friends won't be quick to judge, because the man he knew was a much different person. McNeil, for one, doesn’t believe the charges against Chafe will hold up in court.
Chafe is awaiting extradition to Oregon, where he will face trial on six charges of rape, five counts of sexual abuse and seven counts of sodomy.