Why Did The Man Known As Joseph Newton Chandler Change His Name & Identity?

“There is a reason he went missing in 1965 and adopted the identity of a dead boy,” says U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot.

January 10, 2019

Robert Ivan Nichols [U.S. Marshal’s Service]

Robert Ivan Nichols [U.S. Marshal’s Service]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

EASTLAKE, OH — On July 23, 2002, a man known to acquaintances and colleagues as Joseph Newton Chandler III took a .38-caliber Charter Arms revolver, went into his bathroom, and killed himself with a single gunshot to the head. He left no suicide note.

It's thought that he made the drastic decision to end it all after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. His passing, however, sparked the beginning of an investigation that still remains open almost two decades later.

The man, described by neighbors and coworkers as a loner and hermit, had managed to squirrel away $82,000 in the bank, but he never bothered writing a will. A private investigator tasked with finding next of kin was unsuccessful.

The mystery grew more complex when a genealogist working the case discovered the real Joe Chandler was actually an eight-year-old boy who had been in a fatal car accident in Texas in 1945.

So who was this identity thief who had obtained a copy of the deceased child’s birth certificate in 1978 and used it to get a Social Security number — and new life?

The antisocial electrical engineer’s apartment held few clues; he owned some finance books, a computer — which troublingly showed searches for Nazism and plastic explosives — and several gadgets he seemed to putter around with during his free time.

His time at Lubrizol Corporation was equally as baffling. He was intelligent and hardworking, but reportedly listened to static on a radio all day. He rarely spoke to colleagues.

In 2016, 14 years after he died at age 75, authorities, along with forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick of the DNA Doe Project, were able to use a tissue sample from the enigmatic imposter Joe Chandler to definitively identify him as Robert Ivan Nichols, a World War II Navy veteran and recipient of a Purple Heart.

“There is a reason he went missing in 1965 and adopted the identity of a dead boy,” said U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot. “Someone out there may hold the key as to why. We need the public’s help as to why.”



Police sketch of the man suspected of being the "Zodiac Killer," 1969 [San Francisco Police Dept]

Police sketch of the man suspected of being the "Zodiac Killer," 1969 [San Francisco Police Dept]

According to authorities, before settling in the Midwest, Nichols may have lived in Oklahoma, Virginia, and California after he suddenly abandoned his wife and three sons for unknown reasons.

Many speculate he could be any number of fugitives on the run, including the infamous Zodiac Killer, since he resembled a police sketch and lived in the same area when the serial murderer was active.

For more on the mysterious life of the Ohio identity thief, check out “The Search For Joseph Newton Chandler” episode of the Investigation Discovery series Lake Erie’s Coldest Cases on ID GO!

Read more: CrimeFeed, CrimeFeed (2), CrimeFeed (3)

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