CLEVELAND, OH – The mystery surrounding the real identity of the man known as Joseph Newton Chandler III has been solved.
He was actually Robert Ivan Nichols, a 76-year-old World War II veteran who left his family in 1965 and reinvented himself using the stolen identity of a young boy who died in a car crash.
Now authorities are asking for the public’s help in figuring out why Nichols erased his past and took on the role of Chandler.
On July 23, 2002, the Eastlake, Ohio, resident who had long lived as “Joe Chandler” committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the head.
Authorities could find no next of kin, but since Chandler left $82,000 in the bank, a search commenced to find his relatives — and led to a hugely intriguing and, until now, utterly baffling case of identity theft.
The real Joseph Newton Chandler III died in 1945. He was eight years old and had been in a fatal car accident along with his parents. In 1978, Robert Nichols bought a copy of Chandler’s birth certificate and used it to obtain a Social Security number.
Over the ensuing years, Robert Nichols lived as Joe Chandler, an “eccentric” electrical engineer uniformly described as a “hermit” or a “loner,” who occasionally indicated that someone was out to get him, or getting closer to catching him, after which he’d disappear for a while.
Through the years, numerous investigators, both professional and otherwise, have tried to piece together the identity thief’s past.
Numerous theories have cropped up suggesting that perhaps “Chandler” was a high-profile fugitive such as an ex-Nazi or a former spy or even, most intriguingly, the Zodiac Killer.
Ongoing efforts by many eventually led to work by Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press of Identifiers International using Y-chromosome DNA to link the dead man to the name “Nicholas,” which, in time, proved to be Nichols.
At a press conference today, US Marshal Peter Elliot, who has long worked the case, laid out how authorities nailed down Robert Nichols’ name and information. In addition, Elliot said:
“There is a reason he went missing in 1965 and adopted the identity of a dead boy. Someone out there may hold the key as to why. We need the public’s help as to why.”
BREAKING: US Marshals say this man is Robert Ivan Nichols. WWII veteran & Purple Heart recipient.
He lived under the stolen identity of a dead 9yo Tulsa boy Joseph Newton Chandler III before committing suicide in his Eastlake apartment in 2002.
Now Marshals need to know WHY. pic.twitter.com/nI6eu6i2tW
— Homa Bash (@HomaBashWEWS) June 21, 2018
Elliot presented an array of facts about Robert Nichols at the press conference. Among them:
• Robert Ivan Nichols served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Ward during World War II, a ship bombed multiple times by the Japanese. He earned a Purple Heart after being wounded.
• At the urging of his family, Nichols burned his Navy uniforms once the war was over. Elliot said that combat apparently changed Nichols forever.
• Nichols abandoned his wife and three sons in 1965, but he wrote a letter to one son that year that was postmarked from Napa, California.
• Other postmarks indicated that Nichols moved through Oklahoma and Virginia before settling for a time in California.
• As an electrical engineer, Nichols was a “great worker” who was also described as “intelligent” but given to “strange” behavior.
Phil Nichols, Robert’s adult son, also appeared at the press conference. He said that, since his father’s disappearance, he’d wondered if he had any half-siblings and added:
“This has put to rest a mystery within our family, what happened to him, so to speak. I hold no animosity. I always hoped he’d had a happy life out there.”
As various details emerged, chatter arose online and off about Nichols possibly being California’s notorious Zodiac Killer. At this point, US Marshall Elliot said, “I can’t say that he is and I can’t say that he isn’t.”
Investigators now have Nichols’ military records, including fingerprints, which they hope will lead to still more revelations. They also hope you can help.
If you know something about Chandler or Nichols, please call the US Marshals at (216) 522-4482.
Recommended For You:
Main photo: Robert Nichols aka Joseph Chandler [US Marshals Service]