EASTLAKE, Ohio — A man whose 2002 suicide led to extensive speculation about his true identity has been identified as Robert Ivan Nichols, a World War II veteran who disappeared in 1965.
But now that authorities know who the man is, they’re asking for the public’s help to learn why he went off the map.
“Someone out there may hold the key as to why,” U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot said during a press conference Thursday. “We need the public’s help as to why.”
Joseph Newton Chandler III, a man in his 60s, killed himself in his Eastlake apartment on July 30, 2002. Soon after his death, authorities realized he was living under a stolen identity.
The real Joseph Newton Chandler III was an 8-year-old boy from Buffalo killed in a car crash with his parents in Texas in December 1945. The boy’s identity was stolen in 1978 when someone applied for a Social Security card in his name in South Dakota.
The investigation into who Chandler really was soon went cold, but the case was reopened in 2014 by the U.S Marshal’s Office with assistance from Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press, of Identifiers International.
Investigators found that Chandler had a medical procedure done in the Cleveland area in 2000, and a tissue sample was left behind. It was tested against national DNA databases, and they were able to determine that the man’s last name was something close to “Nicholas” or “Nichols.”
Investigators then found the name “Robert Ivan Nichols,” a man who had similarities to Chandler.
They then were able to locate Phil Nichols, of Ohio, who they believed could be Chandler’s son. He provided a DNA sample, and it was confirmed that Chandler was really Robert Ivan Nichols.
Phil Nichols told investigators the last time he had contact with his father was in 1965 when he received a letter from him in the mail postmarked from Napa, California.
Robert Ivan Nichols served in the Navy and fought in World War II. He served on the U.S.S. Ward, which was bombed in 1945. Robert Ivan Nichols was injured and received a purple heart.
When he came home after serving, Robert Ivan Nichols burned his military uniforms at the urging of his family.
He was reported missing by family and friends in 1965.
Over the years, there have been several rumors about Chandler’s true identity. Some believed he was D. B Cooper, an unknown man who hijacked a plane for ransom money in 1971. Others thought he could be the Zodiac killer.
Elliott said he couldn’t say for sure whether Chandler is or is not the Zodiac killer.
He said investigators have postmarks that show he went through Oklahoma and Virginia, and, at one point, he told his mother he was going to San Francisco.
“We know Phil received a letter postmarked from Napa in 1965 with a penny in it,” said Elliott. “That’s one of the mysteries we’re trying to find out right now.”
Phil Nichols was present at Thursday’s press conference. He thanked investigators for helping him find closure as to what happened to his father.
“This has put to rest a mystery within our family, what happened to him, so to speak,” he said. “I hold no animosity. I always hoped he’d had a happy life out there.”
Elliot emphasized anyone who many know anything about Robert Ivan Nichols should contact authorities.
“He lived very quietly…didn’t talk a lot,” said Elliott. “He had a suitcase…packed and go all the time. He was ready to go all the time. What he was running from, if there was anything, I don’t know.”