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Ohio man lived with the identity of a dead 8-year-old boy for decades

Posted at 11:02 AM, Jun 21, 2018

Part of a cold case that perplexed authorities for years has finally been solved. Thursday afternoon, members of the U.S. Marshals and Eastlake police revealed the true identity of Joseph Newton Chandler III. 

Chandler was found dead in an Eastlake apartment in 2002, having taken his own life and leaving $82,000 in a bank account.

When a private investigator tried to find the heirs to Chandler's estate, he stumbled on a secret — Chandler had assumed the identity of an 8-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma boy who died with his parents in a Texas car crash in 1945. How and why Chandler took the child's identity became a mystery that would remain unsolved for years.

Today, authorities pulled back the curtain on Chandler's life. His real name was Robert Ivan Nichols, a World War II veteran, and Purple Heart recipient. Investigators uncovered his identity after a DNA match was made to a living relative — his son.

Even though part of the mystery has been solved, one question remains. Why? It's still not known why Nichols left his family in the 1960s and moved across the country to go into hiding in Ohio.

U.S. Marshals are hoping that someone Nichols crossed paths with can help answer the questions about why he disappeared —  and where he was between the years of 1965 and 1978 when he started living and working in the Cleveland area.

Nichols left his wife and three children in Kentucky in 1964. His family never heard from him again after the following year. When his body was discovered a week after he had committed suicide, it was badly decomposing and no fingerprints could be found.

"With no note, no nothing, closed all the doors, locked all the doors, turned off the air conditioning, and again, he never wanted to be found in this lifetime, even into his death," Elliott said.

Nichols was described as highly intelligent, reclusive, and eccentric. In his apartment, detectives found a bag that was packed and ready to go.

"So he was ready to go at any time," Elliott said. "What he was running from, if he was running from anything, at this point, I just don’t know."

Elliott said this was the first time in the Marshals' agency history that they used forensic genealogy to help solve a case. The Marshals worked with the DNA Doe Project and the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office.