The Weird Case Of ‘Joseph Chandler’, A WWII Vet Who Stole A Dead Child’s Identity Then Vanished

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The bizarre case of “Joseph Chandler,” who was really a World War II veteran named Robert Ivan Nichols who disappeared in the ’60s, is getting weirder and weirder by the day. And the case may have a connection to the Zodiac Killer, the California serial killer of the ’60s and ’70s whose identity remains unknown to this day.

DNA Breaks Open A Decade-Old Case

“Joseph Chandler” committed suicide in his apartment in Eastlake, Ohio, in 2002. By the time his body had been found, it was so badly decomposed that police were unable to take fingerprints. He left no suicide note, according to Mental Floss, but he did leave behind a bank account with more than $80,000 in it.

Authorities hired a private investigator to track down family members to receive the inheritance. Thanks to some good detective work, authorities were later able to match a DNA sample taken from “Chandler’s” colon cancer surgery to a national database. From there, the biological trail led to an Ohio man named Phillip Nichols. More testing confirmed that Phillip Nichols and the dead man were father and son.

“Joseph Chandler” was really Robert Ivan Nichols.

A Lifetime On The Run – But From What?

The elder Nichols had actually served in World War II, getting wounded in battle and receiving a Purple Heart. But the war took a toll on him, Phillip says, and according to family lore, the elder Nichols burned his uniforms.

By the 1960’s, Nichols had abandoned his family, bouncing around the country before winding up in California for a decade or so. In 1965, his family reported him missing and never heard from him again.

Then in 1978, Nichols applied for a Social Security card using the name and birth date of Joseph Chandler, an 8-year-old boy who had died in a Tulsa car accident in 1945.

Living as “Chandler” in Ohio for the remainder of his life, he developed a reputation among his neighbors as being “cold” and “distant.” Neighbors also said that he kept a bag packed and would sometimes leave Ohio on a moment’s notice, disappearing for weeks at a time.

Who, Or What, Was He Hiding From?

Authorities would like to know that as well, and indeed, they’d like to know how he managed to accrue $80,000. Robert Nichols had no criminal history and no known enemies before disappearing. Similarly, “Joseph Nichols,” though enigmatic, did not have any criminal convictions either.

Twitter users, as well as Mental Floss writer Bess Lovejoy, have noted that Nichols/Chandler bears a resemblance to police sketches of the Zodiac Killer.

What’s more, Chandler/Nichols was known to be in California at the time of the killings, which to this day remain unsolved.

It also bears noting that familial DNA evidence has already been used this year to track down another California serial killer, the so-called “Golden State Killer.” Using familial DNA, authorities were able to arrest Joseph DeAngelo and tie him to the decades-old cold case.

As of this writing, however, authorities are still working to piece together the facts of Nichols’ life and have not yet tied him to any crimes.