Chasing Phantoms: Man who stole Texas boy’s identity may have been a violent fugitive

Unidentified man who stole a deceased child’s identity who died in Texas 1945.

On July 30, 2002, Joseph Newton Chandler III, an elderly man from Eastlake, Ohio, committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

An autopsy discovered the presence of colon cancer in his body, which likely motivated his decision to kill himself. He also had $82,000 in his bank account when he died.

As courts officials attempted to work out the man’s estate and track down his surviving relatives, they made a shocking discovery. The real Joseph Newton Chandler III had lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his parents. They died in a car wreck in Sherman, Texas in 1945.

The unidentified man stole Chandler’s identity in September 1978 in Rapid City, South Dakota, after applying for a Social Security card and moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area shortly after.

U.S. Marshall Pete Elliott told Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter John Caniglia that he believed the man was a violent fugitive on the run from the law.

“This is like chasing a ghost,” Elliott said. “He lived the perfect life of someone on the run. He had no friends. He never got in trouble. He just lived so very quietly. He knew exactly what he was doing.”

He was said to be intelligent and worked as an electrical designer and draftsman for a chemical company headquartered in Wickliffe, Ohio. The company laid him off in 1997.

The man known as Joseph Chandler, at a costume party in 1992.

Neighbors and people who interacted with him described him as being a hermit who only left his home to go to work and eat. Coworkers said he rarely talked to anyone and appeared to have few or no friends.

“He really was very smart,” Elliot told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2014. “He was a strange guy. He listened to static, white noise for hours. He once drove to the East Coast to go to an L.L.Bean store in Maine.

“Once he pulled into the parking lot, he noticed that there weren’t any parking spaces. He got upset, and he drove all the way back to Ohio without going inside.”

Many theories were formed about who this man really was. Crime buffs began to speculate that “Chandler” might have been the Zodiac Killer since he bore a resemblance to the suspect’s composite sketch and possibly lived in northern California during that time period.

The man also bore a resemblance to Stephen Craig Campbell, a fugitive who had been wanted for attempted murder since 1982 and was never caught. But Campbell was 6-foot-2, while the unidentified John Doe was 5-foot-7, and this theory has been widely discounted.

Around 9 months ago, a forensic genealogist announced that DNA samples taken from the unidentified man linked the mystery man to the last name Nicholas or Nichols.

No one yet knows the real story behind the man who stole the identity of Joseph Newton Chandler III.

But if If he changed his identity in 1970s, and had ties in Texas, Oklahoma or South Dakota, and presumably left his old life in roughly the same period, finding the Nicholas/ Nichols families from where he allegedly came from might solve the mystery.

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