Man who stole dead child's ID was WWII vet who vanished in the 1960s

The man who lived for decades as Joseph Chandler was actually Robert Nichols.

A man who authorities say stole a dead 8-year-old's identity and used his name for decades has finally been identified as a World War II veteran who vanished in the 1960s.

Now federal authorities want to know why Robert Ivan Nichols disappeared in the first place.

'Joseph Chandler' commits suicide

Authorities started investigating the mystery when a man who appeared to be "Joseph Chandler" committed suicide in Eastlake, Ohio, in 2002, U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot said at news conference Thursday.

It took a week to find his body, which at that point was decomposed, Elliot said.

Authorities learned that "Chandler" lived a solitary life; his coworkers thought he was "odd, isolated and eccentric," Elliot said.

He also exhibited "very bizarre" behavior: he always kept a suitcase packed in his apartment and would sometimes leave Eastlake for days or weeks at a time, Elliot said.

A stolen identity

"Chandler" had left $82,000 in a bank account with no next of kin. Authorities tried to find his relatives, officials said.

That's when investigators said they determined "Chandler" was an impostor. In 1978 "Chandler" forged a Social Security application and stole the identity of Joseph Chandler, who was actually an 8-year-old boy who died in a car accident in Texas in December 1945, officials said.

The trail of DNA

The investigation into the true identity of "Chandler" went cold for many years. In 2014 the U.S. Marshals took over the case.

They learned "Chandler" was hospitalized two years before his death. During a medical procedure a tissue sample was taken, which provided investigators with his DNA, officials said.

His DNA finally led researchers to the impostor's son -- Phillip Nichols -- in March 2018, officials said.

Phillip Nichols' DNA sample positively matched with "Chandler" who was determined to actually be Robert Ivan Nichols, officials said.

Who was Robert Nichols?

Phillip Nichols told authorities that his last contact with his father was in 1965 when he received a letter from Robert Nichols postmarked from Napa, California, officials said.

When investigators started piecing together Robert Nichols' true life, they learned he was in the Navy during World War II; he was injured in the war and received the Purple Heart, officials said.

Family members said Robert Nichols burned his uniforms when he returned from the war, officials noted.

Robert Nichols lived in Michigan in 1964 then settled in California in 1965, officials said.

Robert Nichols' parents reported him missing in 1965 but authorities couldn't find him, and his family never heard from him again.

'Someone out there may hold the key'

Investigators now want the public's help to determine why Robert Ivan Nichols went missing and never contacted his family.

They also want to know his whereabouts from after he went missing in the 1960s to before he stole the dead 8-year-old's identity in the 1970s.

His son, Phillip Nichols, said at Thursday's news conference, "I hold no animosity whatsoever. I'd always hoped that he had found a happy life somewhere."

"Robert Ivan Nichols never wanted to be found throughout his lifetime even into his death," Elliot said. "Someone out there may hold the key as to why."