What appeared to be a straightforward suicide case morphed into what's been called "one of northeast Ohio's biggest mysteries," involving a long-dead boy, identity theft, and a war hero turned deadbeat dad. Now, per the Plain Dealer, the cold case has been (somewhat) solved, largely thanks to Peter Elliott, a persistent US marshal who discovered Joseph Newton Chandler III's real identity. After the man known as Chandler killed himself in Eastlake in 2002, the first oddity cropped up: It was found his identity had been lifted from an 8-year-old Oklahoma boy who'd died in a 1945 Texas car crash. A full probe ensued, with mostly dead ends until 2014, when Elliott came on board. Meticulous sleuthing and DNA evidence (the Washington Post goes into deeper detail on that) finally made a match: The dead man was Indiana's Robert Ivan Nichols, a decorated WWII hero who'd left his wife and sons in 1964.
But that was only the first piece of the puzzle. Elliott found one of Nichols' sons, Phil, living in Cincinnati, and Phil reveals his father's strange past, including his aloofness from his family, "loner" tendencies, and the cryptic statement he made when he ditched the family: "In due time, you'll know why." The last correspondence Phil received from his father was in 1965, and it was an envelope with no note and a single penny inside. Meanwhile, Elliott is convinced there's more still to be found out about Nichols—and even thinks there's a chance he could be the long-sought-after Zodiac Killer. "The first part of the mystery is solved," Elliott says, per the Post. "Let's figure out the rest of the story." Phil Nichols, meanwhile, says he holds "no animosity" toward his dad. "I always hoped he found a happy life," he said, per Oxygen. Much more on the bizarre case here and here. (Read more war hero stories.)