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Cops ID Man Who Lived Under Identity Of 9-Year-Old For Decades — But Is He The Zodiac Killer?

Investigators, with the help of DNA, have found the true identity of Robert Ivan Nichols — who stole the identity of a dead child in 1978. 

By Gina Tron

Police in Ohio have solved at least part of a mystery that has puzzled them for years.

Members of the U.S. Marshals and local police held a press conference on Thursday to reveal that they found the real identity of a 65-year-old man who committed suicide in his Eastlake home in 2002.

He was using the name of Joseph Chandler III when he died, but a private investigator soon determined that wasn't his real name. Instead, it was the name of a 9-year-old boy who died in a car crash in Texas in the 1940s — and Chandler had stolen his identity, WEWS in Cleveland reported.

Police revealed that Chandler’s true name was Robert Ivan Nichols, and said he had been living under Chandler’s name for two decades, since 1978. When he died, he left behind $80,000 in a bank account.

People are already asking whether Nichols changed his identity back in 1978 because he was running from the law — and whether he could be the infamous serial killer called the Zodiac Killer, who was never caught.

A reporter asked U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot during a press conference Thursday if Nichols was the Zodiac Killer, and he said he couldn't say for sure — and that investigators are still trying to determine why he changed his identity.

"Someone out there may hold the key as to why," Elliot said. "We need the public's help as to why."

At Thursday’s press conference, officials revealed that Nichols was a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient. When he returned home, he burned his military uniforms, officials said at the press conference. He went missing in 1965, WJW in Cleveland reported.

The U.S Marshal's Office made a leap in their hunt for his identity when they discovered that the man underwent a medical procedure  in 2000, and a tissue sample was available. That sample was tested against DNA databases, which led officials to Nichols’ living son Phil, who was present at the press conference. He provided a DNA sample to police, which confirmed that Chandler was Nichols.

"This put to rest a mystery within our family what happened to him," Phil said at the presser. "I hold no animosity whatsoever. I always hoped he found a happy life out there."

Online, true crime enthusiasts are already comparing Nichols' handwriting to that of the mysterious California killer.  

[Photo: U.S. Department of Justice]

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