He led a life of lies under a false name. Was he hiding his identity as the Zodiac serial killer?
It was July 2002. Eastlake, Ohio. Joseph Newton Chandler III was dead. Again.
This time round, a gunshot wound to the head. He’d pulled the trigger himself.
Shortly before killing himself, Joseph had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was his way out.
When the authorities looked into his death, they found he’d left $80, 000 (around £50,000) in a bank account, but no will – which meant the authorities had to notify his next of kin, or the money would be seized by the state.
The only trouble was no-one knew anything much about Joseph Newton Chandler III.
He worked as an electrical engineer for a large company not far from his home. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t socialize with anyone. In fact, there was no record of his existence before 1978, when, aged 41, he’d applied for his first Social Security card.
And that’s how the authorities made the connection.
The man who’d called himself Joseph Newton Chandler III couldn’t be Joseph Newton Chandler III at all…
Because Joseph Chandler III was already dead.
He’d lived with his parents in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And, days before Christmas 1945, Joseph was killed in a car crash, along with his parents. He was only 8 years old.
At the time in America, children weren’t issued with Social Security cards. So it had been easy for a stranger to assume little Joseph’s identity 33 years later.
He’d simply filled in the forms as if he were Joseph Chandler, who’d been born on 11 March 1937 to Ellen and Joseph. All the details were correct.
Although how the stranger had managed to find that information about a child who’d died decades before was a mystery.
But the stranger got away with it.
For the next 24 years, the he lived and worked as Joseph Newton Chandler III. Right up until the day he took his own life.
Now, the authorities wanted to know why.
Out of respect for the dead boy, the stranger was stripped of his assumed name. Instead, he became known simply as Eastlake Man.
The authorities did everything they could to unearth his real identity. But they hit a dead end.
On forms where he’d had to list an emergency contact, Eastlake Man had cited his co-workers.
Not that he was close to them.
‘We weren’t friends,’ a long-standing colleague had said. ‘We were work associates.’
In the 12 years he’d worked for the firm, he’d never mentioned a friend or a family member. Except for one – a sister, Mary. But there were no records for her either. It seemed Eastlake Man had invented her.
Dental records must have been established after he’s assumed Joseph’s identity, as they linked straight back to him. And, if authorities hoped to trace Eastlake Man’s true identity through DNA, they’d again be frustrated.
Eastlake Man had been cremated before anyone had discovered he wasn’t actually Joseph Newton Chandler III.
Strangely, he’d left behind hardly any possessions – just the gun he’d used to shoot himself, and a small pile of books.
Not a solitary fingerprint could be found.
Whoever Eastlake Man really was, he’d gone to extreme lengths to stop anyone finding out. But why?
Some investigators were convinced that Eastlake Man was on the run from the law, that he was a fugitive in hiding.
One theory went that Eastlake Man was Stephen Craig Campbell. The two men certainly looked similar, with the same stumpy noses and heavily hooded eyes, and were the same age.
Campbell was known as a maker of explosive devices, was wanted for murder, and he’d disappeared in the late 70s.
But others thought Eastlake Man was the Zodiac Killer.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Zodiac killed seven people in San Francisco – although some put the number at as many as 37. All the victims were shot dead in their cars.
Zodiac wrote a series of taunting notes to the police, challenging them to find him.
But the police failed. And soon after, Zodiac disappeared. The case was never solved.
Then, almost a decade later, in 1979, at least four more people were killed, shot dead in their cars like the Zodiac’s victims, this time in Ohio…the same place where Eastlake Man had just applied for a Social Security Card.
Again, the case went unsolved.
Drawings of Zodiac bear an uncanny resemblance to Eastlake Man. Could they be one and the same?
If so, how did Zodiac know about the death of 8-year Joseph Newton Chandelr III, 33 years earlier, in a part of the country over 1, 000 miles away?
There is another explanation… One that has nothing to do with crime.
There was some evidence that he’d worked for the US Navy.
Was he, perhaps, a spy for a foreign government? Was he left out in the cold to assume a fraudulent identity.
Or could he perhaps have been an alien, sent to Earth to spy and feed back?
Who he was, we may never know.
But someone did. And, perhaps, someone still does…
The Ripper connection
The Zodiac Killer was fascinated by Jack the Ripper. The Ripper’s last-known murder was in London in 1888. Just as Zodiac sent taunting letters to the police, so did Jack the Ripper. And one of the police officers investigating the Ripper’s gruesome crimes was called Joseph Chandler. Is it coincidence that the name chosen by Eastlake Man 91 years later was also Joseph Chandler?