Special Reports

Who Was Joseph Newton Chandler?

A few years ago, I mentioned the disappearance of Ray Gricar to a friend of mine from Johnstown.  My friend was not following the case too closely, but he thought that Mr. Gricar was dead, either murdered or committed suicide because “today, nobody can just walk away.”  My friend is a pretty bright guy, holds an advanced degree and has been elected multiple times to local office.  It was an interesting comment, but I should have asked him “Who was Joseph Newton Chandler?”

            Who was Joseph Newton “Joe” Chandler?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else.  His story is told by a reporter that has done an in depth article on the disappearance of Mr. Gricar, James Renner.  The article is titled “Who was Joe Chandler?” It can be found here: http://tiny.cc/7D0Ly

            A few things can be said about Mr. Chandler:  He lived in the Cleveland area, he was skilled at electronics, he didn’t really socialize with others, he committed suicide in July of 2002 after being diagnosed with severe and possibly terminal cancer.  Most importantly, “Joe Chandler” was not Joe Chandler. “Joe Chandler” was a guy who successfully walked away from his former life.

            The story of the pretend Mr. Chandler is interesting; he had worked with a temp company and was assigned (for 12 years) at a company called Lubrizol.  He got to know, slightly, a co-worker named Mike, a permanent employee at the company.  Mr. Chandler was laid off in 1997, but Mike would occasionally contact him.  During one such contact, he thought Mr. Chandler sounded weak, visited him, and discovered that he had been diagnosed with cancer (and had spent around $80,000 on treatment).  Mike offered to be his emergency contact, should the need for one arise.  It did after the police discovered Mr. Chandler’s body; Mike was contacted and eventually named as the executor of Mr. Chandler’s estate, worth a bit over $82,000. 

            Mike attempted to track down Mr. Chandler’s next of kin; he hired a private investigator to search.  The detective made the rather stunning discovery; the next of kin listed on Mr. Chandler’s paper work were fictitious.  The fake Mr. Chandler had applied for a birth certificate and duplicate Social Security card in 1978.  There was a real Joseph Newton Chandler, who died in a traffic accident in 1945, when he was eight.  This “Joe Chandler,” the one known to his friend Mike, the one with an $82,000 estate, had assumed the identity of the real Joseph Chandler, who had died as an eight year old child. 

If this process sounds familiar, you might have read about it in the novel Day of the Jackal or seen it in the screen adaptation.  It works in real life, too.  http://tiny.cc/I_D

Whomever Joseph Chandler, the one that died in 2002, really was, it looks like he used that method. 

            There are a lot of theories about who Mr. Chandler really was.  One is the Zodiac serial killer; another is a Cheyenne, WY, engineer named Stephen Campbell, who is wanted for attempted murder.  Campbell is interesting; he was an engineer with no known law enforcement experience.  He is believed by the County Sheriff for Cheyenne to have had multiple identities along with multiple Social Security numbers. 

            We do know a few things about, in the negative, about the ersatz Joe Chandler.  There was nothing indicating that he had some type of secret sex life that he was hiding.  As Mr. Chandler, he had no brushes with the law and nobody saw any evidence of criminal activity.  Perhaps most interestingly, no one steped forward to claim the Chandler estate.

Could Mr. Gricar have done something similar?   Having been in law enforcement for 33 years, not to mention being very bright by all accounts, he certainly could have figured it out.  One place where there would be a greater than average number of people who want false identification is with a younger population; for nearly 25 years, Mr. Gricar’s jurisdiction included Penn State, with a younger population (and when I was there, a very thirsty younger population).  It would not surprise me in the least to find out that he actually prosecuted false identification cases.  It very likely that, if Mr. Gricar wanted to establish a false identity, complete with documents, he could have.  Even some of his friends think so.

Did Mr. Gricar do that?  So far, I know of no evidence that he did.  If he did, that evidence may be out there.  The only thing I can say is that “Joe Chandler,” whoever he really was, did, successfully.