Arthur Paiva turned 61 on March 13 and died the same day, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Paiva had been held at the Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, but was transferred Jan. 28 to a prison hospital in Jackson for treatment. Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said Paiva died of natural causes, and his death was expected.
Detectives said Paiva was the leader of a group of people involved in Chandler's murder. Most were security workers guarding Holland's Chemtron plant during a strike and were staying at the Blue Mill Inn, where Chandler worked.
Paiva and the others kidnapped, raped and murdered the 23-year-old woman in January 1979.
The case remained cold for 28 years. A 2006 documentary on Chandler's killing is credited with spurring renewed interest and new leads in the case.
Paiva was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He was convicted during a 2007 trial.
Three other men — Freddie Parker, James Nelson and Anthony Williams — were found guilty of second-degree murder during the same trial, and all four were convicted on kidnapping charges. Robert Lynch and Laurie Swank testified for the prosecution in the trial and were convicted of second-degree murder.