Search ends in Tragedy for Corwin Family
By – SAN BERNARDINO – A missing pregnant woman, who disappeared in June, was discovered in a mine shaft on Saturday. Erin Corwin, 20, was the victim of a homicide, said San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, who made the announcement at a Monday noon press conference. The suspect, who is Corwin’s alleged lover, Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, was arrested in Alaska and is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, according to law enforcement officials.
Corwin disappeared on June 28, reportedly heading for Joshua Tree National Park, which is just a few miles from her Twentynine Palms home. She lived there with her husband, who is a U.S. Marine assigned at the Twentynine Palms U.S. Marine Air Base Combat Center. Ever since Corwin, then 19, had disappeared, an investigation eventually revealed sordid details about the relationship that both she and Lee had engaged in; both are married to others.
Friends and neighbors told investigators that Corwin and Lee had been intimate, though the suspect first denied being romantically linked to the victim. In affidavits to law enforcement investigators, Lee then admitted to kissing Corwin. One of Corwin’s friends from her native Tennessee told investigators that she was afraid that Lee was the father of her unborn child. Evidence began linking Corwin’s disappearance to Lee, who admitted to being in Joshua Tree National Park on June 28, the same time as Corwin had visited the park.
The investigation into her disappearance took nearly eight weeks, and the search area covered about 300 square miles. With help from volunteers, who put in 5,000 collective hours, the search teams covered areas in Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms and the Marine Base, Amboy, and Bureau of Land Management territory. Technical Cave and Mine Teams and Specialized Dive Teams explored areas identified in aerial searches.
The break came last Saturday, when the teams searching the Rose of Peru Mining District. Brooklyn Mining District, and Los Angeles Mining District located the body using video equipment. They detected it in a mine shaft 140 feet down at at 4:30 in the afternoon. On Sunday, San Bernardino County Fire Urban Search and Rescue were called on to assist in the recovery, which was finally completed at 6:30 pm. By 9:30 that night the Forensic Odontologist was able to make a positive identification of Erin Corwin using dental records. That led to the 10 pm arrest of Lee in Alaska.
According to affidavits, detectives believe Lee’s motive for killing Corwin was to keep his wife, Nicole, from discovering the affair. The Lees also have a child. Lee is a former marine originally from Anchorage, which is where he moved shortly after Corwin’s disappearance. He spent seven years in the Corps before being honorably discharged. The Lees and Corwins lived next door to each other on the marine base.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officials served warrants at various locations. It led to Lee’s arrest on a separate charge for possession of an illegal firearm. Investigators believed that his weapon capability was likely used to harm Corwin. Federal agents will reportedly deliver Lee back to California on charges.