Body of Marine's missing wife found in mine shaft
By AMY TAXIN
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) -- The body of the missing, pregnant wife of a U.S. Marine has been found deep in an abandoned mine shaft in Southern California, where her husband had been stationed, and Alaska authorities have arrested her alleged lover on suspicion of homicide.
The remains of Erin Corwin were found Saturday 140 feet down a mine shaft on federal land near Twentynine Palms after authorities spent nearly two months searching 300 square miles in the remote area east of Los Angeles, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said. Corwin was 19 when she disappeared, the sheriff said.
Her remains were identified Sunday through dental records, he said.
Her alleged lover and former neighbor, Christopher Brandon Lee, was arrested around 9 p.m. Sunday in Anchorage, Alaska, on suspicion of homicide under an extradition warrant from California, said Jennifer Castro, a spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department.
Corwin was in the early stages of pregnancy when she disappeared from her home in Twentynine Palms, California, on June 28, according to court papers. Her husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, reported her missing the next day.
The investigation grew to focus on Lee, who was the Corwins' neighbor, according to court papers.
Erin Corwin's friend told investigators that Corwin and Lee were having an affair and that the unborn child might be Lee's, the papers show.
Corwin told her husband when she left that day that she was going to scout out hiking trails that she and her mother could explore when her mother visited a few days later. But the friend showed authorities text messages that said Corwin was planning to go on a special hunting trip with Lee the day she disappeared to celebrate.
"It is highly likely that Erin could have been harmed by an unknown firearm," investigators wrote in the documents. "Sometime after Erin left with Lee, her phone was deactivated (turned off). Detectives believe if Erin was injured and left at an undisclosed location, she would not (be) able to call for help."
Other evidence was found in the shaft - one of more than 100 in the area - but sheriff's officials declined to discuss what it was.
Authorities also declined to release the manner of death and said they could not confirm Corwin's pregnancy until an autopsy was completed.
Corwin would have been 20 if alive, but authorities say she likely died before her birthday.
Lee, a former Marine, told investigators that he was not with Corwin that day and had been hunting in Joshua National Park. He told police that although the two had kissed, they had never had intercourse.
The investigation found that Lee and Corwin did have an "intimate relationship" dating back to at least February, sheriff's Sgt. Trevis Newport said.
It wasn't immediately clear if Lee, who has yet to make a first court appearance or arrive in California, had retained an attorney.
"Let's just wait until the facts come out before jumping to conclusions," Bob Lee, Christopher's father, told an Associated Press reporter during an interview outside the family's home in a working class neighborhood in Anchorage. He said the arrest came as his son and daughter-in-law, Nichole Lee, were returning home.
Newport said Lee's immediate family lives in Alaska and his only tie to California stems from his military service.
Lee was arrested in July on suspicion of possessing a destructive device after a search warrant at a Yucca Valley home where he was temporarily living.
Lee was taken into custody after the July 4 search and released on bail two days later.
He was honorably discharged after seven years in the Marine Corps and subsequently moved his family to Alaska.
Corwin and her husband are from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Flaccus reported from Tustin, California. Associated Press Writer Rachel D'Oro contributed to this report from Anchorage, Alaska.
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