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Erin Corwin found: Body of missing woman recovered, alleged lover arrested

Missing Marine wife Erin Corwin's body was recovered from a mine shaft in the Mojave Desert Aug.17. She had been missing since June 28.
Missing Marine wife Erin Corwin's body was recovered from a mine shaft in the Mojave Desert Aug.17. She had been missing since June 28.
Rennett Stowe, Creative Commons

After 48 days of searching, Erin Corwin's body has been found, located in a mine shaft in the Mojave Desert in southern California. Erin Corwin, the 19-year-old woman who went missing June 28, just days before her July birthday, was found on Aug. 15, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials said Monday. As The Press-Enterprise reported Aug. 18, her alleged lover, next-door neighber and former Marine Christopher Lee, was arrested a half hour after positive identification was made on the body Sunday night.

The Sheriff's Department announced that the decomposing remains were recovered from a mine shaft in the Mojave Desert. Although an exact location of the mine was not given, authoirities did say that it was located some 29 miles southeast of Twenty-nine Palms. The final extrication took place on Sunday after the body was located with the aid of a camera lowered into the shaft on Aug. 15.

The remains were pulled from the mine shaft at about 6:30 p.m. (PST). According to The Desert Sun, specialized mine search teams had peered into over 100 mines in the area before locating the body. An urban search and rescue team recovered the remains.

Using dental records, investigators had a positive identification by 9:30. Roughly a half hour later, authorities in Anchorage, Alaska, arrested Christopher Lee after San Bernardino authorities secured a warrant.

Cause of death is as yet unknown.

Lee, who quickly became a person of interest in the case when investigators were informed by a close from of Erin Corwin's that she was having an affair with the missing woman, is expected to be extradited without complications. Christopher Lee is from Alaska, his ties to California being only his service in the Marine Corps, from which he was discharged.

Nichole Lee, the ex-Marine's wife, is also a person of interest in the case. It is also as yet undetermined whether or not Corwin's death was in some way pre-meditated.

Erin Corwin was last seen by her husband, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jonathan Corwin, on June 28 when she told him she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park to scout for interesting places to take her mother, who was planning a visit for her twentieth birthday. According to Corwin's friend, she was actually slated to rendezvous with her alleged lover, Christopher Lee, at the park to celebrate her pregnancy.

Police were informed that Lee had worries that his wife might find out about his affair with Corwin and leave him, taking their child with her.

Jonathan Corwin filed a missing persons report on his wife on June 29. When asked why he delayed so long, considering that his wife was pregnant, he said he thought he had to wait 24 hours.

Her car was found the following day in Twentynine Palms. Police said at the time that the young woman had disappeared under suspicious circumstances. However, they had refused to elaborate.

In July, authorities got a search warrant for several properties owned by Christopher Lee. Court documents indicated: "It is highly likely that Erin could have been harmed by an unknown firearm. 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."

Authorities had used statements given by several individuals to obtain their search warrant. One such person questioned, Isabel Megli (who knew Erin Corwin and both the Lees), said that police had "put a spin" on her words and taken out of context several of her statements to get their warrant. It is unclear if this will have any legal bearing or provide complications in the case going forward.

Local, state, and federal authorities, Marines, the Border Patrol, and volunteers scoured the national park and surrounding areas for weeks searching for the missing woman. At a press conference Monday, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Sgt. Travis Newport spoke about the integral part volunteers played in the search efforts, noting that volunteers had logged over 5,000 man-hours looking for Erin Corwin. He added that the missing woman would never have been found without their help.

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