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Missing wife of Marine found dead at bottom of mine shaft, lover charged

Erin Corwin, the 19-year-old pregnant wife of a U.S. Marine, told her husband on June 28 that she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park near the couple’s San Bernardino County, California, home to check out some hiking trails in anticipation of her mother’s upcoming visit. The next day – after his wife didn’t return home - Erin’s husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, reported her missing. Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, a former Marine, next door neighbor and alleged lover of Erin’s, was arrested Sunday in connection with her murder, according to an Aug. 19 report from ABC News.

Three months pregnant and missing for nearly two months, Erin Corwin, 19, was found dead at the bottom of a 140 foot mine shaft in the remote California desert.  Her alleged lover and former next door neighbor is the prime suspect in her killing.
(Christopher Brandon Lee, Erin Corwin and Jonathan Corwin) / San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department

The Corwins were living at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in California where the husband was stationed. The nearly two month search for Erin ended on Aug. 16 when her body was discovered “deep in a mine shaft in the California desert.” The teen bride was about three months pregnant. Officers with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department say that an autopsy confirmed that “Corwin had been killed” but would not share any other specifics regarding her death, according to CNN.

After she went missing, Corwin’s alleged lover moved to Anchorage, Alaska, with his family. And that’s where Lee was taken into custody on suspicion of homicide. Before he moved, Lee was arrested by deputies in San Bernardino County on July 4 for felony possession of a destructive device. He was freed on bail a few days later. Police always considered him to be a prime suspect in Corwin's disappearance.

Court documents show that a fiend of the deceased Corwin told investigators that Corwin and Lee were indeed having an affair and that Corwin’s unborn baby “might be Lee’s.” The friend also stated that Lee was worried that if his wife found out that Corwin was pregnant, Lee’s wife might want a divorce and try to prevent Lee “from spending time with his child.”

The friend also told investigators that Corwin wasn’t planning on checking out hiking trails on the day she went missing. “The friend showed authorities text messages that said Corwin was planning to go on a special hunting trip with Lee the day she disappeared.”

“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."

Authorities uncovered a lot of evidence during their search for the missing wife, but are only sharing some of what they found. For example, Corwin’s car was found abandoned not far from her home a few days after she was reported missing.

A single set of footprints led from the driver's side door and disappeared next to a set of vehicle tracks that matched the tires on Lee's Jeep. They found 10 spent casings from a .40-caliber gun in the Jeep, the court papers say.

Police also recovered evidence from deep inside the remote mine shaft where Corwin’s body was found. Officials with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department won’t say exactly what that evidence is.

Lee told police that although he and Corwin had kissed on occasion, the two never had sexual intercourse. But according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, “the investigation found that Lee and Corwin did have an ‘intimate relationship’ dating back to at least February.” Lee said that on the day of Corwin’s disappearance, he was hunting in Joshua National Park and not with Corwin.

On Aug. 19, prosecutors with San Bernardino County Superior Court charged Lee with Corwin's murder. It could take up to five weeks to have Lee returned to California from Alaska. For more on the Corwin saga and Lee’s arrest, see the video accompanying this article.

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