Police in Anchorage, Alaska, have arrested ex-Marine Christopher Brandon Lee, suspected of murdering Erin Corwin, his 19-year-old pregnant neighbor and alleged lover. Corwin had been missing from her home in Twentynine Palms, Calif., since June 28. Her body was found Saturday in Southern California, 140 feet deep in an abandoned mine shaft, after authorities spent almost two months searching a remote 300 square mile area about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.
A friend told investigators that Corwin was having an affair with Lee and that the baby she was expecting might be his. Corwin was reported missing by her husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, on June 29. She had told her him that she was going hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. However, the friend said that Corwin had sent her text messages saying she was going on a hunting trip with Lee to celebrate the pregnancy. According to Corwin’s friend, Corwin told her that Lee was worried that his wife, Nichole, would divorce him and keep him from seeing his child if she discovered Corwin was pregnant.
The ex-Marine was also arrested in July on suspicion of possessing a destructive device. He was released on bail two days later.
Lee has told investigators that he and Corwin were not having an affair, although he said the two had kissed. He also stated that he was not with her on the day she disappeared. However, the investigation has found that they did have an “intimate relationship” that dates back to at least February, according to Sgt. Travis Newport of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department. According to federal search warrants, authorities believe Lee may have been the father of Corwin’s child.
Lee’s only connection with California is his military service. He and his family moved back to Alaska, which is his home state, in mid-July. They had been renting a small home in California at the White Rock Horse Rescue where Lee and Corwin both worked. Ranch owner Isabella Megli’s affidavit says that Nichole Lee rebuked her husband in front of her for not keeping his lies straight when interviewed by detectives. She said that Nichole told her that detectives would never find a body, and that there was no case against them without one. Megli told investigators that the family had moved to Alaska. Authorities attempts to contact Lee there were unsuccessful.
The manner of Corwin’s death has not been released, and the pregnancy will not be confirmed until an autopsy has been completed. More than 100 mine shafts are in the area where the woman’s body was located. Additional evidence was found in the shaft, but officials have not revealed what it was. One firefighter was injured in the retrieval of Corwin’s body, which was not recovered until Sunday because of poor air quality in the shaft. Dental records were used to identify the body as that of the missing woman.
The search warrant showed that Corwin’s car was found abandoned by the Marine base only a few minutes drive from her home. Footprints led from the driver-side door to another set of tire tracks which were matched with Lee’s jeep. Sometime after Corwin left with Lee her phone was turned off.
Lee was arrested in Anchorage on Sunday under an extradition warrant from California. Michael Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney, said that he expects to charge the ex-Marine with the murder of his pregnant neighbor and alleged lover. Alaska police arrested Lee during a traffic stop in Anchorage.
By Beth A. Balen