The body of a Marine wife missing for nearly two months has been discovered at the bottom of a mine shaft, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department announced Monday.
The victim's former neighbor and alleged lover Christopher Lee, 24, has been arrested in Alaska on a warrant connected to the case, Sheriff John McMahon said. The district attorney will determine which charges Lee will face within the next 48 hours.
Erin Corwin, 20, went missing without a trace from her Twentynine Palms home on June 28. Her husband, a Marine corporal, reported her missing the next day when she did not return home from a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Corwin was reportedly three months pregnant.
Corwin's body was discovered Saturday 140 feet down a mine shaft, according to officials. The mine is located in a remote area several miles southeast of Twentynine Palms on property owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
“At approximately 4:30 p.m., one of our mining teams sent a camera down a particular mine shaft. As the sheriff mentioned, it was approximately 140 feet down. We were able to locate what we believed at the time was a female corpse,” said Sgt. Trevis Newport with the homicide unit.
A skilled rescue team from Fontana took two hours Sunday to retrieve the body and additional evidence, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said.
One firefighter was injured by a rock on his way down the mine shaft. The firefighter was pleased he could play some small role in bringing Corwin’s killer to justice, Hartwig said.
The search for Corwin spanned 300 square miles of the Mojave Desert. Hundreds of rescue workers and volunteers searched in helicopters and on the ground, often in sweltering heat. Dive teams searched bodies of water in the area.
“There are over 100 mine shafts in the 300 square mile area they were searching,” McMahon said.
Forensic exams of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices led detectives to a mine shaft outside Joshua Tree National Park.
Newport did not know if the mine is currently active or what is mined there.
An autopsy determined that Corwin's death was a homicide, but officials did not reveal exactly how she died.
“We are attempting to confirm that Erin Corwin was in fact pregnant,” Newport added.
The Anchorage Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Lee on Sunday night, officials said. He will be extradited back to Southern California.
The sheriff said there could be more arrests in the case.
Court documents obtained by The Desert Sun indicated that Corwin may have been having an affair with Lee. Evidence showed their relationship could have started as early as February 2014, Newport said Monday.
Corwin's friend from Tennessee confirmed to authorities that the two were romantically involved and that Lee was afraid his wife would find out, according to the court documents. The friend said they were planning a hunting trip for June 28 -- the day Corwin disappeared -- to celebrate the pregnancy.
Back on July 4, Lee was arrested on suspicion of possession of a destructive device, according to the sheriff’s department. Authorities would not say if the arrest and the missing person case were connected. He was released on bail two days later.
Lee initially told investigators that Corwin was just an acquaintance but later admitted they had kissed and were growing closer.
Corwin's family released a statement Monday night, expressing their gratitude to everyone who helped search for the missing woman:
"The countless hours that have been spent by volunteer search crews and multiple branches of law enforcement, especially the Specialized Investigations Division Homicide Detail, are more than we could have asked for and are ultimately what have led to finding her. While we are relieved to have closure, we ask that our privacy be respected over the next few weeks so that we can properly grieve and mourn the loss of our sweet girl. Please continue to pray for our family and for justice for Erin."