High Desert law enforcement believe that a pregnant Marine spouse who has been missing for more than three weeks may have been shot while hunting with a Marine veteran with whom she was having an affair.
On the day she disappeared, Erin Corwin, 20, had planned to meet with her neighbor, Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, to spend a "special day together" on a hunting trip, according to documents filed in a Joshua Tree courthouse.
The day trip was meant to celebrate Corwin's pregnancy, but detectives said Lee was afraid his wife would discover their affair.
"It is highly likely that Erin could have been harmed by an unknown firearm," detectives wrote in court 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."
Lee told detectives he was not with Corwin on the day she disappeared, but confirmed he went hunting in Joshua Tree National Park.
Corwin disappeared on June 28, after she left her Twentynine Palms home, saying she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park. Her husband, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, reported his wife missing the next day. Authorities have searched for Erin Corwin ever since.
Lee moved to Alaska last week, according to a friend.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department has repeatedly said the case is not criminal and that they have no suspects, but court documents obtained by The Desert Sun on Monday show otherwise.
The investigation has come to focus on Lee, who may have been the father of her child, according to an affidavit filed by Detective Corey Emom. In the affidavit, Emom wrote that he had reviewed text messages — sent by Corwin to a friend — confirming her romantic relationship with Lee, and that the couple had taken a day trip on the day she disappeared.
When questioned by detectives, Lee said he had kissed Corwin but that they never had sex, according to the affidavit.
Miller would not say whether Lee's arrest was related to the search for Corwin. However, when asked for an update on the search for the missing woman, Miller's first response was to mention the arrest of Lee.
When pressed, Miller said Lee was arrested as a result of a search warrant in "an ongoing investigation." She repeatedly refused to say whether that was the investigation of Corwin's disappearance.
"It was a search warrant in connection with an ongoing investigation, however we have not named a specific person of interest or a specific suspect," Miller said. "It's an ongoing investigation, and with that investigation, there are a number of people who have been interviewed."
Although Miller would not confirm the link between Lee's arrest and Corwin's disappearance, court documents leave no doubt as to why deputies searched the house on Geronimo Trail. The affidavit filed in the Joshua Tree courthouse — which revealed the affair, the hunting trip and the bullet casings — was filed in court to justify the search of the house.
Authorities searched this house because Lee had been living there temporarily, said Isabel Megli, the homeowner. Megli, a mutual friend of both Lee and Corwin, owns the White Rock Horse Rescue Ranch in Yucca Valley. Both Lee and Corwin volunteered at the ranch, and Megli said they knew each other, but she never saw any signs that they were having an affair.
Megli said Lee and his family moved out of his apartment and into the house on Geronimo Trail on July 3. Law enforcement searched the house on day later.
"We had no idea what they were looking for," Megli said.
Megli said Lee left for Alaska last Wednesday.
Miller, the sheriff's spokeswoman, could not be reached on Monday afternoon for further questioning. Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Dale Mondary said last week that he had never heard of Lee.
Lee joined the Marine Corps in July 2008 and received an honorable discharge earlier this month, on July 7, three days after his arrest. He was a corporal and served as a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Lee is currently serving in the Individual Ready Reserve.
The Desert Sun has also confirmed that Lee and Corwin both worked at the White Rock Horse Rescue Ranch in Yucca Valley. The ranch has said that Corwin was a volunteer who worked with horses. Photos on the ranch website show Lee working with a horse at the ranch.
Over the last few weeks, vast resources have been thrown at the Corwin search. The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, FBI, Border Patrol, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and hundreds of volunteers have scoured more than 200 square miles of desert in Joshua Tree National Park as helicopters whooshed overhead.
The search for Erin Corwin
Dozens of authorities searched for Corwin over the weekend, combing the streets of Twentynine Palms and the open desert in and around Joshua Tree National Park.
Miller said the search team consisted of 80 people on Saturday — mostly volunteers — and 25 on Sunday. The search team was scaled back significantly on Monday because most of the manpower is volunteers, who generally need to return to their day jobs during the work week.
"Investigators are working around the clock, tirelessly, in respect to this investigation. They are following up on any and all leads, speaking to numerous people, in an effort to find Erin."
Authorities have also served at least four other search warrants in relation to the case: Two for apartments D and F at 6650 Jasmine Drive on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, one for Erin Corwin's car and one for a dark-colored Jeep with Alaska license plates.