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Marine who knew missing California woman arrested

Jul. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Erin Corwin
Erin Corwin (Provided photo)
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High Desert law enforcement suspect that a pregnant Marine spouse who has been missing for weeks may have been harmed by a former Marine with whom she was romantically involved.

On the day she disappeared, Erin Corwin, 20, had planned to meet with her neighbor, Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, who had planned to take her to spend a “special day together” on a hunting trip, according to documents filed in a Joshua Tree courthouse.

“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.”

Corwin disappeared on June 28, after she left her home in Twentynine Palms, saying she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park. Her husband, Jonathan Corwin, reported his wife missing the next day. Two days after her disappearance, on June 30, Erin Corwin’s 2013 Blue Toyota Corolla was found outside the base’s back gate.

Authorities have been searching for her ever since. 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, Corwin’s next door neighbor, who may have been the father of her child, according to an affidavit filed in the 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 to celebrate Corwin’s pregnancy on the day she disappeared.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Monday that Lee had been arrested July 4 on suspicion of possessing a “destructive device.” Lee was arrested after deputies searched a home on the 700 block of Geronimo Trail in Yucca Valley. Although the Twentynine Palms resident was arrested more than two weeks ago, the sheriff’s department did not release information about his arrest until Monday. The release announcing the arrest said the detectives attached to the search worked in the homicide department.

Officer Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department, would not say if 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. According to the release, Lee was booked into the Morongo Basin Jail, then released on July 6 after posting bail.

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.”

The Desert Sun has 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.

Another link can be found in High Desert court documents. According to a search warrant filed in the Joshua Tree Superior Court, authorities have hunted for clues in a dark-colored Jeep Cherokee with Alaska plates as part of the Corwin investigation. Lee’s home of record is Anchorage, said Capt. Cheryl Dengler, a Marine spokeswoman.

The sheriff’s department news release issued Monday doesn’t say why sheriff’s deputies were searching the Geronimo Trail home on the Fourth of July. The release also claims that Lee had a “destructive device,” but it doesn’t say what the device was. Miller said she couldn’t be more specific.

The Desert Sun previously questioned the sheriff’s department about Lee and any possible involvement in the search for Corwin. Last week, sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Dale Mondary said he had never heard of Lee, even though he been arrested earlier this month.

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 was serving in the Individual Ready Reserve.

In addition to the Jeep, authorities also obtained search warrants for two on-base apartments — apartments D and F at 6650 Jasmine Drive — and another for Erin Corwin’s car.

However, authorities have been extremely tight-lipped about what clues, if any, they found. Miller said Monday that she could not divulge any information about the investigative techniques authorities are using to search for Corwin.

She would not confirm if authorities have sought data from Corwin’s cell phone, which would potentially reveal her last known location or any communications that occurred around the time of her disappearance. With the proper search warrant, law enforcement can use data from cell tower and phone pings to study a person’s phone calls, text messages and approximate location. Miller said she could not say if Corwin had a cell phone on her when she disappeared.

Vast resources have been used to search for Corwin: The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, FBI, Border Patrol, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Hundreds of volunteers have scoured more than 200 square miles of desert in Joshua Tree National Park as helicopters whooshed overhead.

Dozens of authorities search 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.”

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