Erin Corwin disappeared June 23 after leaving her home on the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base. (AP)
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PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — Law enforcement officials say they have new locations to comb for clues in the search for Erin Corwin, a pregnant Marine wife who vanished three weeks ago near the Southern California desert Marine base of Twentynine Palms.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies already have searched broad swathes of open desert, several homes, a Yucca Valley horse farm and at least four cars in the ongoing investigation.
“We are looking for a crime scene,” said Leland Boldt, captain of San Bernardino’s Specialized Investigation Division, in a press release. The sheriff’s department refused to describe the new areas that would be searched.
Although deputies are looking for “potential evidence of foul play,” the department also said there is not enough evidence to rule out the possibility that Corwin ran off on her own accord and may be “voluntarily missing.”
The sheriff’s department update comes a day after The Desert Sun obtained public court documents detailing the inner workings of the search for Corwin. On Monday, a Desert Sun reporter pulled copies of a search warrant affidavit filed in the case from a courthouse in Joshua Tree.
The affidavit detailed Corwin’s troubled marriage and an affair with a neighbor at the Marine base at Twentynine Palms.
Former Marine Lee arrested, freed
It also revealed that detectives have questioned several people in connection with the case, including Christopher Lee, a former Marine who lived next to Corwin on the base and may have been having an affair with the missing woman. Deputies have searched Lee’s home, his Jeep, and a second home where he lived temporarily.
As a result of those searches, Lee was arrested on July 4 for an unrelated allegation that he possessed a “destructive device” — a potato gun — at a home on Geronimo Trail in Yucca Valley. Deputies served a search warrant at the home while looking for guns and other evidence in connection with Corwin’s disappearance, according to court documents. Lee used the potato gun to fire potatoes, according to a witness account in the affidavit.
Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Cpl. Lolita Harper would not discuss the search warrants because although they are public documents, they were not released by the department.
“More discussion of the case is detrimental to the case,” Harper said. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about those specific details.”
Hunting trip planned
On the day she disappeared, Corwin told a friend she was with Lee, according to the affidavit filed in Joshua Tree. Corwin and Lee planned a “special day together” — a hunting trip. 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 the affidavit. “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 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.
Deputies found 10 spent .40-caliber bullet casings in their search of Lee’s Jeep. Tire tracks found behind the Twentynine Palms Marine base link the Jeep to Corwin’s car.
Corwin’s car, a blue Toyota sedan, was found near the base’s back gate on June 30, two days after she disappeared.
According to the newly released court documents, police found a single set of shoe tracks at Corwin’s abandoned vehicle. The tracks led from the driver side door of her Toyota and then disappeared next to a set of tire tracks. The court document states that tracks found at the scene are “consistent” with the tire tracks left by Lee’s Jeep.
Finally, the affidavit states that Lee’s wife, Nichole, told a friend that the couple had something to hide. According to the court document, Nichole Lee berated her husband for not having an alibi and for “not being able to keep his lies straight.” The friend interviewed by deputies was Isabel Megli, owner of the White Rock Horse Rescue Ranch in Yucca Valley, where both Lee and Corwin own horses. Megli owns the house on Geronimo Trail where the Lee family lived temporarily.
When contacted Monday evening, Megli told The Desert Sun she and Nichole Lee weren’t talking about the Corwin case, but similar cases.
Megli said Christopher Lee has moved to Alaska since the search warrant was served.