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Erin Corwin's Marine husband says he now has 'closure'

Aug. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Family, friends, fellow Marines, community members, and search-and-rescue personnel hold hands as a prayer is said during a vigil to remember Erin Corwin, which was held at Luckie Park in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Monday.
Family, friends, fellow Marines, community members, and search-and-rescue personnel hold hands as a prayer is said during a vigil to remember Erin Corwin, which was held at Luckie Park in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Monday. (Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun)
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As the search dragged on and on, Jonathan Corwin clung to a dark kind of hope.

His wife, Erin, had been missing for weeks. She had vanished without explanation, launching a mystery in the high desert, where vast empty spaces remain wild and dangerous.

And while Jonathan never lost hope that Erin would be found, he admitted to himself that she would not be found alive. Answers were the best he could hope for. When her body was finally discovered, crumpled in an abandoned mineshaft, Jonathan felt more relief than loss.

“I had some hope, but overall, I expected the worst. It’s basically the only thing you can do after so much time,” Jonathan Corwin said Monday, during an exclusive interview with The Desert Sun. “I have closure now. I know she is in heaven, now. She is in a better place, in no more pain.”

Erin Corwin, 19, a Twentynine Palms Marine wife who was originally from Tennessee, vanished June 28. After a seven-week search, high desert law enforcement officials found Erin’s body hidden 100 feet down a desert mine shaft. Dental records confirmed the identity of the remains.

After Erin’s body was found, authorities arrested Christopher Lee, a former Marine who lived next to the Corwins in an apartment building on the Twentynine Palms base. Lee has been charged with murder.

Jonathan Corwin, a 21-year-old Marine corporal, sat down with The Desert Sun to discuss his wife’s death on Monday afternoon, shortly before a vigil was held in Twentynine Palms. As many as 100 mourners, both friends and strangers, trickled through the vigil at Luckie Park, offering condolences to Erin’s family and their thanks to the search teams that found her.

Many mourners wore purple, Erin’s favorite color. Others tied small purple ribbons to a fence on the southeast corner of the park.

Jonathan has previously declined interview requests, insisting he was emotionally unprepared to talk about Erin. On Monday, the mourning husband said he believed finally speaking publicly — coupled with the vigil — would help him heal and move on.

The Corwins first met in middle school, and started dating a few years later. They were married in November 2012, and Erin moved to the high desert last September, while Jonathan was deployed to Okinawa.

Jonathan said Erin was a quiet young woman who loved animals — especially horses — and dreamed of raising children. She was also extremely shy, and would have been terrified by the media spotlight that was drawn to the mystery of her disappearance.

On the day Erin disappeared, she woke about 7 a.m., then prepared for a trip into the desert. Erin told him she was headed to nearby Joshua Tree National Park to take pictures. Jonathan was still in bed.

“I said ‘OK. I love you,’ “ Jonathan said Monday. “She gave me a kiss. And then she left.”

The next morning, Erin had not returned. Jonathan called 911, launching a search that would span about 300 square miles and more than 100 mine shafts.

In the days after Erin vanished, high desert law enforcement questioned and re-questioned Jonathan about his wife, scrutinizing whether he might be behind her disappearance. Jonathan said Monday he held no ill will toward these detectives, who were simply following the most likely leads.

Once Jonathan was questioned, the investigation came to focus on Lee. Although the former Marine was not arrested until Erin’s body was found, authorities had been investigating him for weeks. Detectives believe Erin and Lee were having an affair, and that Lee was worried his wife, Nichole, might discover his infidelity. According to high desert court documents, filed as part of the investigation into the disappearance, Erin had planned to go hunting with Lee on the day she disappeared.

When questioned by law enforcement, Lee denied that he was with Erin on the day she disappeared. However, more and more clues tied him to the mystery.

After Erin’s car was found outside the Twentynine Palms base, detectives found nearby tire tracks that matched the tires on Lee’s Jeep. Authorities also found ammunition in Lee’s Jeep, then matched that ammo to spent bullets found at the bottom of the mine, with Erin’s remains.

Lee left the Marine Corps only a few days after Erin disappeared, then moved to Alaska with his wife and daughter in early July. He has since been extradited from Alaska and is scheduled to make his first appearance in a California court Tuesday afternoon.

Lee has been charged with first-degree murder, but could face an additional murder charge if an autopsy confirms that Erin was pregnant at the time of her death.

On Monday, Jonathan said he had once called Lee a friend.

The Lees had been neighbors of the Corwins since last fall, when Jonathan and Erin moved into an apartment building on the Twentynine Palms base. Jonathan and Lee shared a passion for off-roading and recreational shooting, and their wives volunteered at the same horse ranch, so the neighbors became fast friends. They hung out “almost every day,” Jonathan said.

In March, Jonathan discovered Chris and Erin had a brief affair. However, Jonathan believed the fling was over, and so he had made amends with his wife and tried to forgive his neighbor. Jonathan didn’t discover the affair had continued until after Erin had disappeared.

Even now, Jonathan tries to forgive.

“Obviously, I hate the actions that he did. But I feel like, if I let him bring hatred to my mind every time I see him, he is just going to pull me down,” Jonathan said Monday. “When I first figured out about the affair, and everything, he was still my next door neighbor. There was a part of me that wanted to go take care of him. But if I did that, I would be in the same boat as him — I would be a bad guy. And that is just not me.”

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