A man who was believed to have had an affair with the pregnant wife of a U.S. Marine has been arrested in Alaska following the discovery of her body in a 140-foot mine shaft some seven weeks after she disappeared, authorities said Monday.
Christopher Lee was taken into custody about 10 p.m. Sunday on suspicion of the murder of Erin Corwin, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a news conference.
Corwin was 19 years old and about three months pregnant when she was reported missing June 28, prompting an extensive search operation in Joshua Tree National Park.
Corwin had told her husband that she planned to scout out the park in advance of her mother’s planned visit from Tennessee, but she was never seen again. Her car was found in Twentynine Palms a day after she was reported missing.
Her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Wayne Corwin, who is stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, has not spoken publicly about his wife.
Corwin’s family released a statement Monday evening, expressing relief to have closure, but adding that they wanted time to “properly grieve and mourn” their loss.
“While we were praying for a different outcome, we cannot begin to express the gratitude we have for every person that has been involved in the search for Erin,” the statement read. “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.”
The family added, “Please continue to pray for our family and for justice for Erin.”
McMahon and other officials released new information on the case at a noon news conference at Sheriff’s Department headquarters in San Bernardino.
Corwin’s body was found Saturday night at the bottom of a 140-foot mine shaft in the Mojave Desert on federal Bureau of Land Management property outside of the national park, authorities said.
Cellphone tracking helped searchers find Corwin in a 300 square-mile search area, authorities said. Some 100 mine shafts were identified and searched by specialized teams.
County firefighters descended into the shaft twice — once to collect evidence and a second time to retrieve Corwin’s body, fire officials said.
Dental records were used to identify her remains on Sunday evening, and Lee, also a Marine corporal, was arrested a half-hour later, according to a Sheriff’s Department news release.
An autopsy conduction Monday showed the manner of her death was a homicide, the release stated. No information about the cause of her death was provided.
Detectives believe Corwin got into Lee’s Jeep before she disappeared.
Court documents showed that investigators believe Corwin had an affair with Lee.
Lee’s wife told the owner of a horse ranch where Corwin volunteered that “detectives did not have a case against them” and that Corwin’s body would never be found, according to an investigator’s affidavit.
Lee and his wife had planned to move to Alaska, the affidavit stated.
In the most recent previous update, on July 22, authorities said investigators were “looking for a crime scene” and “evidence of foul play” in Corwin’s disappearance, but said there was “still not enough evidence to rule out that Erin Corwin could be voluntarily missing.” They announced that Lee was arrested July 4 for having a “destructive device” but was released from custody after posting bail two days later.
If Lee fails to waive extradition, it will take four to five weeks for him to be returned from Alaska to San Bernardino County.
Charges against him will be decided within 48 hours, county District Attorney Michael Ramos said at Monday’s news conference.
Additional arrests were possible, authorities said without elaborating.
Family and friends joined volunteer search efforts and prayed for her safe return, according to a Facebook page called Locate Erin.
Hundreds of volunteers worked nearly 5,000 hours to find her body, authorities said.
Corwin’s disappearance was featured on the cover of People Magazine in late July.
Teams searched the areas of Rose of Peru, Brooklyn and Los Angeles mines on Saturday, finding her body, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The remote area is on a four-wheel drive road off unpaved Old Dale Road north of the park boundary and south of Highway 62 (map), according to a National Park Service map.