Missing Oak RIdge native's body found in mine shaft; lover arrested in Alaska

Posted at 2:52 PM, Aug 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-19 11:45:22-04

The body of an Oak Ridge native whose husband reported her missing June 28 was found Saturday afternoon in a 140-foot mine shaft in Southern California, authorities said Monday.

Authorities recovered the body Sunday and confirmed that it was Erin Corwin after a dental forensic exam, according to San Bernardino County, Calif. Sheriff John McMahon.

Her death is considered a homicide, McMahon said during a press conference Monday afternoon. The exact manner of homicide still must be determined.

Arrested in the case is a former Corwin neighbor, Christopher Brandon Lee, according to authorities. Lee, who is in his early 20s, was taken into custody Sunday night in Anchorage, Alaska, where he moved after Corwin disappeared.

Lee and Corwin had been having an affair. San Bernardino authorities said that fact led them early on to focus on Lee as a possible suspect in Corwin’s disappearance. Lee had been a U.S. Marine before discharge and he and the Corwins had been neighbors.

Corwin lived with husband Jonathan, who was stationed at the Marine base at Twentynine Palms in Southern California.

She was believed to be three months’ pregnant at the time she vanished.

Jonathan Corwin last saw his wife alive June 28. He believed she was going hiking that day in Joshua Tree National Park. He reported her missing the next day.

Information developed in the investigation, however, suggested Corwin had met someone, perhaps Lee, and likely never went to the park, according to McMahon. Her blue Toyota was found several miles to the north of the park days after she disappeared, he said.

The circumstances of Corwin’s disappearance were suspicious “from the very beginning,” the sheriff said.

Forensic exams of cell phones recovered in the investigation led authorities to begin looking at area mine shafts as a possible location for Corwin’s body, authorities said.

Searchers found it in a shaft on land supervised by the Bureau of Land Management several miles southeast of Twentynine Palms. It was not within the bounds of the national park.

A mining team sent a camera into the shaft about 4:30 p.m. Saturday and spotted a woman’s body, according to the Sheriff’s Department. They felt certain it was Corwin, who was 19 at the time of her disappearance.

After the remains were removed Sunday, an exam confirmed the body was that of the missing young woman.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said prosecutors would determine in 24 to 48 hours whether Corwin’s killing qualifies as a “special circumstance” murder case. It may take several weeks for Lee to be extradited to California.

Most of his family is from Alaska. His only tie to California had been through the Marines, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Corwin’s autopsy is continuing, according to authorities. Officials are still trying to confirm that she was indeed pregnant.

Motive still is being determined, according to authorities.

Cynthia Kott, a booking clerk at the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Anchorage, Alaska, said Monday that Cpl. Christopher Brandon Lee was arrested at 10 p.m. Sunday.

Corwin formally lived in Oak Ridge before moving to California, according to family members.

According to McMahon, authorities and volunteers spent eight weeks searching by air and ground. Numerous law enforcement offices and search and rescue teams took part in the hunt.

More details as they develop online and in Tuesday’s News Sentinel.