A cheating husband lured his married, pregnant girlfriend to a remote desert location by hinting that he was going to propose marriage to her, but instead the woman was strangled and hidden in a mine shaft, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing April 2, 2015.
Christopher Brandon Lee, now 25, denies killing Erin Corwin, 19, a woman married to the man who lived in the apartment directly across from Lee and his wife, on the Twentynine Palms Marine Base.
Corwin was declared missing in June of 2014, and her body was discovered 50 days later, more than 100 feet down an abandoned gold mine in the Mojave Desert, about a two-hour drive from her apartment.
The deceased woman’s husband, Jonathan Corwin, had learned of the affair between his wife and neighbor about three months prior, he said in court last week. At the time, both men were Marines working on the base, and the couples had frequently socialized before the betrayal was discovered, Jonathan testified. The couples had been neighbors since the fall of 2013; the men shared an interest in off-roading and shooting, and both women volunteered at a nearby horse-rescue ranch.
On the last day Jonathan saw his wife, she woke him with a kiss and told him she loved him before she left, he testified. It was about 7 a.m., and Erin said she wanted to scout walking trails in the nearby Joshua Tree Park, where she would soon go with her mother, who was expected to visit from their hometown in Tennessee.
The day after Erin was declared missing, investigators found her car parked a few minutes away, with footprints in the sand leading from the driver’s side of her Toyota to nearby tire impressions. San Bernardino County sheriff’s detective Daniel Hanke said the tire impressions matched the tires on the Jeep that Christopher Lee was known to drive. The detective said that when he interviewed Lee, the suspect changed his story and admitted that he drove near Erin’s vehicle, after he was confronted with that evidence.
Lee also told the detective that he had been picking up tires to make a fire and mentioned how a body could be cremated because of how long and hot a tire could burn.
“He told me he left the tires somewhere out in the desert,” the detective said. Investigators said that items found with the body included a tire and plastic containers partially filled with gasoline and a “home-made torch” —a piece of wood wrapped with a rag and secured with twine.
According to witnesses, Erin died “from homicidal violence.” Her body was reportedly found with a makeshift garrote device around the neck — that was two handles with a length of cord between, according to testimony.
Privately retained defense attorney David Kaloyanides protested that the coroner’s findings were inconclusive because of the decomposed state of the remains; for example, the doctor could not confirm if the woman was pregnant, nor if certain bone fractures occurred before or after death. The defense attorney also pointed out that one person testified that Lee invited him to go hunting the same morning as the alleged murder plot, which was “inconsistent with the crime as alleged.”
Judge Rodney Cortez ordered Lee to answer murder charges and set his next appearance for April 22 in the Joshua Tree courthouse, when a date for trial will be set.