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Anchorage police assist in arrest of former Marine on California-based homicide charge

Jerzy Shedlock

Anchorage police say they have assisted in the arrest of Christopher Brandon Lee, a former U.S. Marine who authorities suspect was the lover of a California woman who went missing in Joshua Tree National Park more than a month ago.

The Anchorage Police Department’s Special Assignment Unit and the Anchorage Safe Streets Task Force “assisted in the apprehension” of 24-year-old Lee on Sunday at 9 p.m. Lee had a extraditable warrant out of California.

“Lee was taken into custody without incident during a traffic stop and was transported to the Anchorage jail,” police said in a news release.

Police say Lee has been charged with homicide in San Bernardino County. The county’s district attorney told local newspaper The Desert Sun it will take about two days to determine the exact charges against Lee.

Following an eight-week investigation and search, which encompassed parts of Joshua Tree National Park, the communities of Twentynine Palms and Amboy, and federal lands, the body of 20-year-old Erin Corwin was found at the bottom of a 140-foot mine shaft in a remote desert area outside of Joshua Tree, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The remains were recovered from the mine shaft on Sunday. Dental records were used to identify Corwin, according to the sheriff’s department. An autopsy was conducted and her death was ruled a homicide.

According to federal search warrants, authorities believe Corwin, Lee's neighbor and the pregnant wife of another Marine, was having an affair with Lee and he may have been the father of her child.

Corwin “told (her friend) that Lee was worried if his wife discovered Erin was pregnant, Lee’s wife would divorce him and keep him from his child,” according to a search warrant.

Corwin went missing on June 28. She told her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, she was going to Joshua Tree National Park. She told the friend she and Lee were going on a hunting trip to celebrate her pregnancy, according to the search warrant.

Lee’s residence and vehicles were searched after the woman’s disappearance. Police reportedly found bullet casings, but no firearms in the search.

Corwin’s Toyota sedan was found abandoned by the Twentynine Palms Marine base, “only a couple minutes drive from the residences” of Lee and Corwin, according to the search warrant. Shoe prints led from the driver-side door and disappeared next to a set of tire tracks; police matched those tracks with Lee’s Jeep, according to the search warrant.

The Desert Sun reported the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department arrested Lee in early July on suspicion of possessing a “destructive device.” It was widely reported that device was likely a potato gun.

Lee told police he hunted in Joshua Tree on the day Corwin went missing. He said he wasn’t with the woman, according to the search warrant. He initially told investigators he didn’t know much about Corwin, but he later admitted “he became a close friend of Erin” -- they kissed each other but the relationship stopped there, according to the warrant.

Despite the warrant’s indication that authorities were focusing the missing person investigation on Lee, they repeatedly said the case was not criminal and had no suspects, according to the Desert Sun.

Lee posted bail following his initial arrest. The next day, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He and his family moved back to his home state of Alaska, Lee’s landlord told investigators. Attempts to contact Lee at a residence in the Jewel Lake area over the past several weeks were unsuccessful.