The case of

Erin Renae Corwin

erin_corwin
Victim

Erin Renae Corwin

Victim Race

Caucasian

Victim Date of Birth

1994-07-15

Victim Age

19

Date Reported

2014-06-29

Date of Death

2014-06-28

Case Status

Closed

Incident Location

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Body Location

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Date of Conviction

2016-11-03

Body Discovered Date

2014-08-16

Murderer

Christopher Lee

Who was Erin Corwin?

Erin Renae Heavilin was born on July 15 1994, to her parents William and Lore Heavilin. Erin was one of seven so her family life growing up was never quiet but she loved it that way. The Heavilin’s resided in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA and Erin attended school here. When Erin was in fifth grade, she met a boy called Jonathan Wayne Corwin. The pair didn’t know this at the time but they would be married one day.

When Erin turned 16, Jonathan asked her parents permission to date her. William and Lore liked Jon, he was a quiet but respectful man and they could see their daughter being happy with him. So they gave the couple their blessing and they began dating. Jon was a Marine and the couple got married in 2012. Shortly after their wedding, they moved to California. Jon was to be stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine base so the newlyweds needed to be close.

As a child, Erin had developed a love of horses and she had a talent for taming and training them. She found it difficult to make friends as she was quite shy and this did worry her parents when they moved to California. However, the couple moved and it didn’t take long for Erin and Jon to make friends with their neighbours.

Connor and Aisling Malakie lived below the couple in their apartment complex and they had an infant son. Living next door to the Corwins was Christopher and Nichole Lee who had a six-year-old daughter called Liberty.

In early 2014, Erin found out that she was pregnant and her and Jon were so excited. Unfortunately, Erin miscarried and the couple found this hard. Erin retreated into herself and Jon admitted that he didn’t know how to comfort his wife while dealing with his own grief. This drove a wedge between the couple.

Erin found comfort at a local horse sanctuary called White Rock Horse Rescue Ranch. She volunteered there and looked after the horses, using the talent she’d gained as a child. Erin became friends with the owner, Isabel Megli and this is where she spent a lot of her time.

The three couples in the apartment complex were friends and the wives would often hang out at each other’s apartments for snacks and gossip when their husbands were at work. In February 2014, the Lees and the Corwins settled down to watch an episode of The Walking Dead. Erin didn’t want to watch it because it became too violent so she went to her bedroom to play video games. Chris noticed this and followed her, joining in with the game. At one point, the game was paused and the couple glanced at each other. This glance led to a kiss which started an extramarital affair between Chris Lee and Erin Corwin.

The secret affair became very intense very quickly and soon enough, the couple were talking about leaving their spouses so they could be together. Chris was even telling Erin how much his daughter, Liberty, loved her. Erin Corwin would often babysit Liberty and Chris could see how close they were.

Nichole could see that her husband was preoccupied and started suspecting that he was having an affair. But when she found some texts between Erin and Chris, she couldn’t quite believe it. Nichole confronted her husband and then marched across the hallway to tell Jon Corwin. This resulted in a massive argument which resulted in Nichole pointing her finger at Erin Corwin and telling her:

“‘If you ever have anything else to do with my husband, I’ll kill you myself!”

Chris and Erin called off their affair but not for long. After a few weeks, they were sneaking around again as though nothing had happened. However, Chris was due to leave the Marines in July 2014 and the Lees were planning to return to their hometown in Alaska. But in June 2014, Erin Corwin found out that she was pregnant again.

On June 28, 2014, Chris Lee was heading to Joshua Tree National Park with his friend and neighbor, Connor to hunt coyotes. He also wanted to blow up a propane tank in one of the abandoned mineshafts out there. Connor cancelled because he had friends staying over so Chris headed out there alone.

At the same time, Erin Corwin was also planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park to “scout out some walks she could do with her mom” when she visited the following week. At least, this was the story she told Jon. In reality, she was going to meet up with Chris for a special date. Erin was hoping he would propose to her and take her to Alaska with him instead of Nichole.

At 7.30 that morning, Erin Corwin kissed her husband goodbye and told him she loved him. This was the last time he saw her alive.

When Erin didn’t reply to any of his calls and texts, he grew concerned. On the morning of June 29, Jon contacted San Bernardino County Police and told them Erin Corwin was missing.

Victim Was Found Dead/Start of The Crime

On August 16, 2014, a caver was drawn to an abandoned mineshaft by a strong smell of gasoline. At the bottom of this mineshaft, Erin Corwin’s body was found. She had a homemade garote around her neck. A propane tank and a bottle of Sprite was found nearby.

The Crime Description

Erin Corwin believed that the baby was Chris’ and she told him so. It’s believed that Chris panicked when he learned of this. He didn’t want his wife to find out and his marriage to end so he thought killing Erin would be the best way to sort it out. Chris texted Erin and told her to meet him at Joshua Tree for a “special date.”

Erin was excited. She’d told her friend, Jessica, that she was pregnant and that she believed Chris was the father. Jessica was also told that Erin would meet Chris on June 28.

When Erin and Chris met up, they walked around for a while. When they got close to an abandoned mineshaft, Chris strangled Erin with a homemade garote he’d brought with him. After Erin Corwin had died, Chris threw her 250 feet down the mineshaft, along with a propane tank and the Sprite bottle. He then tried to shoot the tank to try and burn Erin’s body but luckily, he missed every time.

Suspect or Convicted Killer Details

Little is known about Christopher Brandon Lee’s childhood and the years before Jon and Erin Corwin moved in next door.

As mentioned, he had a wife called Nichole and a six-year-old daughter called Liberty. He was a Marine but his time was due to come to an end in July 2014 when the Lees were going to move back to Alaska.

From testimonies read out in court, Chris had always shown an interest in death. Aisling Malakie said that Chris had spoken about murder “more times than I can count”. She also said that he’d discussed hiding a body in the desert too. Connor, Aisling’s husband, also told a similar story.

It’s also been said that Chris had been reprimanded more than once by a commanding officer for using rifles and rocket launchers as if they were toys and he had a reputation for being rash and reckless.

Investigation Details

Initially, the San Bernardino County Police suspected Jon Corwin as they do when a spouse goes missing, mainly due to the fact that he’d waited 24 hours before reporting to the police. But Jon passed a polygraph test and cooperated fully so he was ruled out in the early days.

Erin’s car was found around 20 miles from her home but not close to the entrance to the park. This made investigators wonder why she hadn’t parked closer if she was going to map out trails. Next to her car, shoe prints were found leading to a spot where police believed another car was parked. But as far as they knew, Erin was going there alone.

Erin’s parents were obviously informed that their daughter was missing, so Lore Heavilin started calling Erin’s friends to see if they knew where she was. Jessica told Lore that Erin Corwin was going to Joshua Tree for a “special date” with Chris Lee. While this shocked Erin’s parents, they passed this information on to the police and as Chris lived next door to the Corwins, it didn’t take police long to find him.

Initially, Chris said that he didn’t know Erin Corwin well and that on the day of her disappearance, he was coyote hunting. Police brought him in for further questioning, where he admitted that he knew her well. Chris told them about the affair and while the two had confessed their love for each other, their relationship hadn’t gone any further than kissing. He denied any sexual intercourse between the pair. Due to a lack of evidence, police released Chris without charge.

Over the next couple of months, police concentrated their efforts on finding Erin Corwin. Unfortunately, they didn’t find anything that would lead them to her, and they had to make the difficult decision to stop searching on Saturday, August 16, 2014.

Luckily, a strong gasoline smell drew a caver to an abandoned mineshaft. A camera was lowered 250 feet to the bottom, and that’s when Erin Corwin was found. A homemade garote was around her neck. It was made from two rebar handles and a paracord. A propane tank, homemade torch, and Sprite bottle were found nearby.

The torch had been made using a t-shirt, so police tested both the shirt and the bottle for DNA and Chris Lee’s was found on both.

Christopher Lee was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Trial

Chris had initially pleaded not guilty to the charge, so the case was brought to trial. The prosecution presented a case in which Chris had wanted to save his marriage and didn’t want Erin Corwin or her baby to get in the way of that. For weeks before Erin was murdered, he was Googling “how to dispose of a body” and his neighbours and work colleagues testified for the prosecution.

Aisling Malakie said that Chris had spoken about murder more times than she could count and her husband, Connor, said that Chris had told him that if a body was burned with a tire, it would disintergrate and nothing would be found. His work colleague, Andrew Johnson, said that Chris had asked him about chloride plants in the desert and what those would do to do a body. Chris also asked if there were security cameras out there. Andrew said that he didn’t find this conversation unusual as both him and Chris had served in Afghanistan and had become desensitized to that kind of thinking.

The prosecution also told the court that when Chris was arrested, paracord was found in his car and this was an exact match for the paracord used on the garote that killed Erin.

The defense claimed that while Chris was responsible for Erin’s death, it was a crime of passion. Despite Chris denying sexual intercourse had happened with Erin, he admitted to it in court.

They said that Chris had planned to go on a hunting trip with Erin on June 28 with friends but no one else could make it. He wanted to blow up propane tanks in the mineshaft and this is why one was found next to Erin’s body.

The defense only called one witness and this was Chris himself. He claimed that he’d killed Erin in anger because she’d admitted to molesting his daughter. Chris said that Nichole had noticed that Liberty’s vagina was red and swollen. Erin had babysat Liberty earlier that same day so Chris came to the conclusion that Erin molested her.

When Erin admitted to it, Chris became so angry that he strangled her with the garote. He said that it took around five minutes and when he let go, she dropped to the floor. Chris didn’t know what to do with the body so he dropped her headfirst into the mineshaft.

The claims about Erin molesting Liberty have never been proven and no one raised any concerns about this when Erin was alive.

Verdict

The jury unanimously found Christopher Brandon Lee guilty of first-degree murder on November 3, 2016.

Chris did appeal this decision in 2018 but the court denied it, noting that no one had any concerns around Erin molesting Liberty. He remains in prison.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the movie Secrets of a Marine’s wife a true story?

Yes, this movie is based on the murder of Erin Corwin in 2014.

Who is Erin Corwin’s husband?

Erin Corwin was married to Jonathan Corwin.

Is Jonathan Corwin married now?

Jon tries to stay out of the media as much as possible but it’s said that he is remarried now and has a child.

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