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On the day Erin Corwin died, the 19-year-old was excited. The newly pregnant wife of a Marine was headed to Joshua Tree National Park where she planned to meet a man she had secretly been carrying on an affair with and suspected he may even propose during the covert rendezvous.
But what transpired on June 28, 2014 was anything but romantic and would end of the teen’s short life.
Erin’s mysterious death and the dangerous love triangle that ultimately lead to her demise are explored in the new book, “Secrets of a Marine’s Wife,” by Shanna Hogan. It’s a story of obsession, passion, jilted lovers and secrets that carried deadly consequences and irrevocably altered the course of multiple lives.
But it began as a love story between two high school sweethearts. Erin, who was known then as Erin Heavilin, hadn’t been allowed to date until she was 16 years old, but on her 16th birthday her mother was approached by Jon Corwin who asked her permission to date her.
“While the Heavilin’s didn’t know much about Jon, he seemed like a polite, well-behaved young man from a respected family, and they approved,” Hogan writes in the book.
Erin’s family described her as shy, kind hearted, and a lover of horses, according to The Press-Enterprise.
The relationship quickly blossomed. Just before Jon, who was one year older than Erin, prepared to graduate from high school, the pair began to talk about marriage and would ultimately decide to elope in Las Vegas in 2012 not long after Jon joined the Marines.
By September 2013, they had moved together to Jon’s Marine base in Twentynine Palms, California where the couple quickly made friends with other young military families, including Chris and Nichole Lee, who lived next door to the Corwins with their 6-year-old daughter Liberty.
The couples would barbecue together and watch movies. The women continued to bond while the men were on duty.
But before long the young newlyweds would encounter some problems of their own. Erin got pregnant and happily announced the news on Facebook. She later miscarried and was left devastated, but Jon wasn’t sure how to comfort her, according to The New York Post.
Erin began to withdraw, something that was noticed by her neighbor Chris Lee.
“Chris had been observing Erin when they hung out together and noticed a sorrow in her face that mirrored his own sadness,” Hogan writes. “He started spending more time with her, without Nichole around.”
Trouble was also brewing in his own relationship after he came home from a deployment more moody and agitated than normal.
“Repeatedly, (Nichole) urged Chris to see a counselor, but he refused. Over the next few months, Nichole persisted, pleading with Chris to seek help. When he only grew more reclusive, Nichole became angry,” Hogan writes.
Erin and Chris began to grow close and before long, while the two were playing video games together, they kissed, sparking their physical relationship.
As the secret affair progressed, the pair began to talk about leaving their spouses to be together until one day when Nichole discovered her husband’s infidelity and confronted the two in front of Erin’s husband Jon.
“If you ever have anything else to do with my husband, I’ll kill you myself!,” Nichole allegedly shouted.
The angry threat derailed the affair for several weeks but before long the two were sneaking off to spend time together once again.
Chris was scheduled to complete his time in the Marines and move back to Alaska with his family in the summer of 2014.
But that same summer, Erin would discover she was pregnant again. Although this time she didn’t announce the news publicly, she was reportedly thrilled.
On the day she vanished, Erin told her husband she was planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park to scout places to go during an upcoming visit from her mother.
But Chris had also planned a trip to the park that day, telling friends he was going hunting.
Erin would never return home. Although investigators would initially look into Erin’s husband Jon as a possible suspect, they soon turned their focus to Chris after catching him in a lie about the affair. His unusual search history, including a Google search about how to dispose of a body would further implicate him in the crime.
Erin's body was eventually discovered at the bottom of a 140-foot deep mineshaft just as the search team was preparing to call off the massive multi-week search effort through the large national park. Investigators would later determine she had been strangled by a homemade garrote.
Chris was charged with first-degree murder. As the trial unfolded, prosecutors claimed it had been a “cold-blooded” and “premediated” murder, according to The Press-Enterprise.
Chris would admit that he killed his one-time love but claimed in court that he only killed her after flying into a fit of rage after suspecting her of molesting his young daughter. According to his story, he had asked her that day if she'd ever molested the child and attacked her after she said yes.
A jury wouldn’t buy his claims and Lee was convicted of first-degree murder in 2016.
At a sentencing hearing, he stood by his story.
“I will accept punishment for the crime I committed, but I cannot, and will not, admit to crimes I didn’t commit,” he said. “I did not want to kill Erin, and I did not plan to kill Erin.”
Erin’s relatives were also given an opportunity to address the court and said her death had caused a “huge ripple effect” throughout the grief-stricken family.
“The memories that we will never be able to make with Erin because they have been stolen from us are too numerous to even think about beginning to list,” her mother Lore Heavilin said.
Superior Court Judge J. David Mazurek sentenced Lee to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He would later try to appeal his conviction of first-degree murder—arguing that the crime had been committed in a moment of passion but the motion would ultimately be denied in 2018, according to The Desert Trail.
“He claims that had the jury been more fully instructed it could have found that he did not premeditate and deliberate the killing and convicted him of second-degree murder, rather than first degree murder,” the court of appeal judgment read. “We disagree and affirm the judgment.”
While Chris will spend the rest of his life behind bars, Erin’s life came to an abrupt and sudden halt that summer day in 2014.
Hogan writes at the end of the book that she hadn’t wanted to tell Erin’s story initially because it was so horrific and sad, but ultimately felt compelled to share her story.
“While young people often make bad choices while navigating their way into adulthood, most have the chance to learn, grow, and become the people they are meant to be,” she wrote. “When Chris stole Erin’s life, he robbed her of that chance.”
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