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Update: Man found in trash can had been dead several weeks

LONG BEACH -- Edward A. Miller, 87, had been dead several weeks when police found his decomposing remains in a trash can in the back yard of his home, officials said.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove released those details Friday after an autopsy identified the remains and a second search of Miller's property on South Seal Avenue.

Miller owned the home and had lived there with his wife Edith, who died in 2006.

Police said the woman arrested Thursday night on related charges was Miller's live-in girlfriend. Christy Lee Zarrella, 63, faces a felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a death.

An autopsy Friday confirmed Miller's identity but the cause and manner of death are undetermined and remain under investigation, Hargrove said.

"It's still being treated as a suspicious death," he said.

Hargrove said he had been in constant contact with the state medical examiner Friday and will have time to ask questions about the autopsy next week.

"My first concern was getting the body identified," Hargrove said.

Assistant Police Chief Alan Bond said Miller's friends reported him missing about 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Miller's home at 315 South Seal is just north of Old Pass Road.

Bond told the Sun Herald police had received no domestic-complaint calls from that address.

Officers investigating the missing-person report Thursday afternoon noticed a suspicious odor that led them to his remains, Bond said.

He declined to say if or how Zarrella responded to questions about Miller's disappearance earlier in the week, citing the ongoing investigation.

Police obtained a second search warrant Friday morning after the remains were identified.

Hargrove, Long Beach detectives, a Gulfport police crime-scene technician and a mortuary service volunteer gathered more evidence.

They examined and photographed a large blue trash can in the back yard and bagged a bottle of bleach for evidence. That's the garbage can the remains were found in, the coroner said.

Items taken into evidence included a hand drill. Hargrove pulled three prescription pill bottles from a garbage can on the carport, where a black Ford Focus was parked.

How long Zarrella had lived there wasn't clear.

"They were boyfriend and girlfriend," Bond said.

The processing of the additional evidence, witness interviews and autopsy results could lead to additional charges, Bond added.

Officials said they completed their investigation at the scene Friday and turned the property over to Miller's family.

Neighbors, such as Bonnie Walker, said news of a suspicious death set them on edge.

"This is nuts," Walker said. "I'm shocked that this would happen in this quiet neighborhood."

Walker watched police working Friday morning from the front porch of an apartment across the street. She said she had seen the woman but hadn't seen the man.

"The lady has supposedly been trying to get rid of his stuff," Walker said. "I don't know if she was selling it or packing it up."

Other neighbors have reported Zarella recently had a yard sale.

Miller and Zarella had met at a Long Beach sandwich shop where Zarella had worked, said a waitress who asked not to be identified. The woman said she and Zarella had lived together six or seven months, and said Miller and Zarella had planned to get married.

Zarella is held at the Harrison County jail on a $250,000 bond set by Justice Court Judge Diane Ladner. The jail docket shows she has had no previous incarcerations in Harrison County in recent years.

Other records show Zarella had lived on LaRosa Road, a half-mile from Miller's home, since 2005.

John Fitzhugh, Sunherald photo journalist, contributed to this report.

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