Police: Long Beach woman cut pacemaker out of dead boyfriend's chest

GULFPORT -- A Long Beach woman is accused of cutting a pacemaker/defibrillator out of her dead boyfriend's chest before she put his body in a trash can, court documents said.

Christy Lee Zarrella, 63, is accused of tampering with physical evidence in the death of Edward A. Miller, 87. She had been living with him on South Seal Avenue. His decomposing remains were found in the back yard Oct. 22.

Police filed a desecration charge Monday. Zarella has been held at the Harrison County jail since her arrest on the first felony charge.

Miller had been missing at least two weeks.

Police suspect Zarrella tried to set fire to the trash can and sold Miller's belongings at an estate sale before his remains were discovered, Detective B.F. Beeman said in affidavit. He said police found an estate sale sign next to the house.

Miller, a widower, had lived in the home for years.

The woman who reported Miller missing Oct. 19 told police it wasn't like him to go more than a day or two without calling her or his family. She said he had recently allowed Zarrella to move in with him.

Investigators went to the home Oct. 22 looking for Miller but said no one answered the door. They found his remains when they noticed an odor coming from a trash can.

Beeman said the trash can was partially melted and had burn marks. Several empty bleach bottles were found inside it, indicating an attempt to mask the smell of decay.

Police confronted Zarrella after she came home later that day. She spontaneously told them, "I didn't kill him," Beeman said.

In interviews at the police station, she reportedly said Miller had died Oct. 5 of natural causes. She said she panicked and put his body in a large, wheeled trash can and rolled it outside, Beeman said.

Two investigators attended Miller's autopsy in Jackson. The state medical examiner told them wire clippers or a similar tool had been used to cut the wires off his heart device, Beeman said.

The affidavit did not say how Miller died or what could have been used to cut the device out of his chest.

The cause and manner of his death remain under investigation, Harrison County coroner Gary Hargrove said Wednesday.

The day of the discovery, those collecting evidence were seen gathering items including a hand drill.

Police had also arrested Zarrella on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a death.

Justice Court Judge Diane Ladner had set Zarrella's bond on the tampering charge at $250,000. Ladner added a $250,000 bond on the desecration charge.

Zarrella was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Wednesday.