INSTEAD of carrying around a Mother's Day card from her teenage son, Arty, Princessa Miller yesterday carried a picture of his decomposed face in her back pocket.
Members of Miller's family said it was their vigilante search that led to the discovery Saturday night of Arty Miller's body - wrapped in a green plastic bag and thrown in a 15-gallon blue bin - in the third-floor closet of an occupied Kensington home on Master Street near Hancock.
It was a gruesome discovery. Miller, 18, was crammed into the container - feet sticking out from the top, head crammed in the bottom, relatives said. Missing-person posters described him variously as being 5 feet 7 or 5 feet 10.
Police said yesterday that Nicholas Lux, 21, a friend of the victim who lives in the house where the teen's decomposing body was found, was arrested for suspected involvement in the horrific murder.
Lux has been charged with murder and related offenses, said Sgt. Bob Wilkins, with the Homicide Division.
"He died of multiple injuries to his face and body," said Wilkins. Inside the house, investigators recovered a piece of rebar, which they believe was used in the killing.
Miller had been staying with Lux in his family's house. Wilkins said Lux and Miller had argued in Lux's bedroom after Miller "supposedly disrespected his mother and grandmother."
Police have not pinned down the exact date that Miller was murdered, but the teen had been missing for at least three weeks.
Princessa Miller began posting fliers around the neighborhood two weeks ago. She received "millions" of anonymous tips, she said, all leading back to the Master Street house.
At least six people lived in the house, including Lux, who sneaked the young Miller in at night, according to Miller's family. Family members said Miller had been hiding out in the house because he feared retribution for an unspecified reason.
"The people he had problems with know 95 percent of his family so he didn't want to stay with them," said John Grone Jr., who identified himself as Arty Miller's cousin.
An anonymous tipster called Princessa Miller on Wednesday and said her son had been beaten to death inside the Master Street home, Miller said.
Several family members said yesterday that police had entered the house Wednesday to search for the victim, but came out empty-handed.
Princessa Miller said they were told by police that there was a distinct odor in the house but that it was the result of poor housekeeping, a broken portable toilet and a dead mouse.
Family members were angry that cops didn't find Miller's body last week.
"If the cops would have went in the house and did a proper search the first time, they would have found the body then," said Denise Hernandez, Princessa's sister.
"He wouldn't have to be cremated."
Wilkins confirmed that 26th District officers visited the house on Wednesday, but would give no details about what they did there.
As Miller's disappearance went unsolved, family members formed small search parties to scour the area for the teen, whom one cousin called an "outspoken clown who liked to joke around."
Theresa Grone, 22, who identified herself as Arty Miller's cousin, said a relative had received an anonymous tip to search in Dumpsters and abandoned lots. She said she found a bag near a Dumpster at the corner of Hancock and Turner streets; inside, she said, were Arty's bloodied clothes, some quilts and a medical card belonging to Lux's girlfriend.
In an alley near Palethorp Street and Montgomery Avenue, they found a burned and bloodied sleeping bag, with a rubber glove underneath, she said.
On Saturday night, around 9, Grone and her brother, Joseph "Fester" Grone, along with several others, decided to return to the Master Street house.
Joseph Grone, 21, and another individual entered the house with the permission of someone inside.
In the third floor front bedroom, behind a hanging bedsheet, Grone found a green trash bag stuffed in a blue Rubbermaid bin, Wilkins said.
Joseph Grone reached out and touched the garbage bag, and a stream of maggots emerged, Theresa Grone said.
Grone screamed as he rushed down the stairs and out of the house, Theresa Grone said.
"He didn't know what was in the bag . . . but he had a gut feeling it was his cousin in that bag," Theresa said.
Family and friends held vigil outside the house from 9 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. yesterday while authorities investigated the crime scene.
Relatives set up lawn chairs across the street from the scene and kept warm with blankets. Others left and returned later with rations.
A Daily News reporter visited the Master Street house yesterday, but no one answered the door. Windows on the first and second floors stood open to the breeze yesterday afternoon.
A cruiser from the 25th Police District was stationed on the corner as of late yesterday afternoon, securing the crime scene.
Wilkins said all other residents of the house, aside from Lux, have been cleared of wrongdoing by police.
Meanwhile, the community continued to grapple with the discovery.
City Councilman Juan Ramos lives near Lux's house and said yesterday that he had tried to mentor some of the young men living there.
Family members said Arty Miller was anxious for his dad to come home from state prison soon, and anxious to return to high school and get his diploma.
Now, his family is anxious to see his killer brought to justice.
"Nobody in their right mind does something like this," John Grone Sr., Arty Miller's uncle said. "The kid ain't even begun to see what life was about." *
Staff writer Damon Williams contributed to this report.