UPDATED: 3:34 p.m. EDT, July 15 — The cause of death has been announced for an elderly Black woman who was found dead in a car’s trunk last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sadie Roberts-Joseph, who was discovered Friday afternoon, was suffocated, East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said Monday afternoon, confirming that the death was a murder.
The Advocate first reported Clark’s findings in a case that left Baton Rouge mourning a local icon and an activist who founded the city’s museum of African American history.
Specifically, Clark said the 75-year-old Roberts-Joseph died from “”traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation,” which the Advocate said meant that “a person’s airways were physically blocked, cutting off their oxygen supply. That could result from strangulation, but the coroner’s report doesn’t specify how exactly Roberts-Joseph was killed.”
The coroner’s early findings were likely little solace for Roberts-Joseph’s friends, family and supporters who were all demanding answers in the shocking death.
Retracing Roberts-Joseph’s steps on that fateful Friday offered little solace to what has become a mystery and left more questions than answers.
According to the Bayou Brief, which bills itself as a source of “nonprofit journalism for Louisiana,” Roberts-Joseph had been baking a batch or cornbread at her sister’s nearby home on Friday afternoon. Her own oven wasn’t working, so she walked to her sister’s house. But at some point Roberts-Joseph left the home and was found dead hours later in the trunk of a car.
Police told the Advocate that there was “a very short window of time for anything to happen” and that Roberts-Joseph “had just spoken to her mother the night before her death.”
The car in which she was found — her car — was located about three miles from Roberts-Joseph’s home.
“A source close to the on-going investigation says the police are withholding information deliberately,” the Bayou Brief reported.
The arts community in Louisiana’s capital city was mourning after it was reported that a Baton Rouge arts icon was found dead Friday night. The body of 75-year-old Sadie Roberts-Joseph was found in the trunk of a car, according to a Facebook post by State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle on Friday morning.
Roberts-Joseph was described as a staple in Baton Rouge. The late artist and activist was the founder of the city’s Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African American History. She was also a crusader to bring back the relevance of Juneteenth, a movement she had been spearheading since 1991.
“My heart is empty … as I learned last night that Ms. Sadie Roberts Joseph was found murdered!” Marcelle wrote in part of her Facebook post. “This woman was amazing and loved her history. She never bothered anyone. … I loved working with her and am saddened by her death.”
While Marcelle wrote that Roberts-Joseph was “murdered,” the Baton Rouge Police Department said it was not releasing any information about the cause of death. The car in which she was found was located about three miles from her home, The Advocate reported.
Roberts-Joseph’s death touched the Baton Rouge Police Department to the point that it took the time to remember her in a Facebook post that called her “a tireless advocate of peace in the community” who “will be missed by BRPD and her loss will be felt in the community she served.”
“Roberts-Joseph used her position to encourage African American children. She celebrated the election of Barack Obama, who is featured prominently in the museum,” The Advocate wrote.
Her words to the Advocate in 2016 at a Veterans Day event seemed to personify everything she was about: “When I try to do something, God always opens doors, and I try to do the very best that I can, not necessarily for me but particularly to help inspire and educate the younger generation. I find gratification that we are coming together and realizing our differences are not as great as our commonalities.”
The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroners office was reportedly scheduled to conduct an autopsy to determine a cause of death. In the meantime, officials urge people with any information about Roberts-Joseph’s death to call Crime Stoppers at (255) 344-7867.