UPDATED: 6:05 p.m. EDT — Registered sex offender Ronn Bell, 38, has been charged with first degree murder of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, according to WBRZ. He was originally being booked as a fugitive Monday night after he did not pay a fee related to his sex offender registration.
Police claim Bell was renting from Roberts-Joseph owned and he killed her because he owed more than $1,200 in back rent.
Sadie Roberts-Joseph, who was the founder of the Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African-American History in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, was found dead in the trunk of a car on Friday, July 12. According to the autopsy, strangulation was the cause of her death.
A vigil will be held tonight at the museum Roberts-Joseph founded in 2001.
UPDATED: 3:34 p.m. EDT — 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.
Law enforcement in Louisiana’s capital city said it was drawing a blank in the investigation into the killing of a revered Black elder in Baton Rouge. Sadie Roberts-Joseph was found dead in the trunk of a car late Friday afternoon and police have not said whether they have any tips to go on.
An autopsy was set to be performed on the 75-year-old icon in Baton Rouge on Monday. There has not been an announcement regarding the cause of her death. And while the autopsy’s results may not be available immediately, they could provide the only clues in the case that has stunned Baton Rouge along with the greater African American arts community and civil rights activists demanding “swift justice.”
Retracing her 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 was 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.
Contemporaries of Roberts-Joseph weren’t happy with that possibility as they have been demanding answers sooner rather than later.
“I am terribly confused by the anonymously graphic way we have found out about her death, simply that she was found in the trunk of a car three miles from her home,” Philip Hackney, former LSU Law professor and founder of the Dialogue on Race-Louisiana, told the Bayou Brief. “It’s not right to keep the public in the dark in this way. Not about a matter of such grievous importance to this community.”
Louisiana State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge was the one who seemed to bring widespread attention to the death in a Facebook post on Saturday morning. She said Roberts-Joseph was “found murdered” and was “hopeful that an arrest is made really soon.”
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.
According to The Advocate, the Baton Rouge Police Department was not getting many helpful tips from the public. Instead, “Deputy Chief Herbert Anny said police have been inundated with calls from people across the area wanting police to know how well-respected she was.”
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.”
The Bayou Brief suggested “a relationship between her murder and the cultural work she was doing” could have contributed to her death.
“In a state where, just last year, a series of racially-motivated church burnings were orchestrated by a sheriff deputy’s son and in a city where, just over three years to the date, Alton Sterling was killed by a police officer that state attorney general Jeff Landry chose not to charge – it’s not very difficult to arrive at that question,” the news outlet wrote Monday.
Officials were urging people with any information about Roberts-Joseph’s death to call Crime Stoppers at (255) 344-7867.