BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - An arrest has been made in the killing of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a Baton Rouge icon who founded an African American history museum, according to officials during a press conference held Tuesday, July 16.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul says detectives have arrested Ronn Jermaine Bell in connection with the homicide. He now faces a first degree murder charge.
While the city was bracing for Hurricane Barry, Roberts-Joseph was discovered in the trunk of a car at roughly 3:45 p.m. on July 12. The car was located about three and a half miles away from her home.
Police found the car after the dispatch received 911 calls from citizens about a body in a car that was left at a vacant home in the 2300 block of Adams Avenue.
Investigators learned Bell was a tenant in one of Roberts-Joseph’s rental homes. They believe he was behind several months on his rent and that he owed abut $1,200. According to the arrest report, Bell admitted to being behind on rent payments and said he and Roberts-Joseph has agreed he could stay at the home he was renting as long as he paid some money to her. He also reportedly admitted to being in the same area where the victim’s car was found at the time the vehicle was abandoned, which was confirmed with video surveillance, the report notes.
“I’m heartbroken that our community has lost such a kind and selfless soul in such a violent, tragic manner. I have known and loved Mrs. Sadie Roberts-Joseph for years and admire and respect her dedication to education and our community. I’m grateful for the swift action of the Baton Rouge Police Department and Louisiana State Police in finding her alleged killer and putting him behind bars. I will continue to pray that justice is served as her friends and family move forward in healing. She leaves behind a strong legacy of character and faith. Hate tried to silence Mrs. Sadie, but her voice will continue to ring strong for peace and love through the countless people she touched,” EBR Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said.
Evidence processed by the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab confirmed Bell’s DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph’s remains, the report says.
Detectives do not believe the death was a hate crime, and are still investigating a possible motive.
Autopsy results released Monday revealed Roberts-Joseph died from traumatic asphyxia, which includes suffocation. Her death was ruled a homicide.
Investigators charged Bell with Roberts-Joseph’s death Tuesday. He was already in jail for failing to register as a sex offender. Bell is a registered sex offender and was convicted in a 2004 case involving the rape of an 8-year-old girl. Bell pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexual battery under best interest of the victim and her family. He served the entire sentence, so he was not under probation, but still has to follow certain guidelines as a sex offender. He was released from prison April 12, 2013.
A vigil for Roberts-Joseph was held Tuesday, July 16 at Roberts-Joseph’s museum, the Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African American History, located at 538 South Blvd.
Family members of Roberts-Joseph are preparing for funeral arrangements, which will likely be scheduled for this weekend.
Joseph was the founder of the non-profit, Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African American History.
A looming question following her death is who will now keep up the museum the community activist worked hard to preserve. District 61 State Representative C. Denise Marcelle said in a Facebook post a memorial fund has been created to help maintain the museum. Donations can be made at any Hancock Whitney Bank under the Sadie Roberts-Joseph Memorial Fund.
Roberts-Joseph was known as a community activist and organized the city’s Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.