A man has been arrested and charged Tuesday with the murder of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the founder of an African American history museum in Louisiana, police said.
Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, a convicted sex offender, was arrested for allegedly killing Sadie Roberts-Joseph, whose body was discovered asphyxiated in the trunk of her car on Friday afternoon, Baton Rouge police announced. He was charged with first-degree murder.
The death of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, 75, was ruled a homicide by “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation,” according to a preliminary autopsy report conducted by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office.
Bell was a tenant in one of the homes Roberts-Joseph owned and was several months behind on his rent. Authorities estimated Bell owed her $1,200, though police said they did not have the exact motive yet in the case.
According to the affidavit, the detectives obtained surveillance video that showed Bell “in the same exact area the victim’s vehicle was abandoned at the same exact time the vehicle was abandoned.” Bell matched the description from a witness of a man seen abandoning the vehicle and walking away. The suspect’s DNA was also found on the victim’s body.
Bell was a registered sex offender who served seven years in prison starting in 2007 for sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore, III, said Tuesday.
The death of Roberts-Joseph, who was well known in Baton Rouge, sent shock waves through her family and the community.
Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said that Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish will make Roberts-Joseph’s legacy a priority “because of what she gave to so many here.”
“Having known her for at least three decades, I can tell you as Mayor of this city, she was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge. She was a part of the fabric of Baton Rouge and that is why you see so many people concerned about her death,” Broome said.
Roberts-Joseph founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American History Museum in 2001. The museum, now known as the Baton Rouge African American History Museum, is part of the New St. Luke Baptist Church campus on South Boulevard, where her brother serves as pastor, the outlet reported.
She also organized an annual Juneteenth festival at the museum commemorating the day slaves were belatedly freed in Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said at the news conference that she will not let her mother’s work and sacrifice on educating the community about inclusivity and diversity falter in her death.
“Anyone who had ever encountered my mother knew that she was relentless,” Machen said. “As much as I’d like to be at home right now just wallowing, I can not do that to her. She worked so hard, she pushed. She got everything that she could out of the 75 years that she lived.”