By AFRO Staff
The founder of Baton Rouge’s African American history museum died of suffocation and her death was a homicide, a coroner ruled Monday, as residents of Louisiana’s capital city struggled to come to terms with the slaying of the well-respected, 75-year-old community leader.
East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark released preliminary autopsy results that show Sadie Roberts-Joseph was suffocated before her body was found in the trunk of a car Friday. The results indicated the beloved community leader died from “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.”
Ronn Jermaine Bell, 37, a convicted sex offender, was taken into custody Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder, according to ABCnews.com.
ABC News also reported Bell was living in one of the homes Roberts-Joseph was renting out and it is believed he was several months behind in rent payments, police said. Authorities estimated Bell owed Roberts-Joseph $1,200.
Roberts-Joseph founded the Baton Rouge African American Museum in 2001. It features a 1953 bus that visitors can board to learn more about the Baton Rouge bus boycott of that year. They can also learn about three different types of cotton grown in the museum’s garden, and learn more about African-American contributions in areas such as inventions and art.
Denise Marcelle, a state representative and former member of the council that governs Baton Rouge, had known Roberts-Joseph for years. They worked together on Juneteenth celebrations which commemorate the end of slavery.
“She was just a very likeable person and that is why the community is so outraged,” Marcelle said. “It’s really a shock to the entire Baton Rouge community. It’s just a shock.”
Police said numerous leads came in from community residents and helped police identify and arrest Bell in the slaying,” ABCNews.com reported.
“On behalf of the family of Sadie Roberts-Joseph we would like to express our sincere appreciation to all of the entities that came together in this tragedy to bring this person to justice,” Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said during a news conference earlier this week.
“All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together. It’s ironic that that happened in her death,” Machen said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department announced Saturday that Roberts-Joseph’s body had been discovered Friday. Sgt. L’Jean Mckneely Jr. said Monday that she’d been discovered in the trunk of her own vehicle.
“The Baton Rouge Police Department joins the community in mourning the loss of Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph. Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community,” the department said in a Facebook post Saturday.
“We had opportunities to work with her on so many levels. From assisting with her bicycle giveaway at the African American Museum to working with the organization she started called CADAV. (Community Against Drugs and Violence) Ms. Sadie is a treasure to our community, she will be missed by BRPD and her loss will be felt in the community she served,” the post said.
Associated Press Writer Rebecca Santana also contributed to this story.