Activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s alleged killer was likely a tenant in one of her rental homes and behind about $1,200 on his rent, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said on July 16.
The chief emphasized investigators believe Ronn Jermaine Bell killed Roberts-Joseph but they have yet to establish “a complete, solid motive at this time.”
Bell, 38, has been charged with first-degree murder, Paul said.
The arrest came after Paul expressed confidence that someone would apprehended in the case of the community stalwart and museum founder who was found dead in the trunk of her car last week.
Paul said phone calls poured in from the community and family members gave police leads since the killing.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office had determined the preliminary cause of death was “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.”
Roberts-Joseph, 75, did not die by strangulation, coroner Beau Clark told CNN. Her nose and mouth were blocked, he said without elaborating. A toxicology report will be available in three weeks, Clark said.
Roberts-Joseph founded Community Against Drugs and Violence, a non-profit organization focused on creating a safer environment for children in north Baton Rouge.
Her Family Saw Her Earlier That Day
Roberts-Joseph’s body was recovered about 3:45 p.m. Friday after an anonymous caller reported finding her, according to Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola.
The car was located behind a vacant home, Paul said. Two residents who reported the body in the car have been cleared as suspects, the chief said. Her family had seen her earlier that day, Coppola said. She had been making cornbread with her sister, according to her niece, Pat LeDuff.
Roberts-Joseph’s car was found about three miles from her home, Baton Rouge police said. Bell, who was about two months behind on his rent, had intended to contact Roberts-Joseph on the day of her death, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant.
Surveillance video captured Bell leaving the area where Roberts-Joseph’s body and car was found. He admitted to being there and at the same time the car was abandoned. But Bell said he was not in the vehicle, the affidavit said.
A witness told police someone fitting Bell’s description was seen abandoning the car and walking away, according to the police record.
Bell told police he didn’t see Roberts-Joseph on the day she was killed and hadn’t seen her for several days. Bell’s DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph’s body, the affidavit said.
Roberts-Joseph extended Bell grace with the past due rent. She told him he could stay at the home as long as he paid her some money, he told police.