Police Arrest Suspect In Murder Of Baton Rouge Activist

Jul 17, 2019

A suspect has been arrested in the killing of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, prominent civil rights activist and founder of the African American history museum in Baton Rouge.

Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was booked Tuesday on first-degree murder and is accused of suffocating Roberts-Joseph and leaving her body in the trunk of her car.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said at a press conference Tuesday that Bell, a tenant of Roberts-Joseph, owed her $1,200 in back rent. He added that authorities have not officially determined a motive for Bell’s alleged actions, but do not believe the killing was a hate crime.

“There’s no information to lead us to believe that this incident was motivated by Miss Sadie's activism or her community efforts,” Paul said.

Roberts-Joseph was found dead Friday afternoon in the trunk of a car in the 2300 block of North 20th Street in North Baton Rouge, approximately three miles from her Scotlandville home.

On Monday, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark ruled her death was a homicide by “traumatic asphyxiation and suffocation.”

News of Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s death sent shockwaves throughout the community, where the longtime activist is being remembered for her dedication to the city.

Even as Hurricane Barry made its way through Louisiana, news of her killing earned national media attention and prompted reactions of shock from City-Parish officials at the unexpected loss.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she has known Roberts-Joseph.

“She was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge,” Weston Broome said. “She was a part of the fabric of Baton Rouge, and that is why you so many people concerned about her death.”

Even the upper-level law enforcement officials handling the investigation into her death offered personal remembrances of the woman they knew as “Ms. Sadie.”

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said he was heartbroken at the loss of Roberts-Joseph, but proud that his organization could contribute to the investigation into her death.

“Hate tried to silence Ms. Sadie,” Gautreaux said. “But her voice will continue to ring strong for peace and love through the countless people she touched.”

Angela Machen (center), daughter of slain civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, comments on her mother's legacy alongside her brother, Jason Roberts (center right) and City-Parish officials.
Credit Paul Braun / WWNO

Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said all her mother ever wanted was for her to community to come together.

“It is ironic that that happened in death,” Machen said. “What she wanted to happen in life, came to fruition in death.”

Machen pledged to continue her mother’s legacy of promoting inclusivity and education through the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American History Museum to which she devoted so much of her life.