Tenant who was behind on rent named suspect in murder of African American history advocate

Louisiana authorities have arrested a man in connection with the murder of activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph and believe he was likely her former tenant who was behind on rent, police announced Tuesday.

Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, a convicted sex offender, has been charged with first-degree murder, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said during a news conference Tuesday. He was arrested Monday after failing to register as a sex offender.

Bell lived in one of 75-year-old Roberts-Joseph’s rental homes and was about $1,200 behind on his rent payments, Paul said.

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“I am heartbroken that our community has lost such a kind and selfless soul,” Paul said. “Hate tried to silence Miss Sadie, but her voice will continue to ring strong for peace and love through the countless people she touched."

Roberts-Joseph was found last Friday in the trunk of her car nearly three miles from her home. An autopsy ruled her cause of death as “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.”

The motive for Roberts-Joseph’s murder remains under investigation, but police don’t think the killing was “motivated by her activism or community efforts,” police said.

Roberts-Joseph was the founder of the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American History Museum, now known as the Baton Rouge African American History Museum. She was also the founder of the nonprofit Community Against Drugs and Violence and organized an annual Juneteenth celebration commemorating the emancipation of slaves.

Police have described her as a “tireless advocate of peace in the community.”

“Having known her for decades, she was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge,” Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said during the news conference. “She was a part of the fabric of Baton Rouge and we will make her legacy a priority in Baton Rouge because of what she gave to so many here.”