On Tuesday (July 16), Baton Rouge law enforcement arrested a man in connection to activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s death. NPR reports Ronn Jermaine Bell is suspected of murdering the 75-year-old and is believed to be a tenant in a building owned by Roberts-Joseph. Bell was overdue on $1,200 in rent. The Advocate also reports on the same day of her death (July 12), Roberts-Joseph made plans to reach out to Bell to discuss the outstanding rent.
Bell’s history within the criminal justice system dates back to 2006 when he was arrested for sexually battery of a minor. The registered sex offender, 38, was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was arrested again after his release for failure to pay a court fee.
Roberts-Joseph’s body was found in the trunk of her car and her death was initially ruled as a homicide. Authorities deemed the beloved patron passed from traumatic asphyxia, partly the result of suffocation. During the investigation, police officials discovered Bell’s DNA on Roberts-Joseph’s body and he was seen near the vehicle on video surveillance footage.
In 2001, Roberts-Jospeh established the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African-American Museum. She also founded the Community Against Drugs and Violence outlet and was deemed a “cultural legend” by the NAACP’s Baton Rouge branch. Angela Machen, Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, said she hopes her mother’s vision for the community and beyond continues to persevere. “All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” she said. “It’s ironic that that happened in death. What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death. However, we will see to it that her legacy continues.”
Bell now faces a first-degree murder charge.