A sex offender who was a tenant of a prominent African American rights activist in Louisiana has been arrested for her death, days after the 75-year-old was found dead in the trunk of her car.
Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, is now facing first-degree murder charges in the slaying of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, who was discovered dead Friday afternoon several miles from her Baton Rouge home, according to local station WAFB.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said Bell, a convicted sex offender, had been a tenant at one of Roberts-Joseph’s rental properties and was about $1,200 behind in rent at the time of her death, The Advocate reports.
Roberts-Joseph had left handwritten records indicating that she had “intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder… in regards to the back payments,” police said in an affidavit obtained by the local paper.
Bell admitted to police that he had been behind in rent, but said Roberts-Joseph had agreed to let him continue to stay at the property as long as he paid some money to her, an arrest report said.
Despite the unpaid rent, authorities have not released an official motive in the slaying.
"There's no information which leads us to believe this is a hate crime," Paul said. "There's no information which leads us to believe that this incident was motivated by Ms. Sadie's activism or her community efforts."
Roberts-Joseph’s body was discovered Friday afternoon in the trunk of her car after police received two anonymous 911 calls that ultimately led them to the body at about 3:45 p.m.
Autopsy results revealed the community activist had died from traumatic asphyxia, which includes suffocation.
Investigators allegedly discovered Bell’s DNA on her body, according to the affidavit of probable cause. Video surveillance footage also put Bell near the scene where her car was found.
At the time of his arrest, Bell was already in custody after failing to pay a $60 annual registration fee required for registered sex offenders.
He was arrested in 2006 for raping a 9-year-old child several years earlier, and was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual battery. He was 23 years old at the time of the rape.
Bell denied killing the activist credited with founding a historic African American museum in the community.
The arrest has brought some measure of justice for those who knew the 75-year-old.
“I’m heartbroken that our community has lost such a kind and selfless soul in such a violent and tragic manner,” East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. “I have known and loved Mrs. Sadie Roberts-Joseph for years and admire and respect her dedication to education and our community. I‘m grateful for the swift action of the Baton Rouge Police Department and Louisiana State Police in finding her alleged killer and putting him behind bars.”
Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, told the media that during her last conversation with her mother the two had been talking about preparing for Hurricane Barry, which struck the area just hours after her death.
She now plans to continue her mother’s legacy.
“Anyone who had ever encountered my mother knew that she was relentless,” she said, according to NBC News. “As much as I’d like to be at home right now just wallowing, I can not do that to her. She worked so hard, she pushed. She got everything that she could out of the 75 years that she lived.”
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.