Even as the vestiges of Tropical Storm Barry pummeled the city Sunday, investigators worked through the weekend to determine how Baton Rouge African American history museum founder Sadie Roberts-Joseph ended up dead in the trunk of a car last Friday.
Roberts-Joseph, 75, was discovered in the trunk of a car Friday afternoon about three miles from her home in Baton Rouge. Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said family members had last seen her mother around midday before she was located by police at 3:45 p.m.
From about 11 a.m. when Roberts-Joseph was visiting with her sister a few doors down from her house to the time she was found, Machen said, there was a very short window of time for anything to happen. She had just spoken to her mother the night before her death.
“Frankly, at this point, it’s not even quite real to me,” Machen said. “I just cannot quite wrap my thought processes around this being the truth. It’s almost unimaginable.”
An autopsy is scheduled for Monday morning to determine the cause of death, said Shane Evans of the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office. As of now, Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. said, the investigation into her death is ongoing.
A woman found dead in the trunk of a car Friday evening was the founder of Baton Rouge's African American history museum who helped jumpstart …
Authorities offered few details about the circumstances surrounding her death, including who owned the car she was found in. They said they want to avoid jeopardizing their investigation. The community, meanwhile, has mobilized around efforts to solve the case involving a woman many have lauded as an inspirational figure in the city.
“Chief Paul and the Baton Rouge Police Department team of investigators are intensely working this case,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said Sunday. “The community is in shock, devastated and saddened by this horrific killing."
In the coming days and weeks, Broome said, there will be a discussion about providing a venue for people to collectively mourn the loss of “a mother of our community.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said people are lining up to work on Roberts-Joseph’s case.
“Everyone works hard on every case we have, but when you have a case like this, everybody just has a sense of, all right, let’s get together,” Moore said. “Everyone’s volunteering. I’ve reached out to the detectives to talk to them, and they’re working really hard despite the weather.”
Moore, who knew Roberts-Joseph through her community presence, emphasized his team will be giving the case as much attention as possible. He added the death of such a “peaceful person” shocked him.
“It was surreal to me,” he said. “This can’t be Ms. Sadie. Who would want to touch or harm this lady whatsoever?”
State Representative C. Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge, who has known Roberts-Joseph for years, described her friend as non-confrontational, and as someone who spoke softly to get her point across.
“She was an icon in our community,” Marcelle said. “We’re all hopeful that an arrest is made really soon.”
Baton Rouge Police are leading the investigation and seeking assistance in the case.
But they've run into an unusual problem as they seek tips. Deputy Chief Herbert Anny said police have been inundated with calls from people across the area wanting police to know how well-respected she was.
The department is familiar with Roberts-Joseph’s positive qualities, Anny said, as she had worked closely with Baton Rouge Police over the years. She partnered with law enforcement to counsel at-risk youth one-on-one and acted as a mentor to steer them in the right direction, often by introducing them to the African American history museum she founded.
“We need more calls relative to the crime itself, and any knowledge, whether they think it’s minuscule or not,” Anny said.
He urged anyone who may have information regarding the homicide to call the Violent Crimes Unit at 225-389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 225-344-7867 as soon as possible, as time is of the essence.
Broome, too, encouraged the community to rally together to support law enforcement in their efforts to solve the case. She pointed to the cruel irony that Roberts-Joseph, one of the leaders of the nonprofit Community Against Drugs and Violence, herself fell victim to violence.
“She was loved and respected by everyone in this community, in all walks of life,” Broome said. “For her to be a victim of the very violence that she fought against – it’s just really something.”
While Moore said every life lost in the parish is a blow to the community, Roberts-Joseph's passing has a particular resonance.
“To me, this is a community loss,” Moore said. “This one is a tremendous loss to our community because of what she stood for and how she dedicated her life.”