Louisiana African American Museum Founder Found Dead in Trunk of Her Car had been Suffocated, Coroner Says

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Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he is “confident that we’re going to make an arrest” in the case of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a renowned activist who was found dead in the trunk of her car last week.

“The community has been working with our detectives,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon Monday night. “We are getting calls, we are getting emails, we are getting text messages.”

“There will be no investigative lead that will not be exhausted in this investigation,” Paul said.

Following an autopsy on Monday, the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office determined the preliminary cause of death was “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.”

Roberts-Joseph, 75, did not die by strangulation, coroner Beau Clark told CNN, adding her nose and mouth were blocked. No details are being released about other wounds on her body. A toxicology report will be available in three weeks, Clark said.

Paul said authorities have treated Roberts-Joseph’s death as a homicide investigation “from day one.”

Her family saw her earlier that day

Her body was recovered about 3:45 p.m. Friday after an anonymous caller reported finding her, according to Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola.

Her family had seen her earlier that day, Coppola said. She had been making cornbread with her sister, according to her niece, Pat LeDuff.

Roberts-Joseph’s car was found about three miles from her home, Baton Rouge police said.

Her life should not have ended that way, her son, Jason Roberts, said in an interview with CNN affiliate WBRZ.

His message to her killer: “You stole light. You stole a warm, loving, giving and caring woman. And it wasn’t just for her family. She cared for the city. She cared for you. She would want forgiveness for you.”

‘A jewel in this community,’ police chief says

Roberts-Joseph was “part of the fabric of this community,” Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome told CNN.

“Her passion for humanity, for civil rights, for education, for cultural awareness spoke volumes and she was recognized throughout this community for her love for the community and for her activism,” Broome said.

In 2001, she founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum and for years hosted the city’s Juneteenth festivities, which celebrate the last slaves in the Confederate states learning of their independence more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

She also founded Community Against Drugs and Violence, a non-profit organization focused on creating a safer environment for children in north Baton Rouge.

The police chief says he doesn’t know who may have targeted the activist.

“She’s a jewel in this community,” Paul said. “I haven’t met anyone who’s had any negative comment and I never heard her say anything negative about anybody.”

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