The police announced an arrest on Tuesday in the killing of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, 75, a beloved community leader in Baton Rouge, La., and the founder of the city’s African-American history museum.

Chief Murphy J. Paul Jr. of the Baton Rouge Police Department said the suspect, Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was a tenant in a residence Ms. Roberts-Joseph owned. He was behind on his rent, though it was not clear if that was connected to the killing. The motive was still under investigation, Chief Paul said.

Mr. Bell was charged with first-degree murder. The authorities said he was a registered sex offender who had served time in prison for sexual battery of a child. They did not reveal how they found him, but they said they received many tips from the community.

“There were so many leads; there were so many people who wanted to help bring closure and bring an arrest,” Mayor Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge said at a news conference with law enforcement officials on Tuesday.

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Ms. Roberts-Joseph’s body was discovered in the trunk of her own car, with no visible signs of trauma, in downtown Baton Rouge on Friday. Two anonymous phone calls led the police to her body.

CreditEast Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office

Chief Paul said that the first call came around 2:30 p.m., but that officers were not able to find the vehicle. A second report of a body in a vehicle a little over an hour later gave a different address, about three blocks away. There, police officers found Ms. Roberts-Joseph’s car parked behind a vacant house, about three miles from her home. The authorities determined she had most likely been suffocated.

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The calls came from concerned citizens who were not involved with the killing, Chief Paul said.

As the city braced for Hurricane Barry on Saturday, law enforcement officials set about investigating the death of the woman they knew as Ms. Sadie and whom they called a “tireless advocate for peace.”

Ms. Roberts-Joseph was known as a dedicated leader who ran programs for young people and staged an annual celebration for Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

A vigil was scheduled for Tuesday evening at her museum, the Baton Rouge African American Museum, which tells the stories of African-Americans in Louisiana (it is also known as the Odell S. Williams Now and Then Museum of African American History).

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“She was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge,” Ms. Weston Broome, the mayor, said, adding, “We will make her legacy a priority here in Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, because of what she gave to so many here.”

At the news conference, Angela Machen, Ms. Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, thanked the community and the government agencies who helped find a suspect so quickly.

All her mother had ever wanted was for the community to come together, precisely as it had after her death, Ms. Machen said in an emotional statement. She vowed to continue her mother’s work, calling Ms. Roberts-Joseph a “relentless” advocate for education and inclusivity.

“She worked so hard; she pushed; she got everything she could out of the 75 years that she lived,” Ms. Machen said.

“Probably double or triple the average person. Certainly at least double me.”


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