Few donate to reward fund
Jessica Buehler, Rik Johns, Debbie Akins, Marion Heil, Tom Buehler and Silvia Zadarosni decorate a Christmas tree at Haley's Motel on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. The motel is open, but fire destroyed one two-unit structure and consumed the Christmas decorations stored there. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
That’s the amount in the account established at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, for a reward for information helping solve the disappearance of Islander Sabine Musil-Buehler and the fire at the motel she co-owned with her husband, Tom Buehler.
Silvia Zadarosni, the family friend who established the fund, struggles with emotion as she considers that just a handful of people have donated to the account since it was established last month.
“We set up the reward fund at Whitney Bank because we really felt someone would come forward,” Zadarosni said. “Maybe three people have contributed in the two and a half weeks since we set it up.”
“It’s the thing that’s going to help police,” said Tom Buehler, who was separated from but friends with his wife when she went missing Nov. 4. “Somebody would come forward” for reward money.
The one-month anniversary of Musil-Buehler’s disappearance passed last week.
A lot has occurred in the case since then, and yet, so much remains the same.
Musil-Buehler, 49, is still missing. Buehler and many of her friends believe, as they did when her car was found Nov. 6, that she is dead.
On Dec. 2, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube confirmed that a small amount of Musil-Buehler’s blood was found on the front seats and a seat belt in her car, which was recovered on 26th Avenue West in Bradenton.
“We’re not going to talk about the evidence,” MCSO spokesperson Dave Bristow said, when asked to comment further on DNA testing. The discovery of the blood had led the MCSO to change the status of its investigation from a missing person to a possible homicide case.
Robert Corona, 38, of Bradenton, was arrested and faces a grand theft auto charge after he allegedly was seen driving Musil-Buehler’s 2000 Pontiac Sunfire. The MCSO, however, has said Corona never met Musil-Buehler, and he was not, as he initially claimed, given the keys to her vehicle to go buy drugs.
Twelve days after Musil-Buehler disappeared, on Nov. 16, a fire destroyed the two-story building adjacent to the primary motel.
Officials have confirmed that the fire was intentionally set, but the cause and origin remain under investigation.
“Still pending at this point, without much change,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine said when asked about the status of the case.
Authorities have not publically identified anyone as a suspect in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance or the fire.
Authorities have identified her boyfriend, William J. Cumber III, 39, as a “person of interest.”
On Nov. 4, the couple was watching election news when they got into a verbal argument over his smoking a cigarette. Musil-Buehler left in her car at about 10 p.m. and Cumber has said he doesn’t know what happened after.
Cumber and Musil-Buehler met in 2005, before he went to prison for arson. They resumed their acquaintance while he was serving his sentence and continued a relationship after his release from prison in September.
According to friends, Musil-Buehler said she planned to break up with Cumber; he has said the two planned to eventually relocate to Germany, her native land.
Last week, Cumber cleaned up and vacated the bungalow on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria that Musil-Buehler had rented through Sato Real Estate.
The day after Cumber moved out, several witnesses told The Islander that an investigation team searched the property with a UV light.
Witnesses, who asked to be anonymous, also said Cumber wanted to return to the property to collect some belongings, but the MCSO denied him re-entry.
MCSO officials did not respond to questions about the rental unit.
Cumber has told the press he is being framed based on his past, specifically a criminal record that includes the felony conviction for arson and complaints of domestic violence and child abuse.
In 2002, Cumber was arrested on charges of violating a domestic injunction and of abusing the 15-year-old child of a girlfriend. The charges, according to records at the Manatee County Judicial Center, were dropped.
In 2005, Cumber was arrested for setting fire to a girlfriend’s home.
An arrest warrant affidavit filed in the case quoted Bradenton Police Detective James Curulla as saying that the fire consumed a home with four adults and two sleeping children inside.
Curulla said Cumber stated that “after a verbal argument with the female tenant, he returned to the residence by crawling through an opening in the patio screen. He then lit a chair on fire with a lighter. He stated he did not have the intent to burn down the house, but wanted to leave a message since he felt scorned.”
Cumber has told The Islander that he set fire to the lanai because the home was the sight of a meth lab.
After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 42 months in prison and three years probation, and ordered to make restitution.
On Dec. 2, Judge Janette Dunnigan held a hearing on a motion to modify Cumber’s probation, which was denied. Cumber has been ordered to pay $3,629 in restitution to the Bradenton Fire Department or the Crimes Compensation Fund and he asked for some leniency from the court because he lacks money.
Meanwhile, the frustration that family and friends felt in the early days after Musil-Buehler disappeared remains, as does anger.
Zadarosni’s voice is stern as she talks about the reward fund that she had hoped would draw out information and lead authorities to solve the mystery.
Buehler too feels some anger over the lack of donations. He said he recently overheard someone at the hardware store questioning how the money would be spent.
The money would be used to supplement a Crime Stoppers reward “for any information that helps,” Buehler said.
“If we don’t entirely need a reward, it will go to Wildlife Inc.,” he added, referring to the animal rescue clinic in Bradenton Beach.
“Sabine was a great supporter of it,” Zadarosni added. “Animals are the closest things to Sabine’s heart.”
Both said they are troubled with Islanders’ apathy and a “blame the victim” mentality they sense among some.
“It’s like this whole Island wants to pretend it didn’t happen,” Buehler said.
“Something happened, here, on this Island,” he added. There’s someone out there that murdered Sabine.”
“I feel like people on the Island haven’t come together to try and help,” Zadarosni said.
She added that people also have seemed quick to judge Musil-Buehler.
“I think people are confused. I think people got the wrong idea. She’s a victim,” she said.
Each year in the United States, about 800,000 people — more than 60 percent of them juveniles — are reported missing, according to the National Crime Information Center. Fewer than 600 are abductions by strangers, but more than 100,000 people reported missing each year are considered “endangered.”
A higher percentage of missing adults are endangered, according to a spokesperson with the NCIC, who said, “Adults don’t just run away.”
Buehler said from the moment he learned Musil-Buehler’s car was found, he felt she was dead.
“I knew something was wrong,” Zadarosni said. “There’s no way that she would be out of touch. I knew when she didn’t call that she was unable to call anyone… She’s regimented. She’s like Lufthansa.”
Last week, at the motel, Zadarosni and several other people close to Buehler and his wife stopped at Haley’s to help decorate for Christmas.
While few have contributed to the reward fund, Buehler said a number of people donated lights and other decorations to replace those that burned in the fire.
Some of the decorations went up last week and more will go up this week.
“So many people in the past have come here for the lights,” Buehler said of the Haley’s holiday tradition.
“Sabine,” said Zadarosni, “really loved to deck out for the holidays.”