Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators returned to the beach July 12-13 and July 15 to search for the remains of missing motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, who is presumed dead.
The search — which involved cadaver dogs and MCSO crime-scene technicians and cadets outfitted with shovels, probes and machetes — was prompted by the discovery of items belonging to Musil-Buehler on July 9. The co-owner of Haley’s Motel and Holmes Beach resident was last seen on Nov. 4, 2008, the night of the last presidential election. She had watched the election returns with boyfriend William Cumber in their apartment on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria, and left, he said, after an argument over his smoking cigarettes.
Musil-Buehler’s possessions, which the MCSO would not detail, were found by nearby resident and Crosspointe Fellowship pastor Ed Moss in an overgrown, woodsy area just south of the Willow Avenue beach access in Anna Maria.
Moss said he didn’t at first realize a connection to the Musil-Buehler case. He just thought, perhaps, a kid had robbed a woman.
Sheriff Brad Steube called the find “significant.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest lead we’ve had in this case since she disappeared, because we have been working this for a couple of years, but this is a significant find,” he said.
Early July 13, the MCSO, in a news release, announced that investigators and technicians would search the beach that day, and had searched the day before.
On July 12, cadaver dogs from Sarasota took an interest in two areas by the beach — one patch of palmetto brush, seagrapes and mother-in-law tongue to the north of the Willow Avenue beach access and another spot to the south of the access shaded by Australian pines and crowded by brush.
MCSO Sgt. Pete Rampone, the lead homicide investigator, said an “interest” means the dogs “were all trying to get to the same area,” and that they did not “alert” on an area, which would have been a stronger indication of human remains in the vicinity.
On July 13, as crime-scene technicians dug into the hard soil on the edge landward of the beach, law enforcement officers discussed the ongoing investigation.
The public affairs announcement brought a crowd of reporters and photographers, whose breaking news reports drew several of Musil-Buehler’s friends and a small, rotating group of onlookers to the scene.
The development also brought Steube to the beach. He told the press that Moss and his family were “clearing the land so they could get a better view of the beautiful beaches here and in doing so they located some items that were directly linked to Sabine.”
The search was suspended at about 11 a.m. July 13 as a rainstorm blew in off the Gulf of Mexico, but the crew returned to dig in the afternoon.
Then, on July 15, the MCSO oversaw another search of the area, with corrections cadets walking side by side to cover three blocks. The volunteers worked for three hours, sometimes in the sun, and with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, on what was a day off from school.
Steube, as the cadets gathered for a water break, said, “I appreciate what you’ve done.”
The crime-scene team collected a few items, but they appeared to be relatively new. There were no significant discoveries, said Rampone, who, pending approval from several parties, including the city of Anna Maria, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, planned to return to dig on the beach this week between Willow and Magnolia.
“We have a perimeter set now,” Steube said. “I’d like to find more items associated with Sabine.”
The July 9 discovery of the belongings helps to prove the long-held contention that Musil-Buehler, 49 at the time of her disappearance, is dead, said MCSO spokesman Dave Bristow.
“We’re not done,” Bristow said as he stood on the wooden Willow Avenue beach access ramp. “We’ll come back out and do anything we can to further this investigation.”
“This refocuses us back in the area,” said Steube, who also returned to the beach July 15. Homicide prosecutor Art Brown also surveyed the scene July 15.
“We’ve worked closely with the prosecutor all along,” Rampone said of the investigation. “We think we have a good case, a real good case.”
The MCSO previously had searched in the vicinity for clues to Musil-Buehler’s whereabouts, as well as other areas on the Island and on the mainland.
“You wouldn’t believe how many areas we’ve looked in,” Rampone said.
At least twice before last week the department, employing shovels, backhoes and bulldozers, searched the beach, focusing on the shady shoreline near the Magnolia Avenue access. That stretch of the beach is about 300 paces from where Moss found Musil-Buehler’s possessions. It’s also just two blocks west of where Musil-Buehler lived part-time with Cumber, and where her car was ticketed for a parking violation early the morning after she disappeared.
The crime-scene team collected a few items, but they appeared to be relatively new. There were no significant discoveries, said Rampone, who, with approval from several parties, including the city of Anna Maria, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, planned to return to search on the beach Tuesday between Willow and Magnolia avenues.
The MCSO recovered the white Pontiac in November 2008 after it was left, with the keys in the ignition, in a tavern parking lot off 14th Street West in Bradenton. Authorities found Musil-Buehler’s blood inside and her clothing in the trunk. But they did not find her purse, identification cards and mobile phone.
In the days after Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, Cumber told The Islander he repeatedly had called his girlfriend’s cell phone.
“We’re all worried,” Cumber said in November 2008. “It’s not like her to take off, not to call anybody, not to respond to calls that are going out to her.” The Islander could not reach Cumber for comment last week.
Steube said last week that the MCSO would be re-interviewing people in the case, including “persons of interest.”
Bristow said the person of interest is Cumber.
Person of interest
Cumber is in prison in the Florida Panhandle.
In December 2008, as the investigation into Musil-Buehler’s disappearance intensified, he was arrested in another county for driving without a license and violating the terms of his probation on a 2005 arson conviction.
Cumber and Musil-Buehler had met in 2005, before he went to prison for setting a girlfriend’s house on fire. When he was released in the fall of 2008, Cumber and Musil-Buehler, estranged from husband Tom Buehler, began sharing the Magnolia Avenue apartment.
Cumber said in November 2008 that he and Musil-Buehler “had a future” and planned to go to Germany, but friends said Musil-Buehler confided to them that she planned to end the relationship.
As MCSO investigators sought information about Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, as well as an arson at Haley’s Motel soon after, Cumber repeatedly was interviewed.
In December 2008, he was arrested outside Manatee County for driving without a license. He was returned to jail and later convicted of violating probation and sentenced to 13.5 years in a prison.
“We know where he’s going to be for the next 12 or so years,” Bristow said last week.
Rampone said two investigators would soon be visiting Cumber for another interview, and to discuss the Willow Avenue discovery.
MCSO gets break in Musil-Buehler case