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Date of Issue: December 31, 2008

Beach searchers find no body

Cumber jailed in Marion County

The scene on the beach Dec. 23, where investigators searched for evidence in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler.
Digging takes place as the Manatee County Sheriff's Office continues to search for evidence in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler. Her last known whereabouts were the Anna Maria home where her boyfriend, William Cumber III, lived on Nov. 4.
A dog is released on the beach in Anna Maria as part of the search for evidence in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler.
William Cumber III

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies searched a half-block area of an Anna Maria beach Dec. 23, but failed to find evidence in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Corrections revoked probation for William Cumber III, Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend and the last known person to see her. Cumber was arrested on a charge unrelated to the Musil-Buehler case, violating his probation on a 2005 arson conviction.

Nearly two months have passed since the co-owner of Haley’s Motel disappeared.

The MCSO received a tip to look on the beach between Magnolia and Palm avenues in Anna Maria. MCSO officials arrived shortly after 7 a.m. Dec. 23 with two Polk County Sheriff’s Office dogs trained to find bodies.

“We got information that we needed to look in this general area,” MCSO public information officer Dave Bristow said, standing at the edge of the beach while deputies stretched yellow tape around the perimeter of the targeted area.

Bristow said the two dogs “hit on an area” of the beach at the onset of the search, suggesting the tip held some promise.

The last known sighting of Musil-Buehler, 49, was on Nov. 4 at about 10 p.m., when she left a home on Magnolia Avenue less than two blocks from the area the MCSO searched.

Musil-Buehler had rented the residence and her boyfriend, William Cumber III, 39, was living there until several weeks ago.

Cumber has said that the two were watching election night results when they argued about his smoking a cigarette. He said Musil-Buehler left in her car, a white Pontiac convertible that was found two days later in Bradenton.

The MCSO arrested a man fleeing from the car, which contained small amounts of Musil-Buehler’s blood in the front seat and Musil-Buehler’s clothing and personal items in the trunk. Robert Corona, 38, faces a grand theft auto charge and remains in the county jail. He allegedly told authorities he found the car with the keys in the ignition behind a 14th Street bar.

Authorities have deemed the case a possible homicide and interviewed a number of people, including Cumber, and Musil-Buehler’s friends and family.

On Nov. 16, a second investigation began when fire destroyed a two-story building adjacent to the main motel. The building, except for cement blocks on the ground level, was torn down earlier in December.

Tom Buehler, co-owner of Haley’s and Musil-Buehler’s husband, said there are plans to rebuild and create a “wedding party” house.

The Holmes Beach Police Department, working with the state fire marshal’s office and West Manatee Fire Rescue, has taken the lead in the fire investigation while the MCSO works on the Musil-Buehler case.

The MCSO also has searched various locations in an effort to locate evidence in the Musil-Buehler case. In mid-December, investigators searched in areas of Cortez.

“We sat down, did a map of west Manatee County, looking for isolated areas,” said Sgt. Pete Rampone with the MCSO persons unit.

Officials declined to provide details about the tip that led investigators to the beach Dec. 23.

When the dogs detected something on the beach that morning, investigators pulled back and called in the full MCSO crime scene team.

About a dozen vehicles soon took up both sides of the short beachfront road known as Gulf Boulevard. Dozens of beachgoers gathered to watch the CSI team go to work. Two people boated in close to the shore to observe and a television news crew, along with several newspaper reporters and photographers, arrived.

“This may be an all day thing,” Bristow said early in the search. “At this point, it looks as promising as anything we’ve had to date.”

As deputies prepared to dig in an area marked with a wooden stick, Bristow said Cumber was arrested shortly after midnight Dec. 23 in Marion County.

According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Cumber was driving a pickup truck with a suspended license. A Marion County deputy had stopped the truck allegedly for an expired tag. A passenger, identified only as the owner of the vehicle, was released but was later being sought for questioning.

Authorities did not disclose why Cumber was in Marion County, but said they are continuing to interview him.

With the arrest, Cumber violated his probation, according to the FDC.  He served prison time for arson after setting fire to a girlfriend’s house in 2005.

In the arson case, Cumber was sentenced to 42 months in prison with credit for time served and then a three-year probation.

The conditions of probation require Cumber to report to a probation officer once a month, required the officer’s consent to change residence or employment or leave the county. Another condition is, “You will live without violating the law. A conviction in a court of law shall not be necessary for such violation to constitute a violation of probation.”

“They’re going to violate his probation from down here.… I guess that’s a piece of news,” Bristow said Dec. 23.

On Dec. 26, Marion County jail authorities said Cumber had been placed on “suicide watch” and that he was not expected to be returned to Manatee County until after Jan. 1.

Authorities have deemed Cumber a person of interest in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance and the Haley’s fire, but he says he has not done anything wrong and is possibly being framed.

With about a dozen MCSO officials on the beach, a crew of four diggers began to shovel sand, creating two holes in the sand.

They worked slowly, occasionally pausing to look at something in the sand more closely.

As they worked, passersby stopped to ask questions.

“What’s going on?”

“Is it her?”

“Right here on the beach?”

After less than an hour of digging, one of the Polk County dogs was brought out to again check the area. The dog ran across the sand, occasionally stopping to stiff, and climbing into the fresh-dug holes and over the mounds of sand.

A second dog also was trotted out to check the area.

With no evidence in the ground and based on the dogs’ reactions, the MCSO called off the search at about noon. Deputies filled in the holes and removed the crime-scene tape.

Rampone said the “dogs hit on protein.”

He said whatever was on the ground that initially attracted the dogs’ attention was close to the surface, possibly left by beachgoers the day before.

Rampone, who has been working on the Musil-Buehler case since early November, said, “If we get another lead we’ll go to another place.”

Sgt. John Kenney of the MCSO’s substation in Anna Maria said, “The sheriff’s office is doing everything it can to bring this to a conclusion.”

Rampone added, “Some of us wake up in the middle of the night thinking.”

Rampone worked on the case of Susan Fast, who had been missing weeks before she was found slain. Data from a GPS device in her Lexus was used to help solve that case.

Kenney said the MCSO wishes Musil-Buehler’s car had contained a GPS system.

A reward account exists at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, in the name of the Sabine Buehler Benefit Fund.

Donations to the fund will be put toward a reward for information that leads investigators to solve Musil-Buehler’s disappearance. The missing person report describes her as about 5 feet 6 inches tall, 136 pounds, with silver hair, green eyes and a German accent.

People with information related to Musil-Buehler’s disappearance can call the MCSO at 941-747-3011, or Crime Stoppers at 866-634-8477. People with information related to the fire can call HBPD at 941-778-5807.