HOLMES BEACH – It’s been six months this week since Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler was last seen or heard from by family and friends.
Her Nov. 4, 2008, disappearance and a Nov. 16 fire at Haley’s are still being actively investigated, according to spokesmen for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
But the mystery persists.
"Six months; it’s more of nothing," said Tom Buehler, the missing woman’s husband and co-owner of Haley’s. "Nothing’s changed for forever."
Musil-Buehler’s friend, Nancy House, is glad at least that no body has been discovered.
"Because nothing has happened, that’s what makes me still have hope," said House, who owns Fat Cat Carpet Cleaning on Anna Maria Island.
House and her friend, Janean Martin, say they saw a woman who looked and sounded like the vivacious, German-accented 49-year-old at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport last Nov. 13, but did not report it until they learned about the fire after returning from a cruise on Nov. 18.
"I do feel hopeful because I was so sure it was her," she said. "It’s a horrible tragedy. But we still don’t know that it is a tragedy."
Investigators reviewed airport tapes but were unable to identify the woman.
"Who’s to say it wasn’t her if they haven’t found her?" House asked.
The closest thing to a lead that investigators have is Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend, William Cumber, 39, who may have been the last person to see her before she disappeared. That election night, he told police, they argued about his cigarette smoking at the home they shared near the motel, and she left.
Two days later, officers pulled over her car near 12th Street West in Bradenton. The driver, Robert Corona, 38, was arrested for grand theft auto and questioned about the missing woman. He is awaiting a jury trial.
Later that week, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives reported that blood – later found to match Musil-Buehler’s blood type – was found in the car.
On Nov. 16 at 7:19 p.m., fire trucks were dispatched to a duplex at Haley’s Motel at 8104 Gulf Drive. Between 7:30 and 7:40 p.m., a restaurant worker said she saw Cumber at the Anna Maria City Pier, a few blocks from the fire. That night, investigators questioned him at the couple’s home, 208 B Magnolia.
The next day, a team with an arson dog searched the motel grounds, followed by other searches, none leading to arson charges.
Violation of probation
The case cooled down until Dec. 22, when Cumber was arrested in Marion County on a charge of driving with a suspended license. Since then, he has been in jail for violating his probation by leaving Manatee County without his probation officer’s consent and failing to remain at liberty without violating any law.
Cumber was on probation for an arson conviction; he was sentenced in 2006 to 42 months in prison and three years probation for setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house in 2005, and was released from prison on Sept. 13, shortly before Musil-Buehler disappeared.
Cumber, who has not been charged in either the disappearance or the fire, told The Sun in December that someone is trying to frame him for the Haley’s fire because of his past arson conviction. He tearfully denied having anything to do with his missing girlfriend’s disappearance, and said that she drove off after drinking a bottle of wine the night she vanished.
Cumber’s attorney, Thomas Ostrander, maintains that the prosecution is treating Cumber as though he were charged with the disappearance and the fire, offering him a plea deal for 15 years in prison for an admission of the violation of probation, and having him shackled in chains during his Manatee County courtroom appearances.
Cumber requested a hearing on the violation of probation, which is scheduled for May 14 at 11 a.m. in Manatee Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, life goes on at Haley’s, where Buehler is rebuilding the burned-out duplex into a three-story building and garden designed for weddings, family reunions and events.
"This will come to an end soon," he said. "I hope."
To report information on Musil-Buehler’s disappearance or the fire, call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 747-3011 or the West Manatee Fire Rescue District at 741-3900.
Rewards have been established by the Sabine Buehler Benefit Fund at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach and the Manatee County Gold Star Club.