SUN PHOTOS/TOM VAUGHT
Deputies from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office (above)
use ground penetrating radar to check what might be buried
beneath the sand. Manatee County Sheriff's Office Homicide
Detective John Kenney (below right) and crew check out a tire
they found buried. Framed by sea oats that were later
taken out, a red front end loader smooths the sand.
ANNA MARIA – After a week of digging up the white sandy beach, Manatee County Sheriff's Office Detective John Kenney decided to look somewhere more likely to yield a body, rather than someplace where they would do less damage.
Shortly before shutting down for the day on Wednesday, July 20, Kenney directed front-end loader operator David Livingston to bring his machine off the beach and up Willow Avenue to the other side of the sand dunes and start digging out the underbrush around where items belonging to missing motel owner Sabine Musil Buehler were found a week earlier. Kenney figured the ground cover there would make a great place to hide a body, and the job had already been permitted for the Moss family, which owns the home directly east of that portion of the beach.
They dug around for a little while finding nothing and gave up for the day, but the next morning, they were back in force with a new plan.
After consulting with Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Field Officer Steve West, they were ready to dig from the sandy beach east into the underbrush to see if Musil Buehler's body might be there.
In order to do that, they needed permission to take down sea oats and possibly sea grapes growing there and to move the heavy equipment into an area where gopher tortoises live.
They brought in local native plant expert Mike Miller to survey the area. He surmised that the mother-in-law tongues growing there were not protected and he was hired to help the county replant areas that are damaged and replace the sea oats and grapes. Later, Deputy Jason Smith gathered the seeds from the sea oats to take back to the sheriff's office prison farm, in hopes that inmates could germinate replacement plants.
For the last two days of the week, they dug deep holes with the front end loaders, letting the sand sift from the buckets overhead so that a spotter could search for anything out of the ordinary. So far, the only things found were unrelated to the disappearance of Musil Buehler, who was last seen October 2008. They found a tire, a turtle skull that probably belonged to a dead animal that city crews buried, a small toy soldier and a plastic sand shovel.
The sheriff's office reassessed the search Monday morning and resumed looking in the afternoon. One benefit for Turtle Watch is that the loader drivers were going to knock down the escarpments, or small cliffs, that formed after the renourishment earlier this year. That makes it easier for the female turtles to come onto the beach to lay their eggs. Under the renourishment agreement with the state, Manatee County is responsible for making sure the turtles can reach land to nest.
Meanwhile, Kenney is not ready to give up. He appreciates the support from the city, Turtle Watch and the DEP.
"They have been very accommodating," he said. "The cooperation has been fantastic."
Kenney said they will be interviewing Musil Buehler's boyfriend, William Cumber, a main suspect in the case who is in prison for violating his parole. He said he's not too optimistic about getting anything out of Cumber.
"He's denied it from day one," Kenney said. "He's shown no remorse."