HOLMES BEACH – The last time most of her friends saw Sabine Musil-Buehler was at a Halloween party she threw for guests and trick-or-treaters who stopped at Haley’s Motel, which she owned with her estranged husband, Tom Buehler. It was Oct. 31, 2008, and they had set up a spooky trail around the hotel’s yard. They decorated the large building they used for gatherings for the season with a bedroom that had a “dead body” in it and the floors were eerily covered with “blood.”
In the weeks that followed, a story few were aware of became public about Musil-Buehler, who many knew as a generous woman with a big heart, and about her boyfriend, William Cumber, whom she befriended as he served time in prison for setting a girlfriend’s house on fire.
There was her car, a Pontiac Sunbird, that police found being driven by a man who confessed later to stealing it. There were allegations from friends who spent time with Musil-Buehler and Cumber about his jealousy and temper.
Cumber said he last saw Musil-Buehler Nov. 5, 2008, when she left the apartment she shared with him in Anna Maria after she caught him smoking a cigarette. Cumber said they argued and she stormed out.
Musil-Buehler’s friends still think about her and about what night have happened.
“When my parents moved to the area, they told me about this amazing woman who wanted to have basket weaving classes and save animals,” said Sage Hall, an actress and businesswoman. “When I started my company, Starfruit Productions, she counseled me about what to do, how to make money and how to deal with being a woman in the business world.”
Sage Hall’s mother, Debbie, said she would love to get some closure on what happened to her.
“I still miss her and I still wonder about her,” Debbie Hall said. “I still talk with her friends from Germany.”
After her disappearance, Cumber stayed in the apartment until the rent ran out and then he moved to the mainland. While he was living in the apartment, a fire destroyed the building at Haley’s Motel where Musil-Buehler had set up the eerie Halloween bedroom scene. The fire’s origin was never determined.
After the fire, Cumber took off while still on probation for the arson conviction. When authorities caught him in another county, the arrested him and brought him back to face charges of parole violation. He was convicted and is serving a prison sentence.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Sergeant John Kenney was in charge of the Anna Maria contingency when Musil-Buehler disappeared. He later retired, but was rehired by the Sheriff’s Office as a homicide detective and assigned to the Musil-Buehler case. Starting in July 2011, he came out to the beach next to Gulf Boulevard, in Anna Maria, close to where Musil-Buehler had shared the apartment, and looked for clues in the sand. Authorities used ground penetrating radar, which worked poorly because of the water table below the sand. They later used cadaver dogs from the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office, but found nothing. A month later, a homeowner south of the site found her purse and cellular phone in a wooded area next to the beach, so Kenney came back with the dogs and earthmovers, but the search again yielded nothing.
The Sheriff’s Office eventually filed second-degree murder charges against Cumber with the evidence they had from the apartment. That trial is set for July 14, 2014.
“We’re getting ready to go through depositions,” Kenney said last week. “We feel confident we have a good, strong case, even though we don’t have a body.”
Sage Hall said she would love it if Cumber were to confess to put closure on the case.
“It’s hard to imagine how such a bright star could be gone,” she said of Musil-Buehler. “I hope in her final moments she didn’t have any pain.”
Debbie Hall said she suspected Cumber from the start.
“I asked Sabine if she trusted Cumber and she said no,” she said. “Then she said he told her he had a bad childhood and his mother treated him bad.”
Kenney said the mystery won’t be over until they find out what happened to Musil-Buehler, if they ever do.
“We are totally open to anyone who has any information,” he said. “If you can assist, please call me at 747-3011, extension 2216.”