MANATEE — The 42-year-old boyfriend of popular Holmes Beach resident and Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, who has been missing since November 2008 on Monday was charged with second-degree murder in her death.
William Cumber was transported from the Charlotte County Correctional Institute to Manatee County on Monday to stand trial, despite the fact that the woman’s body has still not been found, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube announced at a 3 p.m. press conference.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Cumber faces up to life in prison.
Cumber had been sentenced in 2009 to about 13 years in the prison for violating probation on an earlier arson conviction and was in Charlotte completing that sentence at the time of his arrest Monday.
Stuebe said a body of evidence convinced the state attorney’s office to give the green light to charge Cumber. That evidence includes some of her personal items discovered in an area of heavy brush just south of the Willow Avenue beach access in Anna Maria in 2011.
“We have been investigating this thing for four years, and it was everything put together,” added Dave Bristow, a sheriff’s office spokesman.
“We sent an arrest request to the state attorney in March and they have been studying the case and making sure everything was in order. Last week they said, ‘OK, this is a go.’ We arrested Mr. Cumber today,” Bristow said.
Steube said the quest for justice in the Musil-Buehler case was a high priority for his agency, many who knew Musil-Buehler from her days at Haley’s Hotel and her love for sea turtles and other wildlife in the area.
“This is a very personal case,” Bristow said. “This is a case that we knew early on who we thought did it. But we had to set out and prove it and get enough evidence and work with the state attorney’s office through the whole process.
“Her body is still out there somewhere and the next thing is to recover her body,” Bristow added. “Certainly, finding her personal items was a huge break in the case and helped us get to this point today. When you don’t have a body, you need other supporting evidence. We didn’t give up.”
Cumber is the last person to have reported seeing Musil-Buehler alive. In 2008, Cumber was released from prison after serving 42 months behind bars for setting fire to a chair on a woman’s porch. After his release, he and Musil-Buehler rented an apartment together on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria.
On Nov. 6, 2008, Musil-Buehler’s estranged husband, Thomas Buehler, reported her missing after Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled over a man driving her stolen car. The driver, Robert Corona, admitted to stealing her car but claimed no knowledge of her disappearance, sheriff’s officials say. Detectives found Musil-Buehler’s blood in her car.
Detectives focused on Cumber, naming him a person of interest, and collected evidence from the apartment he shared with Musil-Buehler. When a duplex at Haley’s caught fire two weeks after Musil-Buehler went missing, the spotlight was again on Cumber. At his sentencing for the probation violation, Cumber denied any involvement in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance.
“We get in an argument, she takes off. After that she’s missing. ... I can’t help that she left the house,” Cumber told Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith. “I lost my business, I lost the apartment, then the Haley’s Motel catches on fire. ... I was somewhere else when this fire started.”
Cumber had pleaded guilty to violating his probation after he got caught by Marion County authorities outside Ocala driving with a suspended license. Cumber told Smith he was outraged by the 13-plus year sentence he received for parole violation.
Cumber’s attorney has said he believed prosecutors sought prison time because of the Musil-Buehler case, not on the facts of Cumber’s probation violation.