Judge denies insurance company's motion in missing woman case

BRADENTON — A judge denied a life insurance company’s motion to throw out a request by the husband of missing Holmes Beach motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler to have her declared dead.

Musil-Buehler’s estranged husband Thomas Buehler had asked the court to declare his wife dead in order to collect a $300,000 life insurance policy in his wife’s name, saying there is significant evidence that she is a victim of foul play.

Great American Life Insurance Attorney Kathy Massing told Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas that state law requires a person to be missing five years before being declared dead.

But the law allows for a presumptive death certificate if there is evidence a person was exposed to a “specific peril of death,” which is the case in the disappearance Musil-Buehler, her husband’s attorney William Meeks Jr. argued.

“The sheriff’s department is conducting a homicide investigation, not a missing person investigation,” Meeks said.

Nicholas denied Massing’s motion to have the request for the declaration of death thrown out. Another hearing is expected to be scheduled on Buehler’s request to have her declared dead.

Musil-Buehler has not been seen since Nov. 4, 2008, when her boyfriend William Cumber III told detectives he had argued with her and she had left their Holmes Beach apartment. Manatee County Sheriff’s detectives have said they believe someone killed her.

Thomas Buehler reported Musil-Buehler missing two days later, after deputies pulled over a man driving her stolen car. The couple were still married and owned Haley’s Motel together, but had been separated at the time Musil-Buehler disappeared.

Detectives say Cumber is the prime suspect in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, but frustration remains high among Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators because Musil-Buehler’s body has not been found.

The driver found in her stolen car, Robert Corona, is serving four years in prison for the theft. Forensic tests showed Musil-Buehler’s blood in the car, but detectives believe Corona stumbled on the car after finding its keys in the ignition outside a bar on 14th Street West in Bradenton.

A fire at Haley’s two weeks after Musil-Buehler disappeared also remains unsolved, but has been ruled an arson. Cumber, a convicted arsonist, claimed to have been “framed” in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance and the fire.

He is serving a 13-year sentence after fleeing from Manatee County while on probation on the arson conviction.