ANNA MARIA — As they continue to plow a stretch of beach in Anna Maria looking for the body of missing Holmes Beach motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, detectives acknowledge the long odds of finding any clue as to what happened to her.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives spent Wednesday examining two large holes dug by front-end loaders into the beach. Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office excavation experts helped, but the search again yielded nothing.
“Basically we are looking for a needle in haystack,” said sheriff’s Detective John Kenney. “But we would be remiss if we didn’t try this.”
Sheriff’s officials have pledged a “tedious search” for days, and it attracted onlookers throughout the day as the front-end loaders piled huge mounds of sand from 20-yard-long holes, 4 to 5 feet deep and 8 to 10 feet wide.
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Tourists and residents alike snapped pictures of the excavation, and several local and Tampa television news crews at the site filmed the work.
“It’s really unfortunate, the crime that is going on so much now,” said Charles Bush, visiting here from Indiana. “You just sort of don’t think a lot about something like this happening in paradise. I hope they get the answers they are looking for.”
Musil-Buehler has been missing since Nov. 4, 2008, and sheriff’s officials believe she was killed. Detectives have named her boyfriend, William Cumber, a “person of interest” in her disappearance.
Cumber is the last person who reported seeing her alive after sheriff’s deputies pulled over a man driving Musil-Buehler’s stolen car Nov. 6, 2008. Forensic tests on the car later revealed Musil-Buehler’s blood in the vehicle.
Detectives are digging up a stretch of the beach off Gulf Drive, about 100 yards south of the Sandbar Restaurant, part of the beach they previously searched with dogs and ground penetrating radar to no avail.
Information revealed during the investigation into Musil-Buehler’s disappearance has detectives coming back to the same spot to search, but sheriff’s detectives declined to reveal what brought them there. Detectives have also refused to release why they view Cumber as a suspect.
One factor for searching the spot is the close proximity to an apartment Cumber and Musil-Buehler shared across the street from the dig site. Sheriff’s detectives believe Cumber knew the stretch of beach well, and there was no moonlight on the beach overnight on Nov. 4, 2008, according to sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.
“He probably knew the houses here were seasonal and no one was living there at the time,” Bristow said.
Cumber moved to Anna Maria after getting out of prison in September 2008 for burning down an ex-girlfriend’s house in a domestic dispute.
He met Musil-Buehler before he went to prison, and they stayed in touch for the three years he was jailed. They began dating when Cumber was released, while Musil-Buehler was married but separated from her husband, Thomas Buehler, who co-owns Haley’s Motel on Holmes Beach with her.
Thomas Buehler reported Musil-Buehler missing when deputies found her car off 14th Street West, and Cumber later told detectives Musil-Buehler left their apartment during an argument, the last time he said he saw her.
Cumber has denied knowledge of her disappearance, and has since gone to prison for 13 years for violating his probation on the arson conviction after fleeing Manatee County amid the investigation.
Sheriff’s detectives continue to express frustration that there has been no trace of Musil-Buehler, making it difficult to know what exactly happened to her, or where her body might be. There has been no activity on her passport, credit cards and a cell phone that was shut off Nov. 4, 2008, Kenney said.
“It’s like she fell off the face of the earth,” he said.
Friends of Musil-Buehler say they are glad the sheriff’s office is searching the beach, though authorities remain guarded in their hopes to find anything.
“I am glad they are looking,” Haley’s employee Debbie Akins said on the first day of the search. “I just want her to be found.”