ANNA MARIA (FOX 13) - Investigators on Anna Maria Island began digging for the remains of missing motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler after her ex-boyfriend, long considered a suspect in her disappearance and murder, cut a deal with prosecutors Thursday.
In a surprise move, William Cumber pleaded no contest to second-degree murder charges, and agreed to tell investigators where to find her remains.
Hours after the court appearance, investigators from the Manatee County Sheriff's office were digging at a site just one block away from Haley's Motel. Musil-Buehler was a co-owner of the motel when she disappeared in November 2008.
If her remains are found, it would close a mystery that has haunted the beach community for seven years.
Video released by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office showed Cumber, wearing handcuffs and shackles, leading deputies on a trail through mangroves and sea grapes. They arrived at a beachfront spot where investigators started digging. Cumber was seen praying over the spot as the dig began.
Investigators have long believed Buehler's body was buried somewhere on Anna Maria Island. In July 2011, three years after her disappearance, investigators found personal items belonging to Buehler near the beach off Gulf Drive and Willow. They dug through the sand for her skeletal remains but did not find anything else.
During a second dig off South Bay Boulevard in August 2014, investigators found undergarments, but no DNA was recovered from the clothing.
The site being dug Thursday had never been searched before.
"They really have developed this," Cumber observed as he got out of the back of the cruiser near a beachfront home.
Prosecutors charged Cumber with second degree murder in 2012 -- even though Musil-Buehler's body had not been found. Traces of blood in her car and apartment were among the evidence used to charge Cumber. He was scheduled to go to trial next month where he faced the possibility of life in prison, if convicted.
As part of his plea deal Thursday, he had to tell detectives what happened to Buehler, and where her body was hidden.
After several hours of digging, the search was put on hold for the night at 4 p.m.
If her body is found, Cumber will get 20 years in prison. If her remains are not found, he will get 22 years.