Insurance fraud identified as possible reason car was buried at Atherton estate

ATHERTON – Peninsula authorities may have just solved the case of the buried car in Atherton.

In a statement Thursday, Atherton Police Chief Steven D. McCulley said it is now believed the 1991 Mercedes-Benz 500SL was “possibly buried for insurance fraud purposes.”

The car was unearthed Oct. 20 during a landscaping project at an estate in the 300 block of Stockbridge Avenue.

McCulley said the Mercedes was registered to John Lew, who owned the property from 1991 to 2009. In 1992, Lew reported the car stolen and filed an insurance claim.

Lew, who died in 2015 at age 77, raised $87,000, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in an interview with this news organization last month.

The case caused an uproar in the typically quiet town. Besides being found buried five feet in the ground, the car was loaded with bags of cement. A cadaver dog also “made a minor notice” of human remains, according to police.

No remains were found at the excavation site and it was returned to the current owners on 23 October. Five days later, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Forensic Laboratory finished processing the Mercedes for residue and found nothing.

However, the investigation is ongoing, McCulley said.

Lew had a checkered past. In 1999, he was charged with insurance fraud after paying what appeared to be undercover agents $50,000 in cash and jewelry to sink his yacht. At the time, Lew claimed to be connected to the mob and threatened to kill anyone who disclosed his plan, according to court documents.

In the 1960s, Lew was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a girlfriend – a conviction later overturned due to problems with the evidence – and in the 1970s, he served a short sentence on two counts of attempted murder .

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