The Mercedes-Benz that was found buried on the property of the late Johnny Lew, an ex-felon whom neighbors knew as "a crook" when he lived there in the 1990s, was apparently reported stolen in nearby Palo Alto exactly 30 years ago.
We learned early Friday that the house was built by Lew in 1990, and that his family owned the property until 2014. Convicted for murder in 1966, Lew got his conviction overturned two years later, only to be convicted in 1977 of attempted murder in Los Angeles. Two decades later, after building this house and raising a family there, Lew would be nabbed in an insurance fraud case in which he tried to pay two undercover agents to sink a $1.2 million yacht outside San Francisco Bay so he could collect the insurance. He reportedly alluded to bosses in an Asian mob who demanded that he commit this fraud.
As Bay Area News Group reports, some longtime neighbors recall a lot of earth-moving going on at 351 Stockbridge Avenue back when Lew built his mansion there. It had been an open piece of land before 1990 with a small hill on it, and the hill was flattened to build the house that still stands there — which last sold in 2020 for $15 million.
Atherton police said in an updated release Friday that the car was stolen in 1992, and that the owner of the car was believed to be now deceased. DMV records are still being sought.
As for whether investigators are going to find a body in there, we still don't know.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Atherton police said they had been digging into and around the vehicle since Thursday, and that the passenger seat area had been excavated without finding remains.
"We're continuing to excavate the vehicle, but the progress has been slow and methodical because we don't know what [we're looking at]," said Atherton Police Commander Dan Larsen, speaking to reporters. Larsen offered one new piece of information, which is that this was a Mercedes convertible, and the top of the car was down when it was buried.
When asked whether there were any missing persons cases from the early 1990s that they had connected to this, Larsen said he was no aware of any.
Cadaver dogs gave a "slight" indication of a scent of a body on Thursday, but so far, with part of the interior of the car excavated, no remains have been found. But, as Bay Area News Group reports, "Police didn’t mention the trunk."
"We're starting to look into the logistics of getting the vehicle up and out of the ground," Larsen said.
He noted that they still do not know whether this is a criminal or a non-criminal investigation, and that there would be no further updates to the media until Monday, barring breaking news, i.e., if they find a body.
When asked about the possibility of foul play connected to this car, Lew's daughter told the Chronicle, "My father definitely had emotional issues … this wouldn’t surprise me, just based on how sketchy my father was."
Top image: A 1991 Mercedes convertible that could be similar to the one being excavated, via bringatrailer.com