Some serious intrigue began Thursday when some landscapers working at a property in Atherton unearthed a car buried four to five feet deep in the yard — and it's not yet clear whether there may be a body in it. The home used to belong to a notorious character with murder, attempted murder, and insurance fraud on his rap sheet.
Investigators say that a buried Mercedes-Benz that was found on the property of 351 Stockbridge Avenue in the ritzy enclave of Atherton has likely been there since the 1990s. A team from the Atherton Police Department and the San Mateo County crime lab has been excavating around the vehicle since the discovery was made Thursday morning, and as of last night the top of the car had been dug out.
As ABC 7 reports, cadaver dogs were brought to the scene, and one or more of them made a "slight notification" regarding the presence of human remains. Police say they have not found any human remains so far.
"The majority of the top of the vehicle has been uncovered but the interior of the vehicle was also filled with dirt,” said Atherton PD officer Dan Larson, speaking to KRON4. "So they’re kind of working their way through that but because of the unknown nature of it they have go through it slowly and methodically as they continue the investigation."
Larson also said, per Bay Area News Group , "We should know hopefully by the morning if there is something or if there isn’t something [in the car]."
Someone must have gone to a good deal of trouble to put an entire vehicle more than four feet underground, and foul play seems kind of likely, no?
ABC 7 reports that the car was also filled with "unused" bags of concrete.
Zillow indicates that this five-bedroom, 12,634-square-foot home, with its own tennis court, was built in 1990.
The entire tax record wasn't available, but it appears the home may have been under the same ownership throughout the 90s and aughts, before being put on the market in 2010 for $13.95 million. It looks like it sat on the market through multiple price reductions, before finally selling in 2014 for $7.35 million. That owner made a tidy profit reselling the place the day that lockdowns began in the Bay Area, on March 17, 2020, for $15 million.
The current owners called Atherton police after the car was discovered. Police seem confident that the car's burial long precedes the current owners' tenure there.
We'll update you if and when police confirm the contents of the vehicle.
Update: The former owner of the house — surprise! — was a man convicted of 2nd degree murder in 1966 and convicted of attempted murder in 1977. As the Chronicle reports, the owner of the house was Johnny Bocktune Lew, who was also charged with insurance fraud in 1999.
In the fraud case, Lew paid two undercover officers who he thought were hired goons to sink a $1.2 million yacht outside San Francisco Bay so that he could collect the insurance on it.
The 1966 murder case involved a girlfriend whom Lew met at college in Southern California. She died of a gunshot wound in Lew's apartment, and Lew maintained she had accidentally shot herself with his gun while handling it for the first time — and though he was convicted, the case was overturned in 1968 on the basis of improper use of hearsay as evidence.
Lew's daughter spoke with the Chronicle Friday saying that her father died of lung cancer in 2015. And, she added regarding the buried car, "this wouldn’t surprise me, just based on how sketchy my father was."
Top image via Zillow/MLS