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

Peninsula Premier Admin

ATHERTON – Peninsula authorities might just have 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 the age of 77, collected $87,000, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in an interview with this news organization last month.

The case caused a commotion in the typically quiet town. In addition to being found buried five feet in the ground, the car was loaded with bags of cement. A cadaver dog also “made a slight notification” of human remains, according to police.

No remains were found at the excavation site and it was turned back over to the current owners on Oct. 23. Five days later, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Laboratory finished processing the Mercedes for remains and did not find any.

The investigation, however, is continuing, McCulley said.

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

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

Contributed by local news sources

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