Mercedes convertible found buried in Atherton was reported stolen

A car found buried behind a $15 million Atherton home was a Mercedes that was reported stolen out of Palo Alto in 1992, police said Friday.

KTVU has learned that the car in question is a Mercedes 560 SL with a personalized license plate linked to former homeowner Johnny Bocktune Lew, who moved to Washington state and has since died. Police believe the car was buried at about the same time it was reported stolen.

On Friday, police spent a second straight day at the property as excavation efforts continued. Work crews have checked the trunk and passenger compartment of the car but have yet to uncover the car completely. No human remains have been found, said Atherton police Cmdr. Dan Larsen.

Work crews and the San Mateo County crime lab have found unused bags of cement in the car, including in the trunk, Larsen said. Police said cadaver dogs have made slight "hits" on the car.

"Because of the time frame that this vehicle's been buried for approximately 30 years that a slight reaction would be consistent with the duration that the vehicle has been buried," Larsen said.

Asked why the specially trained K-9s could indicate the slight possibility of human remains without any having been found, Larsen said, "They could be reacting to blood, they could be reacting to old bones, they could be reacting to human vomit, it could be anyone of those combinations of things that the dogs are reacting to."

Landscapers found the car on the wooded property of the five-bedroom home on Stockbridge Avenue near Alameda de las Pulgas.

Lew, the former owner of the home, was convicted of murdering a woman in the 1960s, but his conviction was tossed on appeal on the grounds that the prosecution's case relied on hearsay evidence. 

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He was also arrested in 1999 for trying to hire people to sink a yacht for insurance money.

"It's crazy," said Cathy Consani, who walked past the home that is down the street from where she lives. Absent a body, she wondered if the buried car was part of another scam  

"He probably just wanted insurance money would be my guess," Consani said. "But we don't know. We don't know if the car has anything in it - it's got cement in it."

The unusual discovery is the talk of the town where crime is not the norm.

"There was a guy who had a very checkered history, and exactly what he did and how he is involved remains to be seen," said Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia.