Car buried in Silicon Valley in the ’90s may have been put there for insurance fraud, police say

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A Mercedes-Benz found buried in the backyard of a home in an affluent San Francisco-area community may have been put there for insurance fraud, Atherton police said Thursday.

The 1991 500 SL car was found buried beneath 4 to 5 feet of earth as landscapers were doing a project at the home on Oct. 20.

There was unused bags of cement in the vehicle, and cadaver dogs that made what police said was “a slight notification of possible human remains” fueled speculation about who buried the car and why.

Investigators say they have yet to find human remains inside a car found buried in a San Francisco area backyard.
Law enforcement personnel investigate a car found buried in a San Francisco area backyard, on Oct. 21, 2022.KNTV

No remains were ever found, including after ground-penetrating radar was used and the San Mateo County sheriff’s office forensic laboratory processed the car, police said.

“Detectives are still investigating this incident and it is believed the vehicle was possibly buried for insurance fraud purposes,” Atherton Police Chief Steven D. McCulley said in Thursday’s statement.

The vehicle had been reported stolen to the Palo Alto Police Department in 1992, an insurance claim was made, and the vehicle was registered to the man who once owned the property where the vehicle would be found buried three decades later, police said.

That owner, John Lew, has since died, and the property has since changed hands, police have said.

Lew was convicted in 2000 of insurance fraud after he paid undercover agents $50,000 in cash and jewelry to sink his 56-foot yacht — worth $1.2 million, NBC Bay Area has reported. He had also been convicted of attempted murder in the 1970s and served three years in prison, the station reported.

Atherton, a town of around 7,100, is adjacent to Menlo Park, home of the headquarters of Facebook’s parent company Meta, and less than 10 miles from Mountain View, where Google is headquartered.

It was ranked as the nation’s most expensive ZIP code for a fifth consecutive year last November, according to real estate information company PropertyShark. It had a median sale price of $7.5 million.



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