Car buried in Atherton backyard ID’d as Mercedes reported stolen in 1992, police say; former home owner comes into the spotlight

ATHERTON, Calif. (KGO) — The discovery of a car buried in an Atherton back garden has raised many eyebrows and many questions.

So far, no body has been found, although cadaver dogs responded to the scene. Investigators believe the car may have been buried since the 90s.

Landscapers found the car Thursday morning while working in the backyard of a multimillion-dollar Stockbridge Avenue mansion.

The car is an early 90s Mercedes Benz model convertible that, according to Palo Alto police records, was reported stolen in September 1992. No plates or vehicle identification number information has been released at this time.

“The possible owner of the vehicle is believed to be deceased. We are awaiting DMV records to confirm that and they are being retrieved from DMV archives,” Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

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But the authorities still don’t know who buried it or why.

“It looks like a Netflix video or a series,” neighbor Sharon Traeger said.

“Why would you bury a vehicle on your lot,” Don Traeger asked.

It’s an ongoing mystery for people who live in a quiet affluent community in Atherton. On Stockbridge Avenue, a major excavation is underway.

Forensic technicians are searching for clues, and cadaver dogs have made a hit not once, but twice.

“It could be human remains. They could be reacting to blood. They could be reacting to old bones,” said Commander Dan Larsen of the Atherton Police. “They could be reacting to human vomit, it could be one of these combinations of things. Because of the time frame that this vehicle has been buried for approximately 30 years, a small reaction would be consistent with the duration that the vehicle have had. been buried.”

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“It’s scary. You don’t imagine it happening in your own neighborhood. You watch Datelines and that’s what people are saying,” said Don Traeger, who lives about five doors away from the house being investigated.

“Everybody in our family at least wildly texts each other. What could it be? How strange to have something happen so close to you,” said Sharon Traeger.

From SKY7 overhead you can see investigators hard at work.

According to Atherton police, when landscaping crews at a home on Stockbridge Avenue discovered a car filled with unused bags of concrete, authorities began an investigation.

The car was buried four to five meters underground and had been buried since the 1990s, according to police chief Dan Larsen.

Investigators have now finished excavating the majority of the cabin. No human remains have been discovered.

An important distinction to make is that police say the vehicle was buried before the current homeowners took possession of the house. But they say those homeowners are cooperating with the investigation, although they did not want to speak with ABC7 News.

“This is an ongoing investigation and we don’t know what it is, what direction this investigation is going right now. We don’t know if it’s a criminal or non-criminal investigation,” Larsen said.

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Richard Hartnett lives a block away from the home under investigation. He has seen the SKY7 video of the excavation.

“It can happen anywhere, I guess. They can’t be a crime scene, unless you find some bones or something remains,” Harnett said.

Neighbors are stunned. Some even think they knew the previous owner.

“We knew a guy a little bit. If he’s the one we remember, he was a doctor at Stanford,” Don Traeger said.

According to records, the owner of the house at the time was a man named Johnny Bocktune Lew – who has since come into the spotlight.

Not least for his past, which includes arrests for crimes such as murder and insurance fraud.

“He was arrested for arranging to have a yacht sunk so he could collect the insurance proceeds,” said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Mr. Lew died several years ago, and the house has since changed hands several times.

Police say the current owners had no idea what was under their backyard.

“When I first heard about it, I said it just sounds so obvious, like we’re dealing with some kind of foul play,” Wagstaffe said.

The case remains an ongoing and active investigation.

Both the police and San Mateo County authorities have emphasized that no charges have been filed against anyone.

So for now we are waiting for a response.

“Sometimes those answers come within 24, 48 hours. Other times it’s legwork, search warrants, looking at old records,” Wagstaffe said.

Officials will provide another update on how excavation work is progressing so far at the property on Monday.

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