ATHERTON, Calif. — Three decades after car theft in Northern California, police pull missing convertible from yard of $15million mansion built by man with history of arrests for murder, attempted murder and insurance fraud.
The Mercedes Benz convertible, filled with bags of unused concrete, was discovered by landscapers in the affluent Silicon Valley town of Atherton on Thursday, Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia said, reading a police statement.
Although cadaver dogs were alerted to possible human remains Thursday, none have been found more than 24 hours after San Mateo County Crime Lab technicians began searching the car, DeGolia said.
Police believe the car was buried between 1.2 and 1.5 meters deep in the backyard of the house in the 1990s – before the current owners bought the house. The car was reported stolen in September 1992 in nearby Palo Alto, he said.
On Friday, technicians were able to search the passenger side of the convertible, which was buried with the roof down. They also opened the trunk where they found more bags of unused cement. Corpse dogs were again brought home and again “made a slight notification of possible human remains,” DeGolia said.
Atherton Police Commander. Daniel Larsen said dogs might react to human remains, old bones, blood, vomit, or a combination of these things.
He said the possible owner of the car is believed to be deceased, but authorities are awaiting DMV records to confirm this.
Larsen said the current owners are not under investigation.
The sprawling house with swimming pool and tennis court was built by Johnny Lew, a man with a history of arrests for murder, attempted murder and insurance fraud, his daughter, Jacq Searle, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
She said the family lived at the property in the 1990s, when Atherton police believe the car was buried and her father died in 2015 in Washington state.
In 1966, Lew was convicted of murdering a 21-year-old woman in Los Angeles County. He was released from prison after the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1968, citing hearsay evidence that should not have been allowed at trial, The Chronicle reported, citing court records.
Records showed that in 1977 Lew was convicted of two counts of attempted murder, also in Los Angeles County, and served three years in prison.
In the late 1990s, Lew was arrested for insurance fraud after hiring undercover cops to take a $1.2 million yacht “west of the Golden Gate Bridge into international waters and the put it to the bottom,” reported The Chronicle.
Larsen did not say whether police believed the vehicle was registered in Lew’s name.
“We heard that name come up, but we haven’t confirmed through our sources that he actually owns that vehicle,” Larsen said.
The sprawling home and property are valued at at least $15 million, according to online real estate listings.
Atherton is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with about 7,000 residents in nearly 5 square miles (13 square kilometers).