Buried Car in Dead Owner’s Silicon Valley Backyard May Have Been Insurance Fraud

The owner of the Mercedes, and previous owner of the home, had been convicted of a slew of crimes including insurance fraud.

byAaron Cole|
Mercedes-Benz News photo
NBC Bay Area via YouTube


The saga of a buried 1991 Mercedes-Benz 500SL found in a Silicon Valley backyard took another turn Thursday when police said they believed the car might have been part of an elaborate insurance-fraud scheme. The car was unearthed during a landscaping project at the home on Oct. 20, when sheriff's deputies began investigating.

In a statement, Atherton, California police said recovery efforts initially focused on what cadaver dogs suspected were human remains, although none were found after the car was towed away. Instead, the coupe was buried under 4 to 5 feet of dirt and filled with cement bags but was reported to police and insurance companies as stolen in 1992. According to NBC Bay Area, the owner of the car and house, John Lew, had a decades-long history of arrests for fraud and was convicted in 1965 of killing his girlfriend. That verdict was later overturned, but Lew was convicted in 1977 for attempted murder and served three years in prison for that crime.

NBC Bay Area

“It may be a fraud case, maybe foul play. Hey, it could just be an eccentric who thought it would be fun to bury a car in the ground," San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told NBC.

In 1999, Lew reportedly paid $50,000 to sink a $1.2 million yacht near the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2000, Lew was convicted of insurance fraud.

Lew died in 2015, one year after he moved out of the house where the Mercedes was found in October.

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