Atherton Estate Former Owner Reported Buried Car as Stolen in 1992

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A former owner of the $15 million Atherton estate where a buried car was discovered Thursday had reported the vehicle stolen NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned. He also had a decades long history of arrests for fraud and even homicide.

Johnny Bocktune Lew, who died in 2015 at the age of 77, owned the Mercedes Benz convertible just unearthed with its top down, containing bags of cement.

Records show Lew purchased the property in 1994 for $7 million, some two years after he reported the Mercedes stolen from the Stanford Mall. Neighbors tell us Lew lived at the mansion until he sold it in 2014. He died a year later.  

“You know I've seen how many strange cases over the 45 years I’ve been in the business -- this one's in the very upper echelon,” says San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, whose investigators are trying to get to the bottom of the strange circumstances.

Our Investigative Unit looks into former Atherton estate owner suspected of burying a car in the backyard. Jaxon Van Derbeken has the findings.

“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," said Wagstaffe.

Lew was living at the mansion in 1999, when, court records show, state insurance investigators alleged he unknowingly paid undercover agents $50,000 in cash and jewelry to sink his 56-foot yacht – worth $1.2 million -- out past the Golden Gate Bridge. At one point, he boasted about having links to Asian organized crime. He was convicted in 2000 of making false claims and insurance fraud.

But Lew’s criminal history dates back to the 1960s. He was convicted in the 1965 shooting death of his then girlfriend in Los Angeles. That verdict was later overturned for inadmissible hearsay evidence. However, he was later convicted in 1977 for an unrelated attempted murder and served three years of a five years to life term. Wagstaffe says Lew’s bizarre criminal past makes the case of the buried car all the more intriguing. “Like we say this, is that the best book you could ever want to read because you just can't figure things out till you get to the last chapter. I sure hope we get to the last chapter here.”

The mystery continues in San Mateo County as police investigate the discovery of a buried car in an Atherton backyard.  Thom Jensen reports.
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