Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A car was found buried at a California estate once owned by a man convicted of murder

A car passes by the Town of Atherton city limits sign July 12, 2005, in Atherton, Calif.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
A car passes by the Town of Atherton city limits sign July 12, 2005, in Atherton, Calif.

A car containing unused bags of concrete has been discovered buried in the yard of a 1.63-acre estate in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Landscapers found it at an Atherton home worth $15 million and police are investigating.

On Thursday, Atherton Police Department issued a press release that said cadaver dogs indicated the possibility of human remains, but none have been found. Technicians from the San Mateo Crime Lab were called to the scene.

The car is a Mercedes-Benz, the release said. It had been reported stolen in 1992.

The vehicle was about 5 feet underground and may have been buried in the 1990s, according to the police. It was there before the current occupants — who said they were unaware of the buried car — bought the property in 2020. The prior homeowners had bought it in 2014 for $7.3 million, according to Redfin.

Before that, the house belonged to Johnny Bocktune Lew, who lived there with his family in the 1990s. Police have not mentioned a connection between Lew and the buried vehicle.

Lew's daughter, Jacq Searle, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her father built the house and that she was shocked to learn of the car. She described a dysfunctional family life at the property.

"My father definitely had emotional issues," theChronicle quoted her as saying. "This wouldn't surprise me, just based on how sketchy my father was."

According to court documents, Lew moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1959, marrying his first cousin two years later. They lived in San Francisco, followed by Los Angeles County where, in 1964, he met Karen Gervasi while attending El Camino Junior College.

Lew and the young woman had a romantic relationship, despite Lew being married. In 1965, Gervasi died from a gunshot at his apartment. Lew said the 21-year-old had accidentally shot herself, but was found guilty of murder a year later. The conviction was reversed in 1968, court documents stated.

He also spent three years in prison when he was convicted of two counts of attempted murder in 1977.

In 1999, he was accused of insurance fraud for attempting to hire some men — who were actually undercover police — to sink a yacht worth $1.2 million, according to the Chronicle. A spokesman for the insurance company claimed Lew was "looking to profit from the loss."

Lew had lung cancer and died in 2015, his daughter said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Halisia Hubbard