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"Not since the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was captured in Afghanistan over a decade ago has there been such a riveting story of a Marin kid gone wrong."
Max Wade at his preliminary hearing, October 2012
Leylla and Max in the ’90s
Max and his baby brother, Alex.
He was smart enough to (allegedly) steal a celebrity chef’s Lamborghini from a San Francisco dealership. He was dumb enough to (allegedly) stage a drive-by shooting in broad daylight in Mill Valley. Who is Max Wade? And how the hell did a kid like him get into all this trouble?
Chris Roberts | Photo: Yuko Shimizu | March 1, 2013
HE HAD PULLED OFF THE PERFECT HEIST. Now the man on the motorcycle looked ready for the perfect murder. He buzzed through the overcast Marin streets on an ’80s-era Honda, his slim frame almost completely hidden under layers of black. Stopping for gas at the Strawberry Chevron on Redwood Highway, he paid in cash and kept the tinted visor of his helmet down. He’d taken other steps to conceal his identity as well, packing a .38 caliber revolver registered to someone else and lifting the bike’s license plate from a Suzuki he had found parked on a street 11 miles away, in San Francisco’s Marina district. When the small-town cops went looking for clues, he reckoned, nothing would point to a 17-year-old from swanky Tiburon, and certainly not to the intrepid thief who the year before had rappelled, Mission Impossible–style, into a luxury car dealership and driven away in a $220,000 yellow Lamborghini owned by a Food Network host.
Yet for all his evasive maneuvers, the motorcyclist had made himself blatantly, almost comically conspicuous. His brand-new helmet was a flashy, futuristic model, the logo “BILT” stamped on the crown. With the leather vest and throat protector, he looked like an evil henchman in a James Bond movie—absurdly out of place on a placid April morning in the parking lot of the Mill Valley Whole Foods, where he hung around for half an hour, surrounded by Lululemon moms loading groceries into their Priuses. What’s more, he seemed nervous. Store workers watched with curiosity as he turned his engine on and off and rolled the bike around the lot, killing time or maybe having second thoughts. A little before 11 a.m., he made his move, rumbling a few hundred yards up nearby Evergreen Avenue to a quiet spot on the side of the road. There, he turned off the engine again and waited.
A half hour or so later, outside the modest house at 34 Evergreen, a kid named Landon Wahlstrom settled into the driver’s seat of his massive white Dodge 4x4. The 18-year-old was a 2011 graduate of Redwood High, one of the best public high schools in the state. But whereas most of his classmates had gone straight to college, Wahlstrom—a self-styled good ol’ boy more into beer and country music than books—had opted for a job. He was due there at noon, but first he had to drop off his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Eva Dedier, the fetching 17-year-old with long blond hair and a perfect tan who was climbing into the truck beside him. A senior at nearby Terra Linda High, Dedier was on spring break, and, as anyone could see from her Facebook page, she liked to party. The night before, after her fake ID had been seized at a bar in Petaluma, she had called Wahlstrom for a ride and ended up as his impromptu overnight guest.
Time to go. Wahlstrom turned the key, and the big engine thundered to life. He put the truck in gear and was about to drive off when, in the rearview mirror, he saw the black-clad motorcyclist rolling toward him. The rider slowed to a stop a few feet from Wahlstrom’s door and reached into his pocket, fumbling for something—the gun. He aimed at Wahlstrom’s head. Wahlstrom ducked, pushing Dedier’s head down as a bullet ripped through the seat behind him. The truck stalled; the rider kept firing, five shots in 10 seconds, the broken glass slashingat Wahlstrom’s face and arms, the bullets hitting the visor above Dedier’s head or burying themselves in the wooden fence outside Wahlstrom’s house. There was a pause: The rider had dropped the gun. As he hopped off the motorcycle to retrieve it, Wahlstrom restarted the truck and roared down the road. The shooter grabbed the gun, jumped on his bike, and sped away in the opposite direction.
A drive-by shooting in Mill Valley is a once-in-forever event, and word spread fast. A tip led police to the Chevron station, where surveillance tapes showed a motorcyclist with the distinctive BILT helmet, a brand carried by only one vendor, the Cycle Gear chain. On the night before the shooting, the cops soon learned, a young man with longish sideburns and short, dark hair had paid cash at the San Francisco store for the helmet, plus gloves, a vest, and a throat protector—almost everything the assailant had worn. Dedier had no trouble recognizing the buyer in the store’s security video. He had sold fake IDs to her—and, it seemed, to half the teenagers in Marin County. He was a high school dropout who drove a yellow Lamborghini. He was moody, clever, arrogant, given to wild boasts about traveling the world and pulling off implausible, action-movie exploits. Among the privileged, jaded teenagers of Marin, he was synonymous with trouble. But this was trouble of a whole new kind. His name, Dedier told police, was Max Wade.
YOU'D THINK THAT THE PROSPECT OF 30-plus years in prison for attempted murder, vehicle theft, and a host of other charges would make Max Wade see the benefits of looking clean-cut and contrite. His lawyer and his mother certainly do. On the first day of her son’s preliminary hearing this past October, at the Marin County courthouse in San Rafael, Leylla Beddiar Wade—tall and dark, dramatic in black sunglasses, high-heeled suede boots, a trench-style coat, and a sequined belt—returns from the noon break weighed down with shopping bags. Stuffed inside are court-appropriate clothes for her son: several dress shirts, slacks, shoes. The sheriff’s deputies have to ask her several times to remove her dark glasses before she complies; they complain to each other about the amount of perfume she’s wearing: “Who is she trying to impress?” one says. Another deputy is irritated at her insistence that he give the bags of clothes to her son. “He doesn’t want to change,” the deputy tells her.
What Max wants, apparently, is to look like a gangster. Since his arrest six months before, Marin County’s most notorious teenager has traded the trim coiffure of his carefree ID-forging years for longer waves, a side part, and a pencil-thin mustache. From a certain angle, he bears a striking resemblance to Pablo Escobar, the legendary leader of one of the most powerful Colombian drug cartels of the 1980s. And while Max falls something short of Medellín standards, his image update seems to be having its desired effect: “He’s fine!” swoons a female prosecutor on an unrelated case who has come to the courtroom to gawk.
Certainly, the contents of Max’s storage locker in Richmond—seized by police following his arrest two weeks after the shooting—were impressive. According to various reports, the stash included the gun used in the shooting—a cheap Saturday night special that had misfired on the sixth shot, the live round still in the chamber—the Honda, and, in a duffel bag, the entire hit man outfit, down to a pair of black Ed Hardy jeans. Police found electronics for jamming radio and cell phone signals, a kit to build an AK-47 assault rifle, a police uniform with badge, and a digital printing press of the kind used to manufacture fake IDs. There were sophisticated locksmith tools, rappelling equipment, court paperwork, and notes that allegedly hinted at even bigger heists to come. On Max himself, cops discovered $1,500 in cash, a second pistol—this one a .45 caliber Glock—and a forged license with a phony name: Frank Agnello Gotti, like the mafioso clan.
In a case replete with mysteries, one of the biggest was why the shooter had targeted Dedier and Wahlstrom. The victims claimed to be as flummoxed as anyone else. A high school pal of Max’s named Andrew Lettieri provided as plausible a motive as anyone could come up with: Max had a thing for Dedier. Lettieri told police that Max was jealous—“Landon had his girl, and…he wasn’t going to take any shit.” Wahlstrom’s uncle added his own two cents, telling the Chronicle that Max and Wahlstrom, who had overlapped at Redwood High, had clashed over Dedier on Facebook. In court, however, Dedier professed to know nothing about any of this. To her, Max was just a guy who made it possible for her and her underage friends to get booze—her phone listed him as “ID.” Whenever she lost one of her phony IDs, Max would replace it for free; he’d provided six or so of them to Dedier, once or twice making the delivery in a yellow Lamborghini. A few months back, she had mentioned that she was dating Wahlstrom, and Max hadn’t seemed to react. The exchange had been businesslike, casual, drama-free, Dedier testified: “I thought he was a friend.”
Dedier had last seen Max a month or two before the shooting, when he’d delivered her latest replacement ID. He told her then that he might be heading to jail for a while. But he gave no details, and she apparently didn’t ask.
For the police, identifying their prime suspect turned out to be much easier than catching him. Twelve days after the shooting, they reportedly still had no idea where Max lived. Then their luck turned. A detective on the case was in the courthouse when whom should he happen to see but Max, who was thought to be there for an appearance in an unrelated juvenile case. Police tailed Max to a friend’s house in San Rafael. The following day, out of the blue, Dedier got a text from Max: He had figured out how to fake the new California IDs; would she like one? With the cops listening in, she called him back. Could he come in the Lambo? Max seemed eager to impress: “Do you want to drive?” They agreed to meet a couple of days later, on Saturday, April 28.
That afternoon, some 15 deputy sheriffs and cops from the Major Crimes Task Force staked out Max for hours—from cars, from a tree, from an airplane circling high above the bay. They watched as a mystery driver—police have not said who—delivered Max to the CSI Mini Storage complex in Richmond in a black Ford Crown Victoria. The driver left and Max disappeared into the locker, reappearing in the Lamborghini. He eased the supercar out of the compound and drove west onto 580 and over the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge. He reached Marin before they saw him turn around after Dedier texted him, again on police orders: She couldn’t make their meeting after all.
By this time, the Richmond facility was crawling with cops. Police watched as Max drove the car back into its hiding place. He lingered inside for about an hour, then locked the unit behind him and exited through the compound’s front gate, cell phone in hand, as if waiting for a ride. Two detectives in an unmarked police car drove toward him. Max took a few steps, perhaps thinking his ride had arrived, then froze.
As police tell it, Max turned and ran into the road, tugging at the waistband of his pants. The cops jumped out of the car and gave chase; more police in an SUV blocked his path. Max paused just long enough for one of the cops to kick him to the ground. It took three cops hitting him with closed fists to subdue him. Police claimed he’d been reaching for the Glock.
NOT SINCE THE AMERICAN TALIBAN, JOHN WALKER LINDH, WAS captured in Afghanistan over a decade ago has there been such a riveting story of a Marin kid gone wrong. But that isn’t the only reason that security for Max’s preliminary court hearing is tight: On his 18th birthday a couple of months before, persons unknown had tried to break him out of juvenile hall mere hours before he was scheduled to be moved to county jail. Yet despite all the preceding drama, the courtroom is surprisingly empty. There are a few reporters, including two from Redwood High’s student paper. A rapper from San Rafael who calls himself Brilliant—one of the duo who recorded a swaggering tribute on YouTube, complete with a “Free Max Wade” T-shirt and a yellow Lamborghini borrowed through a Marin dealership—is there from the second day on. But Michael Wade, Max’s father, stays away from the court and cameras. Only Leylla Wade, divorced from Michael since 2006, represents the family, jotting notes on a folded piece of paper, consulting her iPhone, and scoffing occasionally at a bit of testimony. In the hallway, she talks in French on her cell phone, sometimes conferring with Brilliant—she claims that the rapper and Max are friends—but generally avoiding the press. She and Max’s lawyer persuade Max to put on a dress shirt for a couple of the sessions, though the jail-issued pants and shackles remain. In the courtroom, Max barely glances in her direction.
It isn’t just his mother whom Max ignores. He’s borderline comatose during most of the daylong court sessions. To questions from the judge, he answers yes or no only at his attorney’s prompting. He appears slightly more attentive when Dedier and Wahlstrom testify. (Wahlstrom appears to change a bit of his story, repeatedly denying that he ever told investigators he had been one of Max’s fake ID customers, even when the defense lawyer quotes from the police report.) When investigators recount what they know about the Lamborghini theft, Max’s features seem to melt into the tiniest smirk. But otherwise, he gives nothing away.
Meanwhile, the list of unanswered questions about Max and his alleged exploits grows longer and more intriguing. Theories about one or more accomplices abound, but are never pursued by prosecutors in court. Why would Max use a lesser pistol if he had a high-powered Glock? Why, if Wahlstrom was within nearly point-blank range, did none of the bullets hit their mark? Did the unexpected presence of Dedier make the shooter reconsider what he was about to do? Had he really meant to hurt Wahlstrom, or was the goal just to scare him? Why, after eluding capture for so long after the heist, did Max—assuming he really was the shooter—make himself so easy to track down? Who was this big-talking, mixed-up, deluded kid, anyway?
IT'S NOT VERY HARD TO FIND PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO KNOW Max Wade. Getting them to talk about him to a reporter is a different story. “If and when he gets out, I don’t want to be on a list of people he wants to get even with or whatever,” says a close friend from middle school. Another former high school classmate, away at college in Colorado, understands the general reluctance: “I would not ever want to be published saying something bad about Max Wade,” she says. “Nobody would want that.” Teachers, administrators, and school board members go so far as to hang up the phone when his name is mentioned. His lawyer, Charles Dresow, declines to talk about any aspect of the case beyond insisting upon his client’s innocence. Max’s father ignores phone calls to a relative and a note slipped under the front door of his San Rafael condo. Max’s mother does answer her cell; though she’s been instructed by Dresow to keep quiet about her beloved “Maxi,” she ends up answering a few questions and providing some family photos. Mostly, though, she limits her public comments to Twitter, where amid a stream of retweeted New Agey affirmations (“@AineBelton Let love embrace you, consume you, wash around and through you”), she issues the occasional vague lament: “PleasedearGod,Protectmychildrens Always:)).”
The teens who claim to know Max aren’t entirely mum about him—they post videos on YouTube, they chatter on Facebook. But there’s a line they are loath to cross. Like teens everywhere, many don’t like police—or snitches. (“Fuck that white bitch and all them square snitches,” Brilliant’s video jeers, referring to Dedier and Wahlstrom.) By protecting Max, of course, his customers are also protecting themselves. But even if they don’t particularly care about Max, on some level, they understand him. Marin is a nice place to live, but it’s also a bubble that can feel like a jail if you’re an adolescent. There’s nothing sexy about growing up privileged there. Among the high-achieving, high-expectations kids of Marin, cynicism runs deep. What kid in Marin isn’t bored, isn’t acting out, isn’t wishing to be someone else? Max is hardly the only one who preferred his fantasy world to the real one.
And then there’s this: Lots of people must have realized that Max was deeply troubled. What’s less clear is how many of those people tried to help him in any concrete way. The fantasy of the juvenile delinquent–cum–master criminal is infinitely more appealing than the sad, worn-out tale of a damaged, neglected kid who grows up to be a liar, a thief, and—if you believe prosecutors—very nearly a killer. Yet that’s what Max was—damaged. Public records going back a decade paint a picture of a young boy familiar with the legal system, but not as an offender. Before he turned 12, Max was the star witness in his father’s criminal trial on charges of attacking his wife. Reportedly, it was Max who broke up the fight.
Michael Wade was 34 when he married Leylla Marnia Beddiar, a 22-year-old French native, in April 1994. Four months later, in San Francisco, Max was born. According to court documents, Michael made a good living selling cars, while his wife, who had never worked in the United States or graduated from college, kept house, first in the city and then in the family’s new home in Napa. From early on, the marriage was tumultuous, fraught with quarrels over finances and Max. According to Leylla, furniture was smashed and threats were made; sometimes the police were called. In January 1997, Leylla claimed to a cop that Michael had pushed her; he said that she had pushed him. Police advised her on how to get a restraining order, then left. Later that year, Leylla called the cops again, this time accusing her husband of choking her. The officers saw no marks and made no arrest.
The drama went on for years, and Max was drawn in early. When he was two, Leylla claimed, she was pushed into a door. Her arm was cut and she fell—on Max. In May 1998, when Max was not yet four, she accused Michael of losing his cool with his son. Leylla heard shouting from upstairs, she told police, and then Max came down the stairs crying, saying that his father had choked him. This time, Michael was arrested but not charged; he insisted that he was innocent. There were restraining orders, divorce filings, reconciliations. In July 2005, Michael filed for divorce again, this time, he told the court, for Max’s sake: “I do not think our current living situation is healthy for our son.” Meanwhile, Leylla had gone to the police, claiming that several months before, her husband had pulled out hanks of her hair, knocked her to the ground, and put her in a choke hold. Max, she said, had interrupted the attack. This time, the authorities took action, charging Michael with one count of felony domestic violence. Max’s testimony in the June 2006 trial is sealed, but Michael again claimed innocence. The jury deadlocked, and the district attorney dropped the case.
After the split, Leylla worked as a real estate agent (“Internationale Real Estate Business” is the way she describes it on Twitter). The first year, she closed just one sale. To stay afloat, she made ample use of her credit cards and the equity in the Napa house, whose $254,000 mortgage was refinanced until it swelled to $794,000. She traveled frequently to France, Florida, and the Caribbean (“I take planes like other people take the bus,” she said outside the courtroom in October) and wanted to relocate to Florida, but Michael refused to let her take Max, so she stayed put. By now she and Max lived in a small duplex on Paradise Drive in Tiburon. Max, in his early teens, would ride his bike around the neighborhood, a hilly area with spectacular views. According to their landlord, he and Leylla frequently didn’t get along, and Max took out his aggression on the house, sometimes punching holes in the walls, sometimes puncturing them with his ninja star.
At some point, Leylla started dating a wealthy Irish-born nightclub owner turned Florida real estate businessman named Austin MacAnthony, whose family is familiar to European tabloids. (MacAnthony’s son is chairman of an English soccer team, and the family business was mired in legal trouble in the wake of the Spanish real estate crash.) In 2008, Leylla gave birth to a son, Alex, and moved with the boys into a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Tiburon’s Sugarloaf Drive; MacAnthony cosigned the $4,600-a-month lease. It was the kind of neighborhood where residents buzz around wearing surgeon’s scrubs and driving Maseratis—a definite upgrade from their previous digs. Leylla acquired a supercar of her own, an Aston Martin DB9 (retail price $179,000). “Wow, leylla, you craxy girl you got the car,” one friend gushed on Facebook. On the lease for the house, she reported no income.
The stories about Max the troublemaker start in his turbulent middle school years, when his parents were splitting up for good. A close friend from that era recalls an angry kid who was left for days on end with apparently minimal adult supervision. (“I never left my son alone ever,” Leylla responds, saying that when she didn’t take him with her, he stayed with his father or an aunt. She says she even hired a limo once so the aunt wouldn’t have to drive Max to school.) Max’s Myspace page offers a snapshot of his 13-year-old state of mind. He liked action movies, reggae, and Brazilian jiujitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. His heroes were all martial artists or drug kingpins, including Escobar and Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera. In the “About me” section, he wrote, “i want what’s comin to me… the world…and everything in it.”
At St. Hilary’s Catholic School in Tiburon, friends say, Max got in trouble for defacing campus property (the school won’t comment). Leylla emails that she tried to enroll him in a military school in another state—he loved to fly and wanted to be a pilot someday—“but the father objected again and wanted his son in California next to him. I believed in my heart that the military school wd have been ideal for him with his level of intelligence. I know in my heart that he wd have loved being there.” Instead, Max ended up at Del Mar Middle School, where he is said to have egged on a hacker to crack Internet locks on students’ computers so they could watch porn in class. A former friend recalls him throwing condom water balloons on the school bus; a classmate says he used homemade pepper spray on an erstwhile pal. All this earned Max the title “Biggest Rebel” in his eighth-grade yearbook, though even then his legend was larger than life. “I get credit,” he once told a classmate, “for doing more than I actually do.”
At Redwood High, Max’s reputation turned meaner. Police were called to campus when he head-butted a student during a dodgeball game, the Marin Independent Journal reported. (“I never believed that story,” his mother says.) A friend recalls Max organizing a Marin Fight Club near campus sometimes joining the brawlers, until school security put a stop to the fun. He lasted less than a year at Redwood, leaving—whether dropping out or being thrown out, those who know won’t say—in April 2009, before the end of his freshman year.
It’s unclear how or when Max started his fake ID business, but by the time of his arrest, three years after leaving Redwood, it was flourishing, keeping him in close contact with his former classmates (and with underage customers around the Bay Area). He was also shoplifting and selling dime bags of weed, a friend says. No one was sure where he lived, and though Leylla’s Facebook page featured photos of him playing the doting big brother, he didn’t talk much about his family. In September 2010, the Chronicle reported, Max stole his mother’s red SUV and painted it black, leading to a run-in with police. (“My car being repainted in black was my idea and decision,” Leylla claims now. “I hate red car color.”) To his friends, Max bragged about other exploits, like the gun he supposedly bought in Mexico. “We never believed any of it,” a classmate says. Yet the boasts got bigger. In late 2010 or early 2011, an acquaintance told the Chronicle, Max bragged that he planned to steal a Lamborghini, saying that he was “going to sell it and...people had his back.”
THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO LOOK AT THE LAMBORGHINI STORY. One—the way it’s been played out in the press—is as a masterful heist straight out of Ocean’s Eleven or Gone in 60 Seconds, with the buffoonish bleached-blond chef Guy Fieri playing the unsympathetic victim and providing comic relief. That’s probably how Max—assuming that he is the thief, which his lawyer disputes—prefers to think of it, too. The other way is as a tragedy of wasted potential, a genius gone wrong. If 16-year-old Max Wade had the intelligence and discipline to pull off such a complicated caper, then surely an adult Max could have done lots more with his life.
The theft took place around 4 a.m. on March 8, 2011, a full 13 months before the shooting, at 999 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, one of the two buildings in the British Motor Cars luxury automobile complex. A few days before, Fieri, a flashy, over-the-top chef from Santa Rosa who made a name with shows like Guy’s Big Bite and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, had taken in his Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder—painted look-at-me yellow with the vanity plate “GUYTORO”—for servicing. The car was in the second-floor bay, keys inside, waiting to be worked on.
The thief broke in by rappelling to the second floor (police haven’t said how he attached the rope to the roof) and slipping through a window that had been left conveniently, if mysteriously, unlocked. (The building’s janitor—who was supposed to be long gone but, for unexplained reasons, was still working that morning— might have cleared up the mystery, but he has, even more mysteriously, vanished.) The window faces Olive Street, a shadowed, one-way alley squeezed between the dealership’s two buildings. Once inside, the thief moved fast, cutting the lock on one of the roll-up steel doors that open onto Olive Street. Leaving the office and the other luxury cars untouched, he went straight for the Lamborghini, started the engine, put the car in gear, and drove out the door without tripping the dealership’s motion sensors or perimeter alarms (another mystery). When employees arrived, they found the door still raised, as well as the climbing rope in a duffel bag, a pry bar, bolt cutters, and a water bladder. The car, meanwhile, had long since disappeared across the Golden Gate Bridge.
But it didn’t disappear, not really: Police thought they knew exactly where it had gone. At around 4:40 a.m., a yellow blur was captured by traffic cameras positioned on Tiburon Boulevard off 101—a little-known security system that records every vehicle traveling in and out of the town of Tiburon, one of the nation’s richest zip codes. At about 6:15 a.m., the car was caught again, breezing past the same bank of cameras in the opposite direction, toward the freeway. This time, it bore a license plate that had been ripped off an Audi coupe the day before, also in Tiburon. Whoever the thief was, he was very familiar with petty crime in one of the choicest areas in Marin. And that, Tiburon cops told the SFPD, pointed to one person: Max Wade.
Most of the court records on the Lamborghini investigation remain sealed, so it’s still unclear how and why San Francisco police inspector Matthew Hanley found himself in Marin on June 22, 2011, sitting across a table from a dark-haired teenager with an inscrutable face. “I told him that I had heard that he had my stolen Lamborghini and that he couldn’t drive it, couldn’t sell it, and he couldn’t get it fixed,” Hanley testified at the prelim. He handed Max his business card and told him to “park [the car] on the corner and call me and I would come pick it up.”
Max never called, though, and Hanley put his investigation on hold because—well, what was the point? How could a teenager—or anyone—hide a yellow supercar forever? “Everybody in Marin County knew about it,” Hanley said, “and I figured if some kid was driving around a yellow Lamborghini… he would get caught.” A fine theory for San Francisco maybe, but Marin, it turns out, is different. Among the kids there—his customers, his former classmates, his grudging admirers—Max’s secrets were safe.
MAX MAY HAVE BEEN TOO COOL FOR HIGH SCHOOL, OR TOO bored, or too explosive, but he seemed reluctant to leave Redwood behind. After his ouster in 2009, a friend was startled to see him at a school dance, the kind of event that many students abhor. Maybe he sneaked in just to show that he could. Maybe he needed an audience for his boasts—what was the point of his daring feats if nobody knew? Or maybe he felt lost.
By 2012, his mother was spending much of her time in the Caribbean and Miami, where she rented a condo. She had broken up with MacAnthony, and her finances were more precarious than ever. (When she filed for bankruptcy last April—almost simultaneously with Max’s arrest—her debts surpassed $300,000, and she claimed to have just $330 on hand.) Max’s father, meanwhile, reportedly had a new family. Where Max fit in to all of this—whether he wanted to fit in—is unclear.
At the same time, Max’s old friends were growing up and drifting away. He still had plenty of customers for his fake IDs, but the kids who had found him exciting in their early teens were less interested in his form of rebelliousness as college loomed. Hanging out with Max Wade was not going to get you into Stanford.
The party Max allegedly threw in February 2012, two months before the shooting, can be read as an expression of loneliness as much as bravado. Max knew that the biggest, fanciest house in his old neighborhood—a $7 million, 7,450-square-foot mansion on the highest point of Tiburon’s Sugarloaf Drive—was occupied for only part of the year. So one night, Max broke in and threw a party. A few dozen teens showed up. This is my house, he told his guests. He had plenty of cash, he drove a Lamborghini—why wouldn’t they believe him? And if he were lying—well, that was his problem.
Before long, the party was over. A Tiburon cop, in the neighborhood doing a traffic stop, heard the commotion coming from the supposedly vacant residence and stopped by to investigate. Max managed to flee just in time, but he left behind a houseful of busted kids who were quick to point the finger. None of the guests were arrested, but according to Tiburon police, one unidentified juvenile was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and burglary. This was apparently why Max was at the Marin courthouse last April, where, according to the Marin IJ, he was recognized by a detective looking into the Mill Valley drive-by. A kid less lonely (and reckless) than Max might not have made the stupid series of mistakes that put him in a hive of cops just when he (allegedly) needed to lay low after the theft and shooting. But then, would a kid less lonely (and reckless) than Max ever have been involved in those crimes in the first place?
Dedier and Wahlstrom have broken up; she attends college in Santa Barbara and he lives in Sonoma, still partying, still into trucks and guns. Did Max—assuming it was Max—really want to kill them? To police and prosecutors, the progression is clear: The angry, rebellious boy who lashed out in middle school has become a criminal, wily and dangerous. The shooter was nervous; the angle was wrong; the gun jammed. Otherwise, two teenagers might be dead. That’s the argument they apparently plan to make when Max’s trial gets under way this summer (jury selection is currently scheduled for May).
But maybe what really happened is that when the shooter pulled out the gun, he realized that the fantasy of killing was nothing like the reality. Maybe he understood at that moment, his finger tugging the trigger, that he didn’t want the blood, the pain, the death. He was many things, but maybe he wasn’t Pablo Escobar after all.
There’s no doubt about one thing, though: Max Wade is notorious. He’s a joke to shout in the hallway, a crazy kid whom few knew well but whom many now claim as a friend. Years from now, he’s someone they’ll still remember—the criminal mastermind next door. The irony is that he might never have achieved this fame were it not for the shooting. “Maybe,” an old friend says, “that’s what he always wanted, in his own twisted way.”
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of San Francisco.