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Mad Max

The inside true story of Marin's teenage outlaw.

 

"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.

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.

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