Now Playing

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.

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.