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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.

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.