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Chris Roberts | Photo: Yuko Shimizu | November 2, 2013
The inside true story of Marin's teenage outlaw.
Update, 10/31: On Wednesday, a jury found Max Wade guilty on several counts. In our March issue, we profiled the life of the troubled Marin county teen.
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.