She headed to Florida for good. Lara left soon after, taking a teenaged Ana with her back to Colombia.

Max, living under the name Wes Barclay, moved to Kissimmee, where he became chief engineer of Westgate Vacation Villas resort. He lived in a nice two-bedroom apartment in a gated community near the resort. He kept a couple of handguns and a rifle close by.

Max retired at 61 and moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, with a former coworker from the resort. He'd tell people he had two grown daughters with a Colombian ex-wife who "took all his money" to explain why he was alone on holidays and birthdays.

Screenwriter Brett Tabor saw Max Mer­melstein's story as his ticket into Hollywood.
Courtesy of Brett Tabor
Screenwriter Brett Tabor saw Max Mer­melstein's story as his ticket into Hollywood.
Max and his Colombian wife, Lara.
Courtesy of Brett Tabor
Max and his Colombian wife, Lara.

In Frankfort, Max frequented the local strip clubs, browsed flea markets on the weekend, and smoked like John Wayne. He was a regular at Longhorn Steakhouse, where the servers called him "Papa."

But his health was failing. He had diabetes. He spent $400 a month on insulin, needles, and other medical care, which didn't leave much for anything else. He lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a low-flung Section 8 complex, joking that his lifestyle was "ghetto fabulous."

He bought an expensive Himalayan cat that looked, with its flattened face and strangely colored fur, like an inbred stray. The loner with the dry sense of humor named his new companion simply Cat.

In 1995, Max's stepson, Luis, was arrested in Miami. Turns out he had emulated Dad more than he let on: He was charged with being the "U.S.-based organizer" of a Colombian-based coke smuggling ring. In a raid, the DEA had seized nearly two tons of cocaine worth $33 million hidden in shiploads of metal cylinders. Then 31, Luis had been living opulently in a Miami Beach condo, keeping nothing in his own name. Isabella says of her brother: "He was chasing the fast money, the thrill, the power."

Luis was convicted of cocaine conspiracy. On May 29, 1997, Max spoke as a witness at his sentencing in a federal courthouse in Miami. His testimony that day was sealed for security reasons, but a law enforcement official with knowledge of the proceedings recalls that Max blamed himself for the kid's wrong path. The way Luis was raised, Max testified, he hardly had a choice.

A copy of The Man Who Made It Snow was submitted to the judge. "The things [Luis] was exposed to and the way he was guided as a young man," argued his lawyer, Bob Amsel, "is a factor that I think the court should consider in sentencing."

Luis was sentenced to 17 and a half years but was released in 2002. He and Max never saw each other again.


The obituary in the Frankfort State-Journal was 24 words long and listed him as one year younger than he actually was: "Services for Wesley Barclay, 64, will be held at a later date in Florida. He died on September 12. There will be no visitation."

Max Mermselstein, meanwhile, received a thousand-word eulogy in the Washington Post. It was written by Jeff Lean, author of Medellin Cartel tome Kings of Cocaine and the only professional reporter to ever interview him.

In late September, a wake was held for Max's cremated remains at the Sacred Heart Church in Homestead. For the first time in more than two decades, his real name was used openly. About 20 relatives attended the ceremony.

Tabor was also there, along with Gregorie. When it came time for a speech in remembrance of Max, heads swiveled to the back of the room, where Tabor sat. In a room full of family, the man who knew Max best had met him four weeks before he died. Tabor's short speech recalled that Max was honest to a razor-sharp edge: "You always knew where you stood with him."

Afterward, Gregorie thanked Tabor for speaking instead of him. Nobody wanted to see an old prosecutor blubber. "I had a tear in my eye, and it wasn't for the mean old Max," says Gregorie. "It was for what everybody had just lost. He was a piece of history."

Max's ashes now sit in Ana's house. The daughter was also bequeathed $800, according to Wes Barclay's will, which was filed in Franklin County Court in Kentucky. That's a third of his net worth at death: $4,000, minus $1,600 in credit card debt. Isabella also inherited her share.

Max left Ana's husband, Mannie, a computer and a handgun that he legally should not have owned. Max's pet, Cat, also lives in Ana's house somewhere in Florida.

Ana's 4-year-old son, Pedro, will inherit the Yiddish/Tasmanian Devil talisman when he comes of age.

Tabor is shopping his finished script to producers. Isabella, Ana, and the coworker who brought him to Kentucky will split any royalties, which, according to the will, are of "Values unknown."

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