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Newly rich homeless man has history of heartache

SALT LAKE CITY — His story made international headlines. Homeless Max Melitzer was lost, then found and told he has a big inheritance coming to him from a deceased relative.

Tuesday, new details and insight emerged about Melitzer, and how he became homeless, spending nights on the streets from Salt Lake City to Ogden.

He once fell victim to an indescribable tragedy. In July 1990, he was driving his car east of Rock Springs, Wyo., when he crashed. The Utah Highway Patrol told the Deseret News at the time Melitzer drifted off the road and overcorrected.

Melitzer, wife Janice, and two others were ejected. All but Max Melitzer died.

"He was very much in love with his wife, I believe, and it was really hard for him — one, to have her gone and, two, to have been driving," Karol Behling recalled Tuesday. "I'm sure that affected him a lot, and I'm sure he missed his wife a lot."

Behling and her now-deceased husband, Steve, were longtime friends of Melitzer. The last time she saw him was in December, when her husband was in the hospital.

She said although Melitzer never spoke to them of his family — near or distant — he helped her family through moves, was a regular at holiday dinners and was great with the children.

"I do know before (the crash) he had an apartment, and he had a wife and a life," Behling said. "I don't think he had a place to live after that. I think that's probably when he started the transience."

Behling said Melitzer — a hard worker — took on odd jobs and she believes he may have even preferred a migrant lifestyle.

She was surprised to learn Melitzer's family was seeking him out, because he never spoke of them.

"I hope this works out and I hope his family is truly interested in him because he's a good guy," Behling said.

Others say Melitzer was an example to those around him.

Jason Florez, leader of the homeless ministry at the Mountain View Christian Assembly of God in Sandy, said Melitzer was a regular there the past four years. To attend, he strayed from his usual route between Salt Lake City and parts north.

"He takes donations of bread and other things like that, and he tries to donate them to my ministry," Florez said. "He just happens to be one of the purest hearts of all the homeless people we bring in and come and see."

Florez gave one of the critical tips to private investigator David Lundberg that led to finding Melitzer at Pioneer Park Saturday. He saw the KSL-TV report that first highlighted the search for the then-missing homeless man.

"I was sitting next to my wife and I couldn't even talk. I said, 'That's Max,'" Florez recalled.

Melitzer was flown to New York Tuesday to reunite with family.

It remains unclear when Melitzer and his family will break their silence about the inheritance he received from a brother who died of cancer.


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