Mark C. Anderson, the arsonist at the center of Tangled Vines, leaves prison

Mark C. Anderson, the man behind the vast wine warehouse fire I write about in Tangled Vines, has been released from federal prison. Records show he walked out the doors of Terminal Island in southern California on Oct. 6, 2022. Anderson, now 73, was given compassionate release because of his poor health. He is relocating to Sacramento and will be close to medical treatment at UC Davis. His health problems (prostrate cancer, a bad back, obesity) were exacerbated by a bad case of COVID-19 in April 2020, according to court documents. He now also has congestive heart failure and kidney disease.

Anderson had been sentenced to 27 years; he served about 17. What was his crime? On Oct. 12, 2005, the Sausalito photographer and wine lover lit a fire in his storage facility in the Wines Central warehouse on Mare Island in Vallejo. The fire destroyed 4.5 million bottles of premium wine from 95 wineries worth about $450 million. Among those bottles were 175 made by my great-great-grandfather Isaias W. Hellman in 1875 from a vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga in southern California. Anderson was also ordered to pay $70.3 million in restitution but that will never happen.  “That is awful news!” one of his victims wrote me.  “17 years sure went by fast.  He ruined so many lives…”

Mark Anderson walks toward a legal hearing at the Marin County courthouse on Monday, May 22, 2006, at the Marin County Courthouse in San Rafael, CA..(Jeff Vendsel/Marin Independent Journal )

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  1. Claire Tinsley on March 8, 2023 at 12:35 am

    Dear author:

    I just finished your engrossing opus “Tangled Vines” and it is one of the best and most beautifully written true crime books I have ever read. Being a born and raised (though now a Virginia resident) Californian, I have always had a special relationship with wine. My father is a wine aficionado and has quite the collection himself. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your book and I what a wonderful learning experience.

    I am however, dismayed that Mr. Anderson was let out of jail. Yes, I understand compassion, but as the victims to his hideous crimes can attest, he has ruined countless lives. He is probably no longer a threat to society and not long for this world, what with his ill health, but wow! 17 years went by far too quickly.

    Thank you for your incredible book, one that I will encourage others to buy and read and your knowledge and insight are inspiring! Your book is sad in its tragedy, but eloquent in its telling and it is truly one of the best books, true crime and otherwise, that I have had the pleasure of reading. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

  2. Claire Tinsley on March 8, 2023 at 12:58 am

    One question about the Vallejo warehouse where the terrible fire happened: I wasn’t quite sure why the Anderson case was deemed (correct me if I’m wrong) “circumstantial?” I know that there weren’t many other suspects and that Anderson had stolen many bottles of other merchant’s wines. Were there surveillance cameras in that warehouse at the time? Surely, what with all of that valuable, and often rare wines that people kept in that warehouse, I would think that there would have been. I don’t remember whether you stated in the book, that there was a camera surveillance system in place at the time of the fire. Anderson no doubt would have been captured on that film right? Just curious. Thanks.

  3. Frances Dinkelspiel on March 14, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    No there were no surveillance cameras in the warehouse at the time of the fire. The case was considered circumstantial because officials could never prove that Anderson bought the plumber’s torch. They found that he sold wine to the Chicago wine house but under an assumed name. Things like that. I am glad you enjoyed the book.

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