Man Serving Life in Prison for Wife & Son’s Murders For Insurance Money

Karl Karlsen after his arrest

ABC News Karl Karlsen after his arrest

Karl Karlsen killed two different members of his family in two separate incidents, both times for the insurance money. Ahead of the 20/20 episode about his crimes, here’s what you need to know about his son, Levi Karlsen, who was Karl’s second kill.


Levi Was Crushed By a Truck in 2008

Levi Karlsen family photo

ABC NewsLevi Karlsen family photo

According to ABC News, in November 2008, Levi, 23, was working on his father Karl’s truck at the family farm in Varick, New York. The truck fell off the jack and crushed Levi, whose death was originally ruled an accident.

But Levi’s sister, Erin DeRoche, never believed it was just an accident, telling ABC News, “I knew as soon as I heard that Levi was gone that [my father] had done it. I knew with every fiber of my being.”

At the time of his death, Levi, who had two daughters with his ex-wife, Cassie Hohn, was getting his life together. His sister Kati Reynolds told ABC News, he had just gotten a good job and was providing the insurance his daughters needed. But a few weeks before his death, Levi’s father convinced Levi to take out a life insurance policy on himself and make his father the sole beneficiary. The idea was that in the event of Levi’s death, Karl would decide how best to distribute the money between Levi’s two daughters.

After Levi’s death was ruled an accident, Karl collected $700,000.

Two years after Levi’s death, Karl’s second wife, Cindy Best, began to grow suspicious of her then-husband and hired a private investigator to check up on him. She discovered that if she died, Karl would get $1.2 million. She told that to her cousin, who alerted authorities.

“I had called my cousin … and told her my fears: ‘I think Karl might have killed Levi. I’m not sure, but maybe he killed Christina. I’m scared, but I can’t go to law enforcement until we get enough evidence.’ She took that out of my hands by calling Seneca County Sheriff’s Office,” Best told ABC News.

Best cooperated with authorities and wore a wire to catch Karl talking about the deaths. He eventually admitted to Best that he saw an “opportunity” when the truck fell on Levi and took advantage of the situation. Karl was arrested in 2012 and charged with second-degree murder and insurance fraud. The charge came because authorities believed Levi was still alive when the truck fell on him and Karl did nothing to help him.

At his 2013 trial, he took a plea bargain that earned him 15-years-to-life for Levi’s death. The investigation into Levi’s death is also what sparked an investigation into the death of Karl’s first wife, Christina.


Karl Was Also Convicted of Killing His Wife, Christina


NY Man Accused of Killing His Son: Never-Before-Heard TapesKarl Karlsen's estranged wife wore a wire to confront him about his son's death.2013-10-08T05:57:22Z

Christina “Chris” Karlsen was killed in a house fire in 1991 when she became trapped in a bathroom with a boarded-up window. Karl and his children all escaped the fire unharmed, and he collected $200,000 in insurance money on his wife. Kati, Erin and Levi always thought there were things about that day that didn’t make sense to them, even at their young ages (they were all under the age of 7).

As teenagers, the kids confronted their father about their mother’s death.

“Levi and I told our father that we knew that he had murdered our mother,” DeRoche told ABC News. “Levi and I would talk about [the day of the fire] a lot about what he remembered, about what I remembered, and about how things just didn’t add up.”

In March 2020, Karl was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Christina, a sentence he will start serving at the end of his current sentence for the death of Levi.

20/20 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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