In a strange case profiled on ABC‘s 20/20, Karl Karlsen was found guilty of murdering his wife Christina and his son Levi in two separate incidents 17 years apart. In 1991, Karlsen’s first wife Christina died in a house fire in California. At the time, her death was ruled an accident. Seventeen years later, in November 2008, Karlsen’s son Levi was killed when a truck he was working on fell on top of him. His death was also ruled accidental, ABC reported.
It wasn’t until 2012 when Karlsen’s marriage to his second wife Cindy began falling apart, that she began to suspect there were more to their deaths and she feared she would be his next victim. She worked with police to secretly record conversations with Karlsen and these eventually led to his arrest later that year.
The investigation into Karlsen’s involvement in Levi’s death also allowed police to reopen the house fire investigation from 1991. Today, Karlsen is serving two sentences for the murder of his wife and his son.
Karlsen Collected a $700,000 Insurance Payout After His Son’s Death Was Ruled Accidental
In March 2020, the 60-year-old Karlsen was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility for parole after being found guilty of murdering his first wife, Christina. That sentence will only take effect once Karlsen serves out the remainder of his 15-years-to-life sentence for the murder of his son Levi, according to prison records.
Levi died in November 2008 at the age of 23 when the truck he was working on at the Karlsen farm in New York fell on top of him and crushed him. The authorities first deemed the death an accident and Karlsen collected a $700,000 payout on his insurance policy. Karlsen’s second wife Cindy told ABC: “It ended up being $700,000 because Levi died accidentally. So, that was a kind of a shock but … there was no reason for me to question anything at that time.”
Once the authorities began investigating Karlsen’s involvement in Levi’s death, they found that Karlsen and his son had met with an insurance agent just 17 days before his son’s death. Karlsen talked his son into taking out a life insurance policy. Levi’s handwritten will, notarized on the day of his death, indicated that Karlsen was the sole beneficiary.
Former New York State Police investigator Jeff Arnold told ABC: “The life insurance policy that’s taken out on Levi prior to his death — I think it’s beyond bizarre. Karl made it out to be that Levi didn’t trust his ex-wife [and] that Levi wanted his daughters taken care of and he trusted his dad.”
The Investigation Into Christina’s Death Was Reopened After Karlsen Was Investigated for Levi’s Death
When Karlsen was investigated for his son’s death in New York in 2012, media coverage of the case and pressure from the family caused the authorities in California to reopen the investigation into Christina’s death.
On New Year’s Day in 1991, Karlsen’s first wife Christina died in a fire in their home in rural California. The three kids were in the house and Karlsen pulled them all out, but Christina was trapped in the bathroom with the window boarded up. Authorities declared her cause of death to be smoke inhalation.
Authorities discovered that Karlsen had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife 19 days before she died. After her death was deemed accidental, he collected over $200,000 in an insurance payout. Four days later, he moved to his home state of New York with their three kids. In 2014, Karlsen was charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife and extradited to California.
The investigations into Karlsen’s past revealed that he’d also collected insurance payouts from a car fire in 1986 and a barn fire in 2002. They also found that he’d taken out life insurance policies on Levi’s two daughters. In total, authorities believe that Karlsen collected more than $1 million over 22 years.