Karl Karlsen

Once again I find myself researching a case that has not ended completely but still a story in which needs to be told.  If you have already read my last entry on Charles Whitman you know I spent a lot of time talking about how we simply seem to dismiss killers as evil without ever looking further into their psyche and knowing what makes them tick.  And then I come to you with a case in which you will hear me say that Karl Karlsen is the epitome of evil and deserves to spend every waking moment he has left of his life in jail.  In the case of Whitman you have a man who by all account seemed not just normal but a well mannered man who was striving to be a successful human being.  Right up to the end Whitman seemed remorseful of his actions and yearned to know, or let others know, if there was something mentally or physically wrong with him.  In contrast Karl Karlsen seemed to never have remorse for his actions and unlike Whitman who committed his crimes in a single 24 hour period, Karlsen's two major crimes were committed nearly 20 years apart and riddled in between with other lesser crimes.  

On January 1, 1991 California authorities were called about a fire at a home. The residents were Karl and Christina Karlsen and their three children, Erin (6), Levi (5) and Katie (4).  When authorities arrived Karl and the children had escaped and were fine but Christina Karlsen had been unable to escape.  Her body was later found in the bathroom of the home.  Her official cause of death was smoke inhalation.  Karl was interviewed and told authorities that Christina was in the bathroom taking a bath when some spilled kerosene had "suddenly erupted in flames" outside the bathroom door in the hallway.  The only other exit from the bathroom was a window but it had been boarded up the week before with a sheet of plywood and several nails.  Karl told investigators that the pane had broken.  While there were a few investigators who were suspicious of his story, Christina's death was officially ruled an accident.  Within just a few days Karl had packed the children and everything he could and moved back to New York near his family.  Some reports say he did not even wait for Christina to be buried.  Like some of the authorities, Christina's family was also highly suspicious of Karl but decided if nothing could be proven they should keep their mouths shut or they would never see Christina's children again.  It was later discovered that Karl had purchased a $200,000 life insurance policy on Christina just three weeks prior to the fire.

By 1993 Karl had remarried in New York to a woman named Cindy.  Cindy helped raise Karl's three children and then would have a child of her own with him, a son they named Alex.  At some point a barn owned by Karl had burned down and the insurance paid out $90,000.  Over the years it seems that Karl's older children began to wonder about the death of their mother.  Erin says that she and Levi discussed their memories and that their father had rescued the children but stood and watched the home burn while Christina was behind the wall and he made no attempt to save her.  She claims that when they were in their early teens they confront Karl about their memories and that his reaction was odd.  She says he never admitted anything but seemed more concerned what the people in the community would think of him if they heard his children suspected him of murdering their mother.  The issue seemed to be dropped and everyone seemed to move on.

By 2008 the two older daughters had moved out of the house but Levi had moved back in with his father and step-mother following a divorce.  He was now twenty-three years old and the father of two young daughters himself.  On the day of November 20, 2008 Cindy and Karl were leaving the house to go to a funeral around noon.  Just before they left Karl went to talk to Levi who was working on an old farm truck in the barn.  Cindy would later say that after talking with Levi, Karl got into the car and everything appeared to be fine. When they returned home around 4 pm Cindy went into the house while Karl went again to talk to Levi.  She stated that Karl came running to the back door yelling that Levi was pinned under the truck as the jack must have slipped.  Cindy called 9-1-1.  Levi was transported to a hospital in which he was pronounced dead.

In a 2013 interview Cindy would say that she was almost immediately suspicious of Karl being involved in Levi's death but that she had convinced herself that the authorities as well as the insurance company, who had paid out over $700,000 four months after Levi's death, did not suspect anything so she should not either.  Levi's death certificate stated that his death had likely occurred around 3 pm and Cindy knew that she and Karl were gone.  Over time the Karlsen marriage seemed to falter and in 2011 Cindy hired a private detective to look into her husband.  It was then that she discovered that without her knowledge Karl had taken an insurance policy out on her, making himself the sole beneficiary (just as he was in Levi's policy) for $1.2 million dollars. She feared for her life and in January of 2012 she took her son Alex and left Karl. She soon confided her fears, including that Karl was somehow involved in Levi's death, to a cousin who in turn notified authorities.  Investigators talked to Cindy who said her fears became worse.  She claims that they repeatedly told her that Karl would be soon arrested but when that did not seem to happen she decided to try something else.  She contacted Karl and indicated to him that she was willing to reconcile with him.  Over the next several weeks they met in public places where at first Cindy herself taped the conversations, and later investigators would give her a wire and monitor their conversations.  Cindy expressed her concerns, especially about Levi's death and indicated to Karl that the only way she would reconcile is if she knew the truth of what happened.  

Throughout their taped conversations Karl never came out and said that he had killed Levi but made the comment that he had taken the tires off the front of the truck and put it on a single jack and that once it had fallen that he "took advantage of the situation."  This seemed to be enough to bring him in for at least questioning.  Throughout his interview Karl denied over 70 times that he had purposely dropped the jack on top of Levi and gave several reasons for it occurring.  He did however at some point indicate that he may have accidentally knocked the truck off the jack.  He denied to investigators that Levi had a will. Prosecutors apparently felt that they had enough information to arrest and charge Karl in the death of his own son.

Throughout the next several months the investigation continued and when word got back to investigators in California they decided to re-open Christina's case too.  As far as the investigation concerning Levi it was discovered that the $700,000 insurance policy had only been obtained seventeen days prior to Levi dying and that despite having two children of his own Karl was listed as the sole beneficiary.  Also, despite later giving a sworn affidavit, that Levi did not possess a will it was discovered that not only did he have a handwritten will that once again gave everything to his father, it had been notarized at a bank on the very morning of his death.  Prosecutors would initially charge Karl with murder and insurance fraud but after learning of the will they also charged him with perjury.  Eventually, knowing all the evidence they had against him, Karl decided to accept a plea offered to him in which he pleaded guilty to the original charges.  Although he never stated what happened in court, apparently he had done so in writing. While still he would never officially say that he had planned Levi's murder or that he had purposely made sure the truck fell on him, he did admit that when he and Cindy left for a funeral that day the truck was already on top of Levi and that he simply got in the car and left.  He knew when they returned and he went to the barn what he would find.  He did readily admit that he did not get his son help thinking of the insurance policy.  He was given a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.  He is eligible for parole in November 2027 and family members, including Levi's ex wife have vowed to ensure he is never released from prison.  

While he was awaiting trial, and before he plead guilty in Levi's murder, California authorities had decided to charge him with Christina's murder. Many investigators from the initial investigation claim that while they were suspicious of Karl they had little to work with and the department did not have the resources to travel to and from New York for information back in 1991.  In July of 2014 the governor of California signed the paperwork to get permission to extradite Karl back to California to face charges.  As of December of 2015 family member claim that paperwork is still sitting on the desk of New York Governor Andrew Cumomo unsigned. Until Karl is once again in California little to no progress can be made in the case against him for Christina's murder.

As a side note in the first interview that Cindy Karlsen gave in 2013 after Karl had pleaded guilty in his son's death she stated that both Erin and Katie Karlsen, as well as Levi's ex-wife, Cassie Hohn have ended contact with her. The women claim that in essence Cindy did nothing about her suspicions until she herself may have been in danger and that she profited from the more than $700,000 that Karl received after Levi's death in which his children received none of.  Cindy disputed this in the interview stating that Karl spent the bulk of that money and that while she did receive just over $100,000 she used that money to buy a house that Levi's children will one day inherit.  Whether this is true or not will only be known later.  While she made comments that Karl had not shown remorse for his actions because "he feels no remorse" she seemed to me to be a bit callous herself.  She stated she was not looking for a pat on the back for her actions that led to Karl's arrest but then in the next breath added that had it not been for her he would have not been arrested.

Only time will tell if Karl will ever get to California and face charges in Christina's death.  It has been said that he could face the death penalty there but I am unsure a decision has been made in that since the case is now stalled.  Prior to his plea agreement in Levi's death it had been determined that no information from the investigation into Christina's death could be used against him at trial in New York.  If and when he faces his charges in California the same may not be held true about Levi in that trial as he has been convicted at this point.  That would likely boost the case there, although it could be argued that Christina died nearly two decades prior to Levi and I am unsure if he had any other legal issue prior to her death.  They can prove however that just as in Levi's case, the life insurance policy on Christina was only enacted a few short weeks prior to her death.  It does appear that at least his daughter Erin would testify for the prosecution but I see problems in that as she was only six years old when her mother died. The family have some solace or at least hope that if Karl is never tried in California he could still remain in jail until his death in New York.       


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