Anyone down for some true crime? This story's a doozy, and it begins with a woman going to the police with a terrible suspicion. Karl Karlsen's first wife died in a fire in 1991, twenty days after he took out a $200,000 life insurance policy on her. In 2008, he bought a $700,000 policy for his 23 year old son, Levi. Seventeen days later, the son was working under a pickup truck at his father's request when it slipped off the jack and crushed him to death. In the intervening years, Karlsen had collected checks for mysterious fires that burnt up his truck, his barn, and his expensive Belgian draft horses. His second wife, Cindy, had been around to spend all that money, but wasn't comforted by the discovery that he had purchased a life insurance policy in her name to the tune of $1.2 million. In fact, it filled her with a deep and abiding fear of becoming his next victim, so she went straight to the police. Now Karl's in jail in New York, charged with second degree murder and insurance fraud.
He isn't being charged in relation to his first wife's death, which took place in rural north California, though they're definitely looking pretty hard at it. This is the sequence of events as he alleges they occurred.
The water pipes had frozen, so Karlsen hauled 5-gallon jugs of water inside. The night before the fire, Christina mistook a kerosene container on the porch for a water jug and brought it into the hallway, where a rambunctious cat and dog later knocked it over and spilled two gallons of kerosene on the carpet. Minutes before the fire, Karlsen said, he had been fixing an attic fan and had laid a defective electric light on the china cupboard near the kerosene spill – and just outside the bathroom where Christina was taking a bath.
She might have been able to escape out the bathroom window, except she supposedly broke the glass the day before, requiring him to nail the window shut with a sheet of plywood. That's the fucked part for me, that this guy goes around constructing little deathtraps out of greed. It's not like people didn't suspect him, either. "Seventeen nails were in that board," Christina's father said, "I thought they would never catch up with him." He seems to have gotten away with it mostly by leaving town and moving back to New York within days of the fire. The investigators seem to have suspected the hell out of him, but the fact is that if you just make it really inconvenient for them to even interview you, there's a pretty good chance they'll give up immediately and be like case closed.
The New York cops had Cindy wear a wire and see if she could get him to spill about his son's death under a fallen truck. "It was so wobbly," he said. "Tell the truth," Cindy replied. "It was never meant to be. It was never planned from day one to ever go that way," Karl said. The cops brought him in to the station a week later and sweated him for like eight hours straight trying to get a confession. He denied everything consistently until breaking down and signing a statement where he admitted to shoving the truck off its jack and walking away. He still denied doing anything intentionally, pleading the haziness of a memory ravaged by years of prescription pill abuse.
I'm always suspicious as hell about confessions obtained after marathon interrogations because a lot of times they cause people to admit to all kinds of shit they didn't actually do. The jury isn't going to be hearing about his first wife's death, or the other fires either, because they've been ruled inadmissible. A lot is going to hinge on second wife Cindy, who Karlsen paints as an angry liar. “You lived with me for 3 1/2 years [after Levi’s death] and now all of the sudden we got a divorce coming and this happens? What a coincidence, don’t you think?” Well, point taken, at least as far as her developing terrible suspicions only after the money was spent and the marriage was toast. Probably can't discount the role that fear for her own life played though, since the pattern is that he kills as a way out from under financial problems.
The trial starts later this month, and I'll be following along. I happen to know a total pillhead with a bad back, though at this point it's impossible to separate genuine back pain from the demands of his insane, unbelievable daily opiate intake. That guy has no kind of morality whatsoever when it comes to ensuring that the pill train keeps chugging into the station. Friends, family, it doesn't matter, and he turns into a devious motherfucker when the chips are down. Anyway, I showed this story to some other guy that knows him, and he was like "Yep, that's David right there."