The man accused of killing both his son and his first wife to cash in on insurance policies is heard on tape admitting he accidentally caused a truck to fall on his son, which crushed him, and then left him to die, it emerged today.
Karl Karlsen, 52, from Waterloo, New York, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and insurance fraud last year after his second wife Cindy – fearing for her life – agreed to wear a wire while talking to him about his son’s death.
A judge ruled recently that the never-before-heard tapes could be used as evidence against him in his trial.
Before the death of his son Levi in 2008, for which he received a $700,000 life insurance payout, his first wife Christina perished in a house fire after getting trapped in the bathroom in 1991.
Karlsen cashed in on a $200,000 life insurance policy soon after.
On the tapes, obtained by ABC’s Nightline, the 52-year-old can be heard telling Cindy while they were in a restaurant that he had removed his truck’s front tires and raised it on a single jack before Levi volunteered to do the repair.
‘I didn’t push the truck, I said,’ Karlsen said after Cindy asked him for the truth in Levi’s death. ‘No, I said I had nothing to do — but I said I took advantage of the situation once it happened.’
Police arrested Karlsen soon after and interrogated him for ten hours, in which he denied killing his son 75 times.
In the police interrogation tapes, also obtained by ABC News, he said: ‘I found him dead. I f***ing panicked. I don’t know. I don’t know. I left him.’
Finally he told police he had been there when the truck fell on his son and caused it to fall.
‘I opened the truck door because I had to get inside to move the linkage for the truck, and when I did, it tipped, and it just, whoosh, f***ing fell over,’ Karlsen said.
He maintains it was an accident, but did admit that he left his son to die.
‘He did admit that he caused the truck to fall on his son. He did admit that he left his son on the floor dying, but he never admitted that it was a planned, deliberate act,’ said Seneca County Lt Investigator John Cleere.
‘The officers at the scene didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,’ he told ABC. ‘They saw what appeared to be two grieving parents and what appeared to be an accident.’
Knowing about the insurance payout on his son, when Cindy found out her husband took out a $1.2million policy on her, she grew suspicious and feared for her life.
That’s what prompted her to work with police, leading to second-degree murder and insurance fraud charges against Karl Karlsen in the death of his 23-year-old son, Levi.
And New York and California authorities are now taking a new look at the circumstances of the 1991 death of his former wife, Christina Karlsen.
Cindy Karlsen’s cooperation evolved from an unnerving revelation a year before she came forward. She learned Karlsen had invested some of the insurance money from his son’s death into a life insurance policy on her.
‘I would be worth $1.2 million dead to Karl,’ she testified during a pretrial proceeding.
After speaking to sheriff’s investigators last year, she agreed to wear a wire to secretly record her husband.
She made several recordings, the first three using a digital gadget hidden in her bra.
The final recording took place in a crowded restaurant in New York’s picturesque Finger Lakes region in hopes of getting him to confirm her suspicions about the death of his son.
‘I led him to believe our marriage had a chance if he came clean,’ Cindy Karlsen said in a recent hearing, the husband she is now in the process of divorcing sitting in prison orange just a few feet away.
‘I told him he could trust me.’
The wire picked up Karl Karlsen telling Cindy how he’d removed his truck’s front tires and raised it on a single jack before asking Levi to repair the brake and transmission lines.
‘It was so wobbly,’ Karlsen said, according to a recording of the conversation, heard against the backdrop of restaurant noise, played recently in court. Tell the truth, Cindy Karlsen implored.
‘It was never meant to be,’ he said. ‘It was never planned from Day One to ever go that way.’
Karlsen was charged a week later. The 52-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder charge in advance of his trial scheduled for next month. If convicted, he could get up to life behind bars.
In an interview with The Post-Standard of Syracuse a month after his arrest, Karlsen said his ex-wife’s death, his son’s death and even a 2002 fire at his Seneca County farm that killed his Belgian draft horses, for which he collected $80,000 (£50,000) in insurance money, were all just coincidences.
But Art Alexander, Christina Karlsen’s father, told The Associated Press from his Murphys, California, home that he didn’t think bad luck had anything to do with it.
‘I think it’s a very greedy man with a very cold heart,’ said Alexander, who has long suspected that his son-in-law and former business partner was responsible for his 30-year-old daughter’s death.
Christina, Alexander was told, was trapped in the bathroom after spilled kerosene was ignited by a faulty electric light. Although Karl Karlsen is credited with getting Levi and their other two children out safely, Christina was unable to escape through the bathroom window because Karlsen had boarded it up from the outside days before, saying it was broken.
‘Seventeen nails were in that board,’ Alexander, 73, recalls.
The insurance policy, he said, had been taken out just before Christmas. The fire happened New Year’s Day. Karlsen’s abrupt move to New York and away from scrutiny further stoked the father’s suspicions.
Even so, Alexander was surprised to hear of Karlsen’s arrest in his son’s death, and relieved to learn the 1991 fire was getting a second look.