Years before son’s death, Christina Karlsen also died in a tragic 'accident': Part 3

On New Year’s Day 1991, a fire broke out at the Karlsen family’s California home. Karl broke windows to save the three children but claimed the flames were too powerful to save his first wife.
7:52 | 06/06/20

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Transcript for Years before son’s death, Christina Karlsen also died in a tragic 'accident': Part 3
Reporter: Years before Levi Karlsen would die underneath that truck, Karl Karlsen would experience loss before. When Levi died, I'm sure, I assume it was some sort of a deja Vu moment for Karl, that he'd been there before in '91. He had lost his wife and lost his home and everything they owned. There's beautiful mommy over there. My mom's name was Christina. But everybody who was really close to her called her Chris. I had two daughters. One was Susie homemaker, and that was Chris. The other one was a little sports jock. And that was Collette. She was three years older than me. Everybody knew I was her little sister. She didn't see bad in anyone. Even though somebody could have done something horrific, she would find a way to find something positive about them. Karl met his first wife, Christina, when he was in the air force. She had told me she'd met a nice guy, and so I asked some questions about him. She seemed very, very excited about this particular person. And then when she told me they were getting married, you know, I wished her the best and as soon as I could get out there to see her, I got out there. Karl worked at stone quarry in Seneca county. Ultimately, Karl moved to California to take a job. He got laid off. I said, come out here to California. You always have a job out here. I made him partner in my company. So Karl, out of the blue, just packed everybody up and he took off for California to strike it rich and famous. And that was a typical Karl adventure. Of course I'm excited because that means my sister and her kids are coming home, so I'm very excited. The Karlsen family lived in the town of murphys. Murphys is a gold rush era town that was settled by pioneers, and it's existed here since the mid to early-late 1800s. It's northern California. It's quite a hike from Sacramento, an hour or two. It's quiet back-country roads. We loved murphys. My mom would actually take us on walks and we would collect leaves and acorns and we would go on picnics. Pennsylvania gulch road, where the Karlsen family settled, was off the highway down a rural road. Where Karl and Christina and their three children lived was on old mining shack, converted into a house. But it was a difficult It was very dilapidated. But I remember when we moved in, gosh, my mom put in a lot of effort to get the house clean. She painted it, she decorated it, she sewed curtains, she was a phenomenal seamstress. It was amazing when my father wasn't home, but when he was home it was very tense. He just had a very aggressive personality. Um, kind of that personality that either my way or the highway, and the highway isn't an option, so it's my way. For her 30th birthday I bought her a glamour shot. I thought this would just be the perfect 30th birthday for her. Walk into hi house. He sees her. Tells her, take the makeup off, you look like a -- and she went to the bathroom and took it off. When things would get to the point where she felt she didn't want us to witness the arguments or the fights, she would request that they go back to the bedroom. But we heard. I heard. There were some glaring things to me that I didn't like that I talked to her about multiple times. According to Collette, Christina was getting ready to move out, take the kids with her and move in with her. Just wanted to wait and get through the holidays. Christmas morning, 1990. Levi, look at me please. Let me get your face in this. Thank you, darling. It was the last Christmas we all had together at my mom's house. You know, opening presents. It's her being goofy. On January 1, 1991, it was a day kind of like any other. We were just playing around the Karl's daughter, Erin, recalled him taking a Christmas tree out of the house and dousing it in kerosene. He was going to burn the Christmas tree, and he wanted us to watch so he lined us up. And said that he wanted us to see how quickly a house could burn. And I was just shy of 7, but I assumed it was a lesson like, don't play with matches, don't play with fire. And then we went back inside. Our mom got us ready to go down for our nap. Levi was sleeping in his room. Katie and Erin were sleeping in their room, and Christina went into the bathroom to take a bath. Reporter: So, while Karl's wife is taking a bath he says he was upstairs in the attic working on a fan before then going out to the garage. He walks out into the garage, which the garage is probably 50 feet. He's working in the shop, and it's at that point he hears his wife screaming his name. He comes out, looks, and that's when he sees the smoke. He sees flames. He sees the house is on fire. He hears Christina say, Karl, get the kids. She loved those kids, and she would have done anything for them. I heard my mother screaming. And I went to the door. It was slightly ajar so I peeked out the door. And at 4 years old, I don't think I really understood what was happening. But I saw down the hallway. It was engulfed in flames. Karl says smoke is pouring out of the house, it's engulfed in flames. He goes to the up on the porch and to Levi's bedroom window and breaks the window. Karl claimed he sees his son there unharmed, so he reaches in, grabs his son by the hair and throws his 5-year-old son out of the house and to safety. He then goes to the other side of the house, breaks the window to the girls' bedroom. She was just there, and he pulled us out. After saving Erin and Katie, he said he returned to the house and tried to enter into the door, but there were too many flames. It's 1991. Not everybody has a cell phone. So he leaves this fire scene. He decided his best next course of action would be to go seek out help. I had two different people come to my door and said they had heard on the scanner there was a fire at the end of Penn gulch road. Just walked out here in the street. I could see the smoke, and I knew where it was coming from. My first thought, just get out there. Emergency services, fire department, and first responders respond to the scene. The people that were close to Christina had a lot of questions about what happened that day. It's obvious that they're suspicious. Why he didn't knock this out -- There was a $200,000 policy on Christina. It's just, it's all red flags. It makes you wonder, just how unlucky is this guy? You ready for this?

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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