Family Suspicion of N.Y. Man Leads to Reopening of Two Murder Investigation

Karl Karlsen is accused of murdering his son and suspected in his wife's death.

ByABC News
September 18, 2013, 9:22 AM

Sept. 18, 2013— -- A central New York man, who is awaiting trial in the murder of his son, is also suspected of having a hand in the death of his wife two decades ago. Both cases came to the attention of authorities after a concerned family member came forward.

Karl Karlsen, 52, is in a jail cell in Waterloo, N.Y., to face charges of second-degree murder and insurance fraud in the death of his son. After a family member came forward, authorities opened an investigation into the 1991 California house fire that killed his wife Christina, for which investigators say he collected a $200,000 life insurance payout.

"He's accused of horrible things. We'll have to see whether or not the court process or the court room finds him guilty," his brother Michael Karlsen told ABC News.

In 2008, Karl Karlsen's 23-year-old son Levi was crushed to death when the truck he was working on slipped off its jack and crushed him. Police say Karlsen collected a $700,000 life insurance payout after the incident.

Karlsen, who pleaded not guilty, chalks it up to a string of bad luck, police said.

"It's extremely unlikely that someone would have many tragic events a few weeks after they obtained exorbitantly high insurance policies," Seneca County Lt. Investigator John Cleere said. "There was also the fact that we uncovered that he facilitated a hand-written will on the day that Levi died."

Thanks to a tip from an unnamed family member, New York and California authorities reopened the investigations into both deaths.

Cindy Karlsen, Karl's soon to be ex-wife, was one of investigators' first calls.

"Her first words were 'thank God you called,'" Cleere said.

Cindy told police she also had her suspicions, especially after she says she learned he used some of the life insurance payout from his son to take out a life insurance policy on her -- worth $1.2 million.

While wearing a wire in a crowded restaurant last year, Cindy asked her husband to come clean about his son's death. On tapes played in court, he said he'd removed his truck's front tires and raised it on a single jack before asking Levi to do the repair.

"It was never meant to be," he said on the tape. "It was never planned from Day One to ever go that way."

The family of Karlsen's deceased first wife was also suspicious of him following her death.

"For 20 years I stood in the gap believing that justice would take place and I never gave up hope. Never," Christina Karlsen's mother told ABC affiliate WSYR.

Karl Karlsen's attorney did not return calls placed by ABC News, and the district attorney prosecuting his first wife's case declined comment.

Investigators say in a nearly 10-hour interview, Karlsen denied killing his son 75 times, and that he's given several explanations for his son's death, including that he accidentally knocked the pickup truck off the jack and onto his son.

Karlsen's trial begins late next month.