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tv   Nightline  ABC  July 10, 2021 12:37am-1:06am PDT

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than ♪ this is "nightline." >> tonight, killer motive. the string of deadly events changing one family forever. >> you could -- you could see the -- indentation on his chest. >> two tragedies, one fatal connection. >> it wasn't an accident. >> a daughter's growing suspicion. >> he smiled like a cheshire cat and he said, it's been 22 years, they haven't caught me yet and they're not going to. >> what would it take to finally get justice? i used to pre-rinse because mom did. but i wasted up to 20 gallons of water every time.
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get ready for the olympics with xfinity internet for $19.99 a month for 12 months and get a flex 4k streaming box for free! switch today. seneca falls. a sleepy northern new york town nestled in the finger lakes. the longtime home of karl carlson, a husband and father of three. a story of tragedy and terror would rock this small hamlet to its core. >> call 911, levi is dead. >> ma'am, what's going on?
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>> the truck fell on my stepson. oh my god, it's horrible. >> his 23-year-old son, levi, dies in this tragedy. >> at first it didn't appear to be anything out of the or appea accident. >> remember, people consumed by this story, and it only got more twisted as the years went on. >> wherever karl goes, tragedy takes place. >> seemed like every couple years, something was burning. >> cindy's concerned, okay, first wife dies in this tragedy, levi dies in this tragedy, am i next? >> when i met karl in november of 1992, he was a single dad to his three children. >> carlson's first wife, christina, was 30 years old when she died in a tragic fire. just years before he would meet his second wife, cindy carlson. >> he seemed like he was a hands-on dad. the youngest, katie, adored her
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father. aaron and levi seemed that they had a special bond. >> levi was amazing. he was so creative. he was very smart. but he had a learning disability. so when it came to bringing home good grades, he couldn't because of the disability. >> he went through a rebellious time in his teenage years. and him and his father seemed to clash. >> as he got older, he got into more of the metal music, you know, he kind of changed his appearance a little bit. but deep down he was always still that same goofy kid. >> november 20th, 2008. 911 received a frantic call from kinsey karlsen. >> 911, what's the location of your emergency? >> i885 old farm road. >> okay.
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>> levi had come to the home of cindy and karl karlsen at the request of karl. >> karl told me that levi was going to come out to work on an old farm truck that we had that day. >> while levi is in the garage working under that farm truck, karl and cindy are getting ready and dressed to go to a funeral. >> i went and got in the passenger seat of the car, and karl had told me that, i'm just going to go let levi know that i'm leave. it was just a minute or two. then karl came and got in the car. nothing seemed out of the ordinary. >> he and cindy leave to go to a funeral. >> we were gone for four hours. >> they return home. cindy first notices levi's car still parked in their driveway. she's kind of concerned. >> i went into the house and karl came up to the window and the door and started banging and saying, call 911, levi is dead. >> ma'am, what's going on? >> the truck fell on my stepson.
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>> the truck fell on your stepson? >> we just got home, and i don't think he's alive. >> you don't think he's alive? >> no, my husband's lifting off the truck. >> karl had pulled levi out from underneath the truck. and you could see -- you could see the -- indentation on his chest. >> the truck was jacked up by a single railroad-type jack. >> levi was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. >> levi's 23 years old at the time of his death. >> at first it didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary? >> no, it appeared to be an accident. >> after levi's death, the investigation is very cursory. general reports were filed. the doctor signed off on it. there was no autopsy. it gave every appearance of being an unfortunate accident. >> it was shortly after levi died that karl had told me that levi had had a life insurance
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policy. >> the life insurance policy that's taken out on levi, it's beyond bizarre. karl drives levi, his 23-year-old son, to an insurance office, convinces levi to take out a life insurance policy worth $700,000. >> when i questioned karl, why were you beneficiary? he had told me that because levi was going through this nasty divor divorce. i just trusted my husband. there was no reason for me to question anything. >> at the time, law enforcement didn't know about any of this. once it was ruled an accident, it seemed like it was case closed. >> i assumed 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. >> on new year's day 1991, a house fire tore through the karlsens' california home.
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>> i heard my mother scream. when i went to the door it was slightly ajar. i peeked out the door. >> at 4 years old, i don't think i really understood what was happening, what i saw down the hallway. it was engulfed in flames. >> karl says he breaks the windows of his kids' rooms and gets them out but couldn't get to his wife, christina. >> christina karlsen perished in the housewife. they found her doubled over outside of the tub with a rag covering her face. >> my father had said, mommy's gone to heaven. even before the many planses got there, the firefighters. while we're sitting in the truck. we didn't understand, of course, the gravity or what it really meant. but we knew. so we were all really quiet. >> karl tells investigators how he thinks the fire started. >> he had been working that day of the fire, he was working in the attic area. >> karl says he was using a
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trouble light in the attic for light just before he went out not garage. >> karl's claim that the trouble light, which either fell from the attic or which he left on the kerosene spill, likely caused the fire. >> christina's death is ruled an accidental death. karl kent, who was the investigator for california department of forestry, he had a lot of questions about the cause and who started this fire. >> and it didn't help that karl had taken out an insurance policy on christina just weeks before that deadly fire. >> karlsen went to an insurance agent and bought a $200,000 policy on his wife. >> the fact that the policy was purchased 19 days before christina's death i think rang the alarm bells in the head of state farm insurance. >> state farm brought in ken busey. >> typically i'm hired by an insurance company to answer what the cause of the fire is. >> when that investigator looked at that severely burned light,
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he was able to determine that the filament had not been energized at the time of the fire, meaning, the light wasn't on. >> if a bulb is off, of course, it's not apt to be the cause of the fire. mr. rl story, it simply couldn't have been true. >> ken buske turns his report in em,e's cnc this is no accident. >> but for whatever reason, that report didn't stop the insurance company from paying out the claim. >> karl was paid $215,000, and it was not explained why their recommendation to not have him be paid out was overlooked. >> the insurance company did a very good investigation. law enforcement, it didn't seem, was doing anything. >> i never saw mr. buske's report. i didn't know who mr. buske was. >> it just seemed like, when karl moved to new york a few days after the fire, it's like everything stopped. and there wasn't much follow-up. >> i asked if they would front
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the monies for me to travel back there and interview him. >> carl kent wanted to go to new york to interview karlsen in person, but his superiors turned him down, saying that there just wasn't enough money for that kind of trip. >> the da's office said it was a good circumstantial case, but there wasn't enough to prosecute it at that time. when we come back, tragic accident or heinous crimes? >> did he get away with murder, not once, but twice? >> and what would blow both cases wide open? stay with us. we do it every night. every night. do it. run your dishwasher every night with cascade platinum to save water & energy. did you know an energy star certified dishwasher uses less than 4 gallons of water per cycle while a running sink uses that every 2 minutes? even better, it's proven you can also save up to $130 dollars per year on your energy bill.
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♪ ♪ ♪ hey google, turn up the heat. ♪ ♪ ♪ receive a chargepoint home flex charger or a public charging credit. see your volvo retailer for details. oroweat small slice. i wonder if this has the same quality ingredients as the original whole grains bread? great question, dad. and it does. it has all the same nutritious deliciousness as the original slice but only a little bit smaller. just like timmy here. my name's lucas. it sure is bobby.
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♪ two years have passed since karl karlsen's son levi tragically died under a vehicle. nearly two decades after karl's first wife christina perished in a housewife. karl's second wife cindy begins to grow suspicious. >> i would have these panic attacks. i would be in hi living room and say, oh my gosh, did he have something to do with levi's death? christi christina's family said he had something to do with her death. it was the most terrifying time in my life. i decided that i just could not do it anymore, i couldn't live with karl anymore, i needed to get out of the house. >> she was concerned enough that she hires a private detective to look into it. >> the private investigator
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started digging in and finding out, i would be worth $1.2 million to karl if i was dead. one night, i had called on my cousin and tod her my fears. "i think karl might have killed levi." she said, why would karl kill levi? there's nothing for him to gain from that. and i said, yes, there was, he gained $700,000. >> cindy's cousin, jackie himmel, called in a concern that she had to the police. >> suspicions, concerned that things just aren't adding up. wherever karl goes, tragedy takes place and financial payouts follow suit. we choose to reach out to cindy karlsen to further an investigation. >> that's when we started working together with law enforcement. >> the investigation kicks into high gear. police set up undercover officers and cindy agrees to wear a wire to meet with karl to try and elicit a confession.
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>> so right now i need to -- >> i know, but i'm just telling you -- >> i'm going to -- >> no. >> you just had to pump it? >> because it's so wobbly, you know. because the only thing that was touching the ground was just the back two wheels. >> any dessert? >> no. >> i'll have more coffee, thank you. >> sure. so then what happened? >> then -- >> what, did he make a noise? >> i mean, you'd think. >> it's not clear cut, it's not definitive. >> by no means did we think this was a slam dunk. >> at that point, we knew we were going to be bringing him in for an interview. >> investigators questioning karl for hours about his son levi's death. >> did you tell cindy, when she asked you if you pushed the car over on levi, did you push hard, do you remember telling her, it pushed easy?
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>> i don't remember ever -- >> could you have said that? >> if it is, then i said it, yeah. >> let it out. was it just a split-second thing? >> i felt like i was getting close with him. it's almost a physical thing, you can almost feel it. i thought he was close to telling me something more about what really happened that day. p>> karl tells police investigators multiple versions of what happened the day of levi's death. >> it would turn out karl karlsen would have one more version of the story. he said when he went out into that garage, that his son levi was still alive and was actually working on the truck. >> i'd never hurt him, i couldn't. it was an accident. i opened the truck door. because i had to get inside to move the linkage for the [ bleep ] truck. and when i did, it tipped and it
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just [ bleep ] fell over. >> you see, karl, what's happened? we've gone from, he was dead when you walked in there, to it fell when you opened the door. so take the final step. >> there is no more final step. >> i can't imagine walking away and leaving your child dying on the floor. we arrested the karl for the murder, murder in the second degree, and for the insurance fraud. >> after he was jailed, i went to go visit him. i looked a him was like, i know that you did this, and i know that you killed my mother. and he paused, and it was like he completely calmed down. and he looked at me and he
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smiled like a cheshire cat. and he said, "it's been 22 years, they haven't caught me yet." >> there's no trial in levi's case. >> karl karlsen pleading guilty to second-degree murder. the insurance fraud charge was dropped. he's sentenced to 15 years in prison. >> authorities had decided to reopen the investigation into christina karlsen's death in california back in 1991. >> the authorities in california start digging into the case, and they unearth evidence that had long been forgotten. >> all these years later, that california f investigator still had those two boxes of evidence sitting in his basement. and he turned them over to the d.a. the d.a. there suddenly announces that they're charging karl karlsen in the death of his first wife, christina.
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>> the trial took place in calaveras county superior court approximately 29 years almost to the date after christina karlsen died. >> the defendant, through cold and calculated measures, extinguished the life that was christina. and he did it on purpose. >> some of the most critical testimony came from that fire investigator hired by the insurance company, ken buske. >> the trouble didn't ignite this, none of the appliances in the home ignited this, it had to be a person applying flame to the kerosene. >> ladies and gentlemen, the defendant had motive. his motive in this case was greed. greed. >> the defense was questioning
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the validity of what happened. >> we all know that that evidence is 29 years old. >> the defense's argument seemed to be that if the case wasn't strong enough back in 1991, what would make anything different now? >> it wouldn't take long for the jury to come back with their verdict. >> we, the jury, find the defendant, karl holger karlsen, guilty of murder in the first degree. >> karlsen had no reaction at all. stone cold. in fact, it looked like he almost expected that verdict. >> i've never been more humbled by or grateful to 12 strangers in my entire life. it was everything i wanted. >> he very stoically stood up, and he walked away. i really wanted to see him look over his shoulder, make
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eye contact with those two girls, and just by eye tell them something. say something to them. never looked back. he walked away on their mother, walked away on their hebrm.n. >> we'll be right back. your mission: stand up to moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. and take. it. on... with rinvoq. rinvoq a once-daily pill can dramatically improve symptoms... rinvoq helps tame pain, stiffness, swelling. and for some, rinvoq can even significantly reduce ra fatigue. that's rinvoq relief. with ra, your overactive immune system attacks your joints. rinvoq regulates it to help stop the attack. rinvoq can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious infections and blood clots, sometimes fatal, have occurred as have certain cancers, including lymphoma,
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