Man in Prison for Killing Son for Insurance Money Convicted of Also Killing Wife for Insurance Money

On Monday morning, a jury found Karl Karlsen, who is serving a prison sentence for the murder of his son, guilty of first-degree murder by arson in the 1991 death of his wife Christina.

The Sonora Union-Democrat reported that Karlsen was convicted after a trial that lasted nearly two weeks. The audience gasped when the jury announced the verdict, but Karlsen remained emotionless.

Karl Karlsen Booking Photo
Karl Karlsen booking photo Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office

Karlsen was extradited to California to stand trial. He was previously an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

The fire happened on January 1, 1991 at the family's home in Murphys, California. Karlsen was able to get his children out of the house, but his wife perished in the blaze.

Christina's body was found in the bathroom of the house. She was unable to escape because Karlsen had nailed a plywood board on the inside of the sole window in the room.

Karlsen had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife just 19 days before the fire. That policy paid out $200,000 when the fire was determined to be accidental.

The prosecution brought in forensic electrical engineer Kenneth Buske as an expert witness, who testified that evidence supported that the fire was intentionally ignited. They also played an audio tape of Karlsen speaking to a firefighter about the insurance claim, telling him "I've got a lot of bills. I mean, how long does it take?"

Many of his friends commented that Karlsen was emotionless after Christina's death. He moved back to New York with his three children just days after the fire.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Karlsen was imprisoned in 2013 for the murder of his son Levi, who was crushed to death under a truck he was working on. Prosecutors alleged that Karlsen lured the 23-year-old underneath the 5,000-pound vehicle and then knocked it off its jack, leaving it atop the young man until he suffocated.

Karlsen was the sole beneficiary of his son's insurance policy as well, receiving $700,000. That policy was taken out just 17 days before Levi's death.

In 2012, a cousin of Karlsen's current wife contacted police with her belief that Levi's death was intentional. They launched an investigation and obtained enough information to arrest him for murder.

A day before the trial was scheduled to begin, he pled guilty to the crime and was given a sentence of 15 years to life.

At the most recent trial, the prosecution presented evidence of several other suspicious insurance claims in Karlsen's history, including a barn fire that killed three draft horses. Records indicated that Karlsen had received over $1 million in total payouts from insurance claims.

Karlsen will serve the remainder of his sentence in New York before being transferred to the California prison system. He will be eligible for release in New York no earlier than 2027.

His sentencing hearing for his wife's murder is scheduled for March 17. He faces up to life without parole.