20/20 The Sins of the Father, Karl Karlsen murdered his wife and son for insurance money decades apart

On tonight’s episode of 20/20 title “The Sins of the Father,” sisters Erin DeRoche and Kati Reynolds retell the traumatic story of how their father almost got away with murdering their mother Christina Karlsen and brother Levi Karlsen for insurance money.

Karl Karlsen collected $200,000 of life insurance after his first wife Christina died in a house fire on in California, New Year’s Day 1991 after being trapped in the bathroom with a boarded-up window with a jug of kerosine “accidentally” spilled outside the bathroom. Karl claimed that Christina thought it had been a jug of water. He explained the boarded-up window by saying Christine had “accidentally” broken that as well. Firefighters bought this story and declared the fire accidental.

Fast forward to 2008 in New York, and another tragedy struck Karl Karlsen that benefited him financially. His 23-year-old son Levi signed his entire estate away, including $700,000 in life insurance, to his father and then died in a freak accident by being crushed by a truck.

Karl had lured Levi to his death by asking him to do some mechanical work on a farm truck. Once he was under the truck to take a look, it slammed down on him and crushed him to death. The truck had been propped up with little support in a way that seemed to design to make it fall.

Karl’s second wife Cindy Best had believed Karl’s story about his first wife, but when his son died in such an unusual way, Cindy grew suspicious and went to the police with her concerns. The resulting invitation led to Karl pleading guilty to Levi’s murder in 2013.

California authorities then became interested in his role in his wife Christina’s death, and that investigation resulted in a 2020 conviction of first-degree murder, nearly 30 years after it occurred.

His daughter Erin DeRoche testified in the case against her father for killing her mother for money. In the testimony, she recalled visiting her father before his trial for her brother Levi’s death. “I told him I knew he killed my mother and brother,” she told the jury. “He grinned like a Cheshire cat and said, ‘It’s been 20 years. They haven’t caught me yet, they’re not going to.’”

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