Father crushes son with truck for insurance

By James Quiggle
January 13, 2014

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“Not fully human” was how the sentencing judge described Karl Karlsen.

The upstate New York man had just received 15 years to life in jail after murdering his only son for more than $700,000 in life insurance money.

Karlsen had bought the coverage just 17 days before killing Levi. Karlsen hoisted his 5,000-pound pickup truck onto a wobbly jack in the family’s barn, and asked Levi to work on the transmission.

Levi slid under the truck to start work. Karlsen sneaked up to the jack and tripped it. The truck crashed onto Levi, crushing his chest and leaving him to die a horrific death of pain and suffocation.

Police suspected Karlsen had murdered Levi but had no smoking gun. His death was ruled an accident, and Karlsen got his life-insurance money.

The investigation plodded inconclusively for nine months until his estranged wife Cindy called police. Karlsen had just admitted to her that he’d killed Levi, she said. The probe sprang back to life.

imagePolice then wired Cindy. She and Karlsen went to a restaurant with police listening at the next table so they could overhear. “I didn't push the truck,” he told Cindy. "But I took advantage of the situation once it happened.”

Karlsen also carefully timed the death. The insurer had scheduled a medical exam for just 17 days before Karlsen killed Levi. He suffered from a serious throat disorder, and sufferers can choke to death. Swallowing was so hard that Levi had to drink large amounts of water just to eat solid food. The physical likely would’ve discovered Levi’s undisclosed condition, and had the policy voided for misrepresentation.

Police then interviewed Karlsen. His stories were muddled as he struggled to conjure a plausible excuse. He told three conflicting stories, which helped seal his fate at trial.

First, he said Levi was alive when Karl and Cindy left for a funeral, but was dead when they returned. Next, he said Levi was dead before they left but he couldn’t tell anybody at first because he was in shock.

“It was as if you were talking about that weather — you were that callous, that shallow, that matter of fact.”Karlsen finally admitted knocking the pickup off the jack, crushing his son to death. He said it was an accident but agreed he didn’t try to lift the truck off Levi with the big railroad jack that had supported the vehicle. Saving Levi would’ve taken less than a minute.

As Karlsen described it: He’d gone to the garage before the funeral to see how Levi’s work was doing. The truck was jacked up like a wheelbarrow: resting on its back tires and the single jack in the front, with its front tires removed. Levi was still under the truck, “cussing and swearing” because he couldn’t get the transmission line loose. Levi asked Karl to get in the truck and move the shift lever.

“He asked me, ‘Can you move the link a little bit?’” Karlsen said. “I opened the door. I jumped up on the running board and laid over on the seat. (The truck) just tipped.” He then panicked, he said, and walked away while Levi was still alive instead of jacking up the truck to save Levi.

Levi’s death traumatized his wife and two children, leaving their family forever changed. “Ivy is mine and Levi's youngest daughter. She is 8. She has suffered many an intense nightmare that has forced her from her bed to seek comfort,” his wife Cassie Hohn wrote in a court statement.

“Her dreams became increasingly vivid as time has passed. She progressed from nightmares of someone breaking into our house once or twice a week to nightmares almost daily where she could only describe remembering body parts and lots of blood.”

Karlsen sat impassively and also smirked during the sentencing hearing.

“It was as if you were talking about that weather — you were that callous, that shallow, that matter of fact,” the judge said at Karlsen’s sentencing. “You're manipulative and have no sense of empathy and care for anyone but yourself.”

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