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Murder case in Seneca County could reopen fatal California fire case

Posted at: 11/26/2012 10:32 PM
Updated at: 11/26/2012 11:35 PM
By: Don Hudson

Authorities say a murder case in Seneca County may also open up a 1991 fatal fire investigation in California.

Four years after the death of 23-year-old Levi Karlsen in Varick. The Seneca County Sheriff says he now has information that makes him believe Levi's father is responsible for his death and that it was not an accident. In addition, the case against 52-year-old Karl Karlsen has deputies in Calavera County, California looking at a fire that killed Karlsen's wife 20-years-ago.

Could something that happened in Seneca County in 2008 re-open a fatal fire investigation in California from 1991? Sgt. Christopher Hewitt with the Calaveras County Sheriff's department says it's a possibility.

Sgt. Christopher Hewitt, Calavera County Sheriff's Department, said, "I know it happened 22 years ago, but we got to consider it a brand new case now because it is so old and we got to review everything and let the evidence take us where it takes us."

When Levi Karlsen was crushed to death beneath a car in a barn on the family property in Seneca county, Karl Karlsen told deputies he found his son trapped under the car and for four years that was the story.

Sheriff Jack Stenberg, Seneca County, said, "And there was nothing at the time that seemed unusual. It seemed like an accident. It clearly seemed like an unfortunate accident. Yes."   

But now the Seneca County Sheriff says he has new information about an insurance policy taken out just two days before the accident that led him to arrest Karl Karlsen over the weekend.

Sheriff Stenberg said, "Part of it was looking into the insurance aspect and discovering there was a substantial amount of insurance on Levi. Finding out that policy was very new, which of course triggered some red flags."

Sheriff Stenberg says then they learned that Karl Karlsen's wife, Christina, died in a house fire in Calaveras County California in 1991.According to Sgt. Hewitt, Karlsen also collected a substantial amount of life insurance after wards. Given the two cases and the life insurance policies, Sgt. Hewitt says they are taking this seriously.   

Sgt. Hewett said, "May conduct follow up interviews with family members. We'll definitely speak to investigators in New York and we'll see where we go from there."

But he says finding something new may be very difficult.

Sgt. Hewett said, “The reporting systems were a lot different. We didn't even have computer then, so everything is on microfiche or written and packed away and in a container somewhere and review everything that was ever done.”

This is very fresh to the sheriff's department in Calaveras County, California. Sgt. Hewett said it was “dropped in their lap” Monday. He says they are still waiting to have a long conversation with Seneca County investigators.  Sgt. Hewett said, “To see if we can aid them in their investigation or they can assist us in ours.”