In September 2016, Linda Carman and her son, Nathan Carman, went on a fishing trip in Long Island Sound. Eight days later, Nathan, then age 22, was found floating in a life raft approximately 100 miles from where the mother and son had been fishing. According to Nathan, the Chicken Pox filled with water and sank quickly. He says that he last saw his mother as the boat was sinking. Neither Linda nor the Chicken Pox have been seen since.
Were it not for a lot of money and the unexplained death of Nathan’s grandfather in 2013, the tragic loss of Linda Carman at sea would likely have made momentary headlines and then quickly been forgotten. After all, deaths in boating accidents are not unusual. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2020 alone, 767 people died in boating accidents in U.S. waters. This case is different, however, because Linda Carman was rich.
Also, three years before her disappearance, Linda’s father, John Chakalos, was murdered as he slept in his Connecticut home. When John Chakalos died, Nathan Carman received $550,000 from his grandfather’s estate. When his mother died, he stood to inherit another $7 million. For most of the past decade, however, relatives and insurance companies have been litigating accusations that Nathan murdered both his mother and his grandfather.
In fact, in 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island ruled that the insurance carrier for the fishing boat, National Liability and Fire Insurance Company and Boat Owners Association of the United States, properly rejected Nathan Carman’s insurance claim because Nathan was at least partially responsible for the boat sinking. According to the court, Nathan improperly repaired holes in the hull caused by his removal of trim tabs from the boat. He also removed bulkheads from the boat causing the boat to become unstable. These actions led to a lack of seaworthiness.
This civil litigation, however, has taken a back seat to an eight-count indictment unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont on May 10, 2022. The indictment alleges three counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud related to the murder of John Chakalos, one count of murder on the high seas related to the death of Linda Carman and one count of wire fraud related to the insurance claim related to the loss of the Chicken Pox.
A Close Review of the Indictment.
1.The Allegations concerning the Death of John Chakalos.
The Carman indictment is as interesting for what it does not say as it is for what it does say. Assuming the allegations of the indictment to be true (something one should never do), it appears that Nathan Carman purchased a Sig Sauer rifle prior to the death of his grandfather. Although the indictment indicates that Mr. Chakalos was shot with a rifle “similar to” the one purchased by Nathan, it does not say that it was the same rifle or even the same caliber. The absence of any forensics tying the rifle to the murder is suspicious. It is also noteworthy that murder is actually not a federal crime, except in limited instances, and apparently state authorities in Connecticut where Mr. Chakalos has not filed any charges against Nathan for murder. Why? Could it be that the State of Connecticut does not have sufficient evidence to pursue a murder charge?
The first six counts of the indictment allege mail fraud and wire fraud, apparently from statements made during discovery in a civil case in Rhode Island. Although the indictment is vague, it appears that the government is contending that Nathan committed fraud when he denied involvement in his grandfather’s death. If this is true, the government needs to prove that Nathan murdered his grandfather in order to prevail on the fraud charges. What the government points to for evidence would appear to be, in actuality, a lack of evidence. It does not have GPS coordinates to prove Nathan’s location, so the government alleges the GPS was disabled. This is hardly compelling evidence.
The government also points to an unexplained “window” of about an hour between the time Nathan left his apartment and the time he met his mother to go fishing. The indictment does not allege the distances between Nathan’s apartment, his grandfather’s residence, and the location of the fishing boat. Was there sufficient time for Nathan to have committed the murder?
Finally, the government appears to be acting as an agent for Nathan Carman’s aunts, individuals who appear to have a financial interest in the outcome of the case—a $7 million financial interest in the case.
2.The Allegations involving Linda Carman.
The next allegation involves the Death on the High Seas Act, a statute that allows the federal government to prosecute murders that occur outside state waters. According to the indictment, Nathan Carman murdered his mother at sea and then sank their boat, Chicken Pox, to cover the murder. We do not know form the indictment how the murder was committed or why the boat sank. According to press reports, neither Ms. Carman’s body nor the Chicken Pox have ever been recovered. Although it is generally not necessary to have a body to pursue a murder case, as one who has prosecuted and defended murder cases, the evidence of murder has to be compelling before I would want to prosecute a murder case.
There is one aspect of the case that I personally find suspicious and that is the allegation that Nathan would go fishing with his mother. This may be based upon my own childhood prejudices, however. After my mother and my father divorced when I was seven years old, my mother decided to make up for a lack of fatherly influence in the lives of me and my brother by taking us fishing. My sister was too young to go with us. On our first outing along a local stream, my mother became trapped in mud along side the stream that behaved much like the quicksand in old adventure movies. It sucked her down to about her waist. My brother and I were able to free her, but she lost her shoes, and we never were able to get a line in the water.
The second attempt was worse. This time, we went to a local lake. Me and my five-year-old brother had captured some crayfish (with pincers) in a small stream a couple of houses from our home. We had heard that these crayfish could be used as bait. After finally getting one of the crayfish onto a hook, my mother moved the rod over her shoulder to cast it into the lake. As she threw the rod forward in an attempt to cast the bait into the lake, she instead caught my brother. The hook with the live crayfish still attached impaled itself in my brother’s cheek with the barbs on the hook digging deep into his skin. So, there we were, my brother, rather than a fish, securely hooked, with an angry crayfish plastered against his face attempting to exact its revenge. It took a few minutes to deal with that situation. The crayfish escaped into the lake, and my brother eventually healed from the wound that was left after the hook was removed. We caught no fish that day.
After that, we hid whenever Mom thought about taking us fishing. In my mind, at least, mothers and fishing are not things which should go together.
But my young childhood experiences may not be relevant.
Reading the Indictment Critically.
An indictment is not evidence, and, as in any case, Mr. Carman is presumed to be innocent unless the government can produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt establishing guilt. What evidence does the government have? The short answer is that we do not know, and it would be improper to speculate on Mr. Carman’s guilt or innocence. At least that is what the law and the constitution say. In reality, in my experience at least, most people who have read the news stories concerning Mr. Carman’s indictment already believe him to be guilty.
How can a defense attorney overcome this presumption? It depends on the particular case, but there are essentially two approaches to defending a case. The first is to poke holes in the government’s case in an effort to show a “reasonable doubt”. The second approach is to present a defense and explain how either the defendant could not have committed the crime or how some third party could have committed the crime. It helps if a potential suspect can be identified.
In Mr. Carman’s case, there are actually three separate cases, each of which might have a different defense. In the case of Mr. Chakalos, there was clearly a murder. He was shot dead in his bed. It would be difficult to argue that the death was an accident or committed in self-defense. The issue in the case is not whether a homicide occurred, but rather, who committed it. The government says it was Mr. Carman, but could it have been someone else?
Linda Carman’s death represents a different scenario. We know that Mr. Carman was with her, but we don’t know how she died. Was it a homicide, or was it an accident? We only know for certain that the Chicken Pox sank.
Finally, we have the fraud, i.e., the false statements made concerning the sinking of the Chicken Pox and an insurance claim filed for the recovery of the value of the lost vessel. The focus on this charge is Mr. Carman and whether he made materially false statements with an intent to defraud. The defense of each of these matters requires a different defense. However, for this blog, we will only examine the two homicides that have been alleged.
1.The Murder of John Chakalos.
The murder of Mr. Chakalos was the first crime to be alleged in the indictment chronologically. John Chakalos was shot twice while he slept, but what else do we know about him? What was his business? Who were his associates? Did he have enemies? Was there anyone (other than Nathan Carman) who had a motive to kill him? Was there anyone else who had a financial motive? By investigating the victim, it may be possible to uncover other people who had motive, means, and opportunity to commit the crime.
Sometimes criminal investigators will become so focused on a particular suspect that they become “tunnel visioned” causing them to ignore exculpatory information or even other suspects. For example, the government points to a gap in time between when Nathan Carman left his apartment and when he arrived at the Chicken Pox to go fishing with his mother. Even if the scenario is plausible, does it make sense? What was Nathan’s relationship with his grandfather really like? Could he have actually murdered his grandfather?
These are the types of questions that will have to be answered.
2.The Murder of Linda Carman.
Linda Carman’s body has never been recovered, and we do not know how she died. There may therefore be a substantial question as to whether she was murdered as well. It seems undisputed that the Chicken Pox sank on the high seas. Is there any evidence that Ms. Carman was murdered before the vessel sank? Or is it just as likely, or more likely, that Ms. Carman drowned after the vessel sank?
The facts as we know them raise additional questions. We know that Mr. Carman had done some work on the Chicken Pox that apparently rendered it unseaworthy, but was this done because Mr. Carman was intending for the vessel to sink when he went out with his mother? Or was it the result of an incompetent individual trying to make modifications to a boat? It is also strange that Nathan spent eight days at sea after the boat sank. If this was part of the murder plot, it makes no sense. There might have been other ways of disposing of the body or the boat without that would not have involved Nathan putting his own life in danger.
This is a fascinating case with a number of twists and turns, and, most likely, more to come. It will be important to see how the evidence unfolds and the strategy each side employs. Hopefully, the truth, whatever it might be, will come out in the end.