Carol Jean Carlson absolutely loved her son Daniel. In fact, she loved him so much that when he murdered his wife, Lisa, she helped him cover it up.
Lisa Ann Dahm was born in 1971. “Lisa grew up as a military brat. Her father was Army. She spent a lot of her youth moving around from military base to military base,” boyfriend Shawn McKillop told Oxygen’s “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
“She was amazing,” said McKillop. “She was tough as nails on the outside but once you got to know her, there was a tenderness and caring within her.”
The Dahms eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington. After high school, Lisa pursued a career in healthcare and became an aid at a nursing home, which is where she met Daniel Dean Carlson.
McKillop, who knew Dan since the sixth grade, described him as “the quintessential virgin” and said he was “a little bit off-kilter.”
“They say that opposites attract and I think that in the case of Lisa and Dan, that has to be it,” former prosecutor Barbara Corey told producers.
After dating for a year, Dan and Lisa married in 1994. The couple transferred to the Rainier Rehabilitation Center, a home for disabled adults. Dan’s father, Daryl, worked there as an attendant counselor and his mother, Carol, worked in housekeeping. Lisa eventually left the job to become a stay-at-home mom after giving birth to twin boys in 1995. However, having only one income strained finances and the couple amassed severe credit card debt.
Hoping to consolidate their debt, Dan and Lisa filed for bankruptcy. The couple fought often, though, about their dire financial state and Carol Carlson’s overbearing presence, according to court documents.
In order to save money, the Carlsons had moved into a trailer home owned by Dan’s parents in rural Kapowsin, Washington in September 1997. Carol and Daryl lived just 150 yards away on the other side of a patch of woods.
“Carol’s relationship to Dan is unnaturally close,” McKillop told “Snapped.” “She ran that family with an iron fist. I know that Dan would do and say just about anything if Carol asked him to do it.”
The whole relationship made Lisa wary.
“[Lisa] kept her curtains shut because she knew Carol was looking through the windows,” former co-worker Deena Hudspeth told producers.
The strain soon became too much to bear. The Carlsons signed a separation agreement in November 1997, but continued living together until their bankruptcy case was resolved. They slept in different beds, though.
While still technically married to Dan, Lisa began to move on and started a relationship with McKillop. This did not go over well with the Carlson family. In Feb. 1998, Carol confronted Lisa and McKillop, calling her a “whore” and a “bitch.” Daryl then assaulted the couple, resulting in Lisa obtaining a restraining order against her father-in-law, according to court documents.
Sadly, the twisted family saga didn't end there.
Dan called 911 around 9 p.m. on the night of July 18, 1998, saying he had come home to find his wife unresponsive and covered in blood. He claimed he had left work after his mother called him to say his 3-year-old sons had unexpectedly showed up on her doorstep.
Lisa had been shot twice in the head and once in the chest. Her body was found on the couch. In her left hand was an electronic controller for a sex toy, which lay by her side. A pornographic VHS tape was paused on the television. Her sweatpants had been pulled down below her knees, according to court documents.
“There was a very strong attempt here to humiliate Lisa. Humiliate her in death. Humiliate her as a person, humiliate her as a mother,” former FBI Supervising Special Agent Mark Safarik told “Snapped.” Detectives believed Lisa’s killer knew her intimately.
Three .22 caliber shell casings were found at the scene. Drawers in the master bedroom and bathroom had been pulled out and dumped on the floor. However, there were no signs of forced entry and none of the Carlsons' valuables were missing.
By examining blood spatter on the walls, crime scene analysts determined the entire murder scene had been staged.
“On the back of the couch, one could see that there was a hair swipe pattern from the bloody hair, so she was moved from the position where she was shot,” crime scene reconstructionist Rod Englert told producers.
Dan confirmed to detectives Lisa was planning on leaving him and moving away with their children. He also said on the day of the murder, Lisa had been late picking up the kids, which in turn made him 45 minutes late to work.
Detectives also spoke to Carol, who claimed she was home all day and didn’t hear anything until 5:45 p.m. when the twins came over. She said she left two messages on Lisa and Dan’s answering machine after that. When asked why she didn’t simply go over to check on Lisa, she claimed she wasn’t welcome at their home.
Next up, they notified McKillop, who was heartbroken by the news of Lisa’s death.
McKillop was with Lisa the night before her murder, and he told detectives she said she was planning to leave Dan the following day so they could move to Arizona, where McKillop had family. McKillop implored Lisa not to tell Dan she was leaving him, fearing his reaction.
“Dan, according to Lisa, was becoming more and more violent. According to her, he’d slam things or throw things. He’d hit her a couple of times. He of course was verbally and emotionally abusive,” McKillop told producers.
McKillop then supplied detectives with a shocking clue: a tape Lisa had secretly recorded months before her murder. On it, Dan admitted to strangling Lisa during a previous assault, The Seattle Times reported in 2003.
“When Lisa came to me with this tape, she told me that if anything should happen to her it needed to go to the police,” McKillop told producers.
McKillop last saw Lisa around 12:40 p.m. on the day of the murder. She would have arrived back home no later than 1:45 p.m. Dan arrived at work at 3 p.m., leaving Kapowsin no later than 2:40 p.m. Detectives didn’t think Dan had enough time to murder Lisa and stage the crime scene himself. He would have needed an accomplice — and his mother, Carol, fit the bill.
A search warrant was executed at Carol and Daryl Carlson’s house on July 22. A journal was found that catalogued Lisa’s daily movements and supposed failings as a parent. Carol claimed it was for her son to use in his divorce proceedings, according to court documents.
The Carlsons' answering machine was confiscated by police in hopes that it would narrow down the time of Lisa’s death. However, the only messages on it were from Carol, which was strange, as Lisa's mother told detectives she was so worried about Dan's abusive behavior she called every afternoon and had left a message that day when she didn't pick up.The tapes were sent to the FBI.
“The FBI lab determined that the message that Lisa’s mother had left on the tape had been erased and that the messages that Carol left had been recorded over the top,” Safarik told producers.
Despite all this, it would take three years for law enforcement to put together their case against Daniel and Carol Carlson. They were arrested on Dec. 20, 2001 while at work at the Rainier Rehabilitation Center. They were charged with first-degree murder as both principals and accomplices, according to court documents. In Feb. 2003, they were found guilty on all counts and were sentenced to nearly 37 years in prison, the Associated Press reported at the time.
However, the legal battle wasn't over yet. In May 2006, an appeals court overturned the Carlsons’ convictions. A Superior Court judge determined evidence had been obtained illegally and parts of the testimony against them included hearsay, according to court documents.
Rather than take their chances with another trial, Daniel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and Carol pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree assault and one count of sexually violating human remains in Jan. 2008, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
Carol was sentenced to nine years in prison, but released in 2008 for time served. Daniel was given a reduced sentence of 23 years and is scheduled for release in 2022.
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