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Crime News Snapped

Woman Hires Men to Brutally Kill Bedridden Mother-in-Law with Multiple Sclerosis

Arizona police were baffled when Lynne Carlson was viciously stabbed and left for dead inside her locked room at an assisted living care facility, but the money trail led to her own son and daughter-in-law. 

By Caitlin Schunn

An Arizona woman, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and was bedridden as a result, was stabbed to death in her own bed in a brutal attack orchestrated by those she loved and trusted the most.

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Doris Carlson was convicted of being the mastermind behind her mother-in-law’s murder — her husband, David, was a co-conspirator — all to get Mary Lynne Carlson’s trust fund and money.

“Still, to this day, it affected me more than I even realized,” said Gail Bash, a nursing assistant of Lynne Carlson's, on Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. “And it was terrifying. You know, if these people were capable of doing this to their mother, you’re like, ‘Oh wow, anybody could be capable of anything.’ You just don’t know.”

Who was Lynne Carlson's family?

While living near Chicago as a young woman, Lynne married a man named Dale Carlson. She was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but decided to have a baby regardless: a son named David. Eventually, Dale and Lynne divorced, and in 1988, she moved to Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.

A split screen image of (L-R) Doris Carlson and Lynne Carlson, featured in Snapped 3217

Meanwhile, David, still living near Chicago in 1992, met his future wife, Doris, at the age of 22. Doris was an older woman — in her 30s — and was previously married with three children. After a year of dating, the couple married and moved to Arizona to live with David’s mother, Lynne.

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Lynne was confined to a wheelchair at this point, but had a trust fund and money, and bought a house for the three to live in. But all was not happy in the home. During the murder investigation, police would learn Doris and her mother-in-law had been visiting the bank together and withdrawing money from Lynne’s trust. Eventually, Doris began withdrawing money without Lynne, prompting the bank to check on Lynne’s wellbeing.

“Lynne would be on the bathroom, or on the floor — could not get herself up — and she was left there,” Bash said of the investigation. “The worst I’ve seen. I’ve never experienced anything like this in all the years I’ve been in the healthcare field.”

Based on the report, which was made in July 1996, police learned the trustees in Lynne’s estate decided she needed to move out of the home and into an assisted medical facility. Lynne began living at Camelot Care Assisted Living Facility, and David and Doris continued to reside in her home without her.

How was Lynne Carlson attacked at her care facility?

On Oct. 25, 1996, 911 dispatchers received a call around 5 a.m. from the Camelot Care Assisted Living Facility in Peoria, Arizona. A nurse discovered a resident, identified as 53-year-old Lynne Carlson, had been stabbed and badly injured, but was still alive.

Police determined Lynne had been stabbed eught to 10 times in the chest. She was taken for surgery at the hospital.

“Lynne said to the woman that found her, ‘I tried as hard as I could to fight them off, but it was too hard,’” Cleve Lynch, former prosecutor, told Snapped.

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Police were baffled as to how the suspect got into Lynne’s room to attack her.

“My main thing is how did the suspect get in?” Bill Laing, former Peoria police detective, said on Snapped. “We looked at the door. We looked at the windows. There was no damage. The door was actually locked when the nurse came in, so somebody had a key. That was our first clue.”

When Lynne’s son, David, was interviewed at the police station, he admitted that money was tight. Although Lynne bought the house with cash, and there was no mortgage, David and Doris had put a pool in at the house and did other work, and owed about $97,000 on the home. The couple had been renting out extra bedrooms in the residence for extra cash.

“David did admit that they’re in some financial problems because of the care facility,” Laing said. “The house was still owned by Lynne. David and Doris were just living there. They were supposed to be taking care of paying the bills. We were able to confirm that they were about ready to lose the house. Utilities are going to be shut off, and so forth.”

On the day of the stabbing, police learned David had asked his mother to sign a paper that would put her trust fund towards his bills, but Lynne wanted to talk to her financial advisor before signing.

How did a tip change the Carlson investigation?

On Oct. 28, three days after the attack, police got a call from a man identified only as “Richard.” “Richard” told officers he’d grown up with David and became friends with his tenants, 20-year-old John “Daniel” McReaken and 17-year-old Scott Smith. While hanging out with the others, “Richard” claimed McReaken bragged he was about to get money.

“He told him that he and Scott Smith were hired to break into her apartment and to kill Lynne,” Karen Firsel, a reporter, said on Snapped.

“Richard” told police McReaken admitted to stabbing Lynne. He agreed to be part of a sting operation to get the others to confess to what happened.

During the operation, police said Smith admitted McReaken stabbed Lynne and they were due to receive money, and added Doris Carlson gave them a key to Lynne’s room.

“Richard” also did a meet-up with David Carlson for police.

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“[David] did make the comment to ‘Richard’ that, ‘Well, they told me what they were going to do, and I told them to go ahead and do it, but I didn’t think they’d have the balls,’” Laing said.

On Nov. 21, with Lynne Carlson still in critical condition at the hospital, David and Doris Carlson were arrested, as well as McReaken and Smith.

Suspects confess to Lynne Carlson's attack

Smith cooperated with police after his arrest, and claimed Doris was going to pay McReaken $20,000 to kill Lynne Carlson. He told police Doris drove him and McReaken to a grocery store parking lot about five blocks away from the living facility and gave them the key to Lynne’s room.

“I wanted to go along and make sure Dan was gonna be OK,” Smith said in his police interview. “Dan said he would split it with me.”

McReaken confirmed Smith’s version of events to police.

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“He had heard Doris talking about doing it, and they asked David, ‘What do you think?’ and David told them to go ahead and do it,” Laing said. “It stunned me. You know, how do you do that to your mom? Once Doris entered into the picture, David’s relationship and the way he viewed his mom changed. It was clear in their marriage who the dominant person was: Doris.”

When Doris was confronted by police, she denied everything and tried to claim she was a victim as well.

“She hired me to come out here and work for her…I never got paid for any of it,” Doris said in a police interview. “I was like a guardian angel to her, and then behind my back, she’d tell people how I was nothing but a lowlife, you know, that I was after her money.”

On April 21, 1997 — six months after the attack — Lynne Carlson died of her injuries. Smith agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder. He served 10 years in prison and was released in 2006.

In 1998, David Carlson and Daniel McReaken were found guilty by juries. McReaken was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. David was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, and was released in 2023 after serving 25 years.

McReaken testified against Doris Carlson at her trial.

“They used money on stuff instead of paying the bills,” Laing said. “So, the 90+-thousand dollars they ended up just squandering away. And they didn’t take care of anything that they needed to take care of.”

On July 27, 1999, Doris was found guilty and sentenced to death. The Arizona State Supreme Court ended up reversing the death penalty, and she’s currently serving life in prison with no possibility of parole.

“Doris Carlson was getting tired of caring for her mother-in-law,” Lynch said. “She had no thought about how bad this was. About how horrible it was. How cruel it was.”

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