Linda Carman hasn’t been seen in 15 months after she disappeared while on a fishing trip with her son Nathan. But a New Hampshire judge is questioning whether a petition filed by her sisters, seeking to declare that Nathan Carman killed her, is premature because she hasn’t been declared legally dead.
In a 10-page ruling issued Friday, Probate Judge David D. King scheduled a May hearing on the so-called “slayer petition” that seeks to have Nathan Carman declared the murderer of his mother and grandfather John Chakalos, who was killed four years ago this month in his Windsor home.
Nathan Carman’s aunts — Valerie Santilli, Elaine Chakalos and Charlene Gallagher — want King to declare him a murderer and deny him access to several millions of dollars in trust fund money that Nathan would inherit as his mother’s only beneficiary.
But King ruled that since Linda Carman is not legally dead, he may not be able to act on the petition.
“The court surmises that it is unlikely that it would have jurisdiction to declare Linda Carman deceased and order administration of her estate,” King wrote. “Consequently Ms. Carman, in the eyes of this court, remains presumptively alive and as such this action may be premature.”
King’s questioning of the timing of the lawsuit was part of the ruling issued following a hearing earlier this month in his Concord, N.H., courtroom.
At stake could be as much as $7 million that Nathan Carman stands to inherit from his mother’s portion of John Chakalos’ family trust.
John Chakalos operated a string of nursing homes and left an estate worth tens of millions of dollars, one-quarter of which was slated to go to Linda Carman. But she disappeared during an overnight fishing trip with her son in September 2016 and is presumed dead.
Nathan Carman has told authorities that his boat, the Chicken Pox, took on water quickly, prompting him to grab an emergency kit and climb onto a life raft. He said he could not find his mother after the boat sank.
Carman was found a week later by a passing freighter, hundreds of miles from where he said the boat went down.
In court papers, Linda Carman’s three sisters, as well as the company that insured Nathan Carman’s boat, have challenged his story, alleging he tampered with the boat, causing the vessel to sink and killing his mother.
Before his mother’s disappearance, Nathan Carman was considered a suspect by police in his grandfather’s murder. John Chakalos was shot to death four years ago in his Windsor home and police have said the last person with him was Nathan Carman.
Nathan Carman has acknowledged buying a Sig Sauer rifle that fires the same caliber ammunition as the bullets that killed his 87-year-old grandfather, although he says the firearm is now missing, an assertion his sisters have questioned in their petition.
Windsor police sought to charge Carman with his grandfather's murder, but a judge declined to sign the arrest warrant. He remains a suspect, police have said.
The sisters filed the petition in New Hampshire court in July alleging that their nephew murdered their father out of "malice and greed" and should be barred from receiving money from his estate, under the common-law principle that a killer should not inherit from his victim's estate.
King scheduled the next hearing on the case for May 21. But he has ordered the sisters’ attorneys to address the issue of whether the petition is premature by May 14.
King also raised several questions about jurisdiction, including the possibility that some of the trusts where the money would eventually be placed are governed by Connecticut law not New Hampshire law.
King deferred a motion by Carman’s attorneys to dismiss the case because John Chakalos wasn’t a legal resident of New Hampshire. He ordered further discovery on that issue prior to the May 21 hearing.
"The Chakalos family is pleased to see Judge King's statements regarding jurisdiction and thankful that the case and discovery are now moving forward with deliberate speed," said Dan Small, of Holland & Knight LLP, lawyer for Nathan Carman’s aunts.
Nathan Carman, in interviews and through his attorneys, has denied any responsibility for the deaths of his mother and grandfather. He has admitted that he did perform work on his boat, but he denies intentionally making the craft unseaworthy.
In a recent court filing, the boat's insurers — who have refused to make a payment on the policy — alleged that before the fishing trip, Carman was seen using a drill to enlarge holes in the boat's hull that were exposed when he removed trim tabs attached to the back of the vessel.
"No wonder the boat sank and Carman’s mother died, " attorneys for the insurers wrote in a Dec. 7 filing. The companies also allege that Carman had multiple opportunities to send a distress call and activate the boat's emergency beacon.
The FBI and police in multiple New England states continue to investigate Chakalos' killing and Linda Carman’s disappearance. They have obtained search warrants for Nathan Carman’s vehicle, cellphone and Vermont home.