Insurance companies deny Nathan Carman's claims, say sinking of boat was "not accidental," potential "criminal wrongdoing" in Linda Carman disappearance
A nightmare on the high seas, shrouded in mystery. Was this boating accident really an accident at all?
Some say it's the perfect storm of money and murder. But you never would've known it to see 54-year-old Linda Carman and her 22-year-old son Nathan that weekend.
"Fishing was one of the few things that Linda could do with her son," said family civil attorney Dan Small.
It is a rare and cherished connection for Linda after her son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.
"Linda actually didn't like to fish but it was the only way that she could spend quality time with her son,” said attorney Dan Small.
Nathan was eager to go, but before she left, Linda checked in with her roommate, Monty Monterio to tell him she'd be fishing in a new spot just off the Rhode Island coast.
“They were actually going to be going on a fishing trip about 20 miles off the coast,” said WJAR-TV Multimedia Journalist Michelle San Miguel.
That's an area known as Block Island, as confirmed in a text from Linda Carman to her good friend Sharon Hartstein. Linda texts Sharon that she plans to leave late Saturday night and return Sunday morning. Then Linda ends her message with these haunting words:
“Call me 12 noon if you don't hear from me.”_
But by daybreak on Sunday, their boat, a 31-foot aluminum vessel called Chicken Pox is way off course.
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“A hundred miles off the coast,” said San Miguel.
The boat started taking on water. That's when the unthinkable happens. With two souls on board, the boat is sinking.
Eight days later, Sept. 25, 2016, a Chinese freighter called the Orient Lucky spots a raft afloat off Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. And there's movement inside. It's Nathan Carman.
“It was clear he had been out in the water in those elements for more than a week,” said Michelle San Miguel.
Images from that freighter show Nathan wearing a life vest being pulled to safety, but he's clearly alone.
Where is Nathan's mother, Linda Carman?
Just moments after being rescued, the U.S. Coast Guard interviews Nathan. The audio is recorded.
“Nathan, this is United States Coast Guard Boston.”
They ask him what happened.
“There was a funny noise in the engine compartment,” Nathan says in the recording. “I looked and saw a lot of water, so I got to the life raft after I got my bearings, and I was whistling and calling and looking around. When I saw the life raft, I did not see my mom. Have you found her?”
“No, we haven't been able to find her yet," the Coast Guard official replies.
The crew of the Orient Lucky describes Nathan as very sad. It's a heartbreaking scene: a son separated from his mother.
“People don't want to immediately cast blame or cast fault on Nathan,” said San Miguel.
And the empathy felt for Nathan on the water extends back to dry land, where he speaks to the media. That’s not an easy task for a person with Asperger’s.
“I just want to thank the public for their prayers and for their continuing prayers for my mother,” Nathan says.
Sadly, with the reality that it's been over a week with no sign of the missing mother, Linda Carman is presumed dead.
“Linda Carman was unprotected from the elements, she had no food and water, and there was also no other life raft aboard the Chicken Pox. The likelihood of her being alive is minimal,” U.S. Coast Guard Spokesperson Nicole Groll announced in a news conference.
“A body's never been found,” said attorney Dan Small.
After search and rescue gives up on finding Linda alive, authorities turn their focus back to Nathan's account of what happened during those fateful last moments at sea.
Dan Small is an attorney representing family members of Linda Carman.
“Nathan's story goes that he had time to put on a life jacket, pick up a bag of provisions, deploy this huge life raft, but he didn't have time to say ‘Hey Mom, you wanna come?’ Or ‘Hey Mom, you want a life jacket?’”
And according to Coast Guard reports, a distress signal was never sent out.
“And he doesn't apparently bother to flick a switch to do an emergency beacon,” said Small. “He had that equipment on the boat. The whole idea that there was this mysterious sinking I think is nonsense.”
But according to Nathan, the boat sank in mere minutes, leaving him no time to call for help. And concerning his mother's disappearance, he claims it has left him traumatized.
“Emotionally, I've been through a huge amount,” he tells WJAR-TV.
But Linda's family now wonders if the boat accident was indeed an accident at all.
When Nathan turns in his insurance claims for the sunken vessel, information surfaces that Nathan was seen by people at the Rhode Island Ram Point Marina doing repairs to his boat hours before the fishing trip with his mother.
“He removed the trim tabs, and that leaves holes in the boat, and he put some sort of temporary patching in the boat,” said Dan Small. “There's no rational basis to do it. There's no good reason to do it unless you want to take the boat out and sink it.”
It's a strong opinion from the attorney for the family of Linda Carman.
But I wanted to see if this was really true, so I went to the same Rhode Island marina where Nathan docked his boat to ask about his boat alterations.
A boater who wanted to remain anonymous spoke to me just off camera about the trim tabs that Nathan removed just before the ill-fated fishing trip.
“Everything about it is a plus. To remove them is a minus.”
Is it dangerous?
“To remove it probably would leave holes.”
Holes enough to sink a boat?
“Give it enough time, a small hole will sink any boat.”
Nathan admits he removed the trim tabs, but denies that he intentionally sabotaged the boat. He goes on to file an $85,000 insurance claim for his lost vessel with two different insurance companies.
Then this bombshell: Both insurance companies deny his claims, saying the sinking of the boat was "not accidental" and that there was potential "criminal wrongdoing."
If true, why would Nathan Carman intentionally sabotage his own boat?
“He stands to inherit over $10 million,” said attorney Dan Small.
Nathan's mother Linda Carman is worth millions. Her father was Connecticut multi-millionaire real estate developer John Chakalos.
Nathan's grandfather had died just three years earlier, leaving an estate worth $42 million to be divided by his four daughters, including Nathan's mother Linda.
But Dan Small says with Linda out of the way:
“There's a lot of money at stake for him,” said Small. “If you have someone who's a murderer who's gotten away with it, the question you have to ask is, What's next?”
And what's next is a civil lawsuit filed just a few weeks ago by Linda's sisters -- there in black and white, Nathan's own aunts calling their nephew a killer.
But who they say he killed isn't who you think.
So what really happened onboard that boat?
Linda Carman's friends say it all starts with a discrepancy about their fishing destination.
“Nathan Carman had painted a picture that he was going on a fishing trip about a hundred miles off the coast to Block Canyon, but one of Linda Carman's friends was told by Linda that they were actually going to be going on a fishing trip about 20 miles off the coast,” WJAR-TV Multimedia Journalist Michelle San Miguel tells Crime Watch Daily.
Which meant a shorter trip better suited for the vessel size and current conditions.
“Keep in mind, Nathan and his mom set out on this fishing trip late at night,” said San Miguel. “It was around 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. This is a 31-foot aluminum boat. To set out on a fishing trip late at night with your mom in those conditions is just not of the norm, and many people are still trying to figure out why Nathan would have done that.”
“It's a very disturbing question and it's exactly the right one that you ask,” said attorney Dan Small. “There is a past, there is a history.”
Dating back three years before Linda disappeared.
As reporters began doing more digging they uncover bombshell information shedding new light on the alleged boating accident.
“Nathan Carman was the last person to see two of his relatives alive: not only his mother Linda carman, but his grandfather, John Chakalos,” said San Miguel.
Some might call Nathan incredibly unlucky, but Dan Small calls him something else.
“He's a murderer,” said Small.
John Chakalos’s death is a cold-blooded killing that rocked a quiet Connecticut neighborhood. Just three years before Linda Carman disappeared, there was a headline-making news story: 87-year-old John Chakalos is found dead in his bed by one of his four daughters just five days before Christmas.
“He suffered three bullets,” said Small.
But why would anyone want to kill him? Some now wonder if money is the motive.
John Chakalos was a multi-millionaire real estate investor worth more dead than alive for certain family members.
“We learned that his grandfather had an estate to the tune of I think $40-plus million; Nathan's mother was one of the beneficiaries of that; now that Nathan's mother is presumed dead would make Nathan one of those beneficiaries,” said San Miguel.
Cops get a search warrant for Nathan's home and it's what they don't find that piques their interest.
“He got rid of his GPS, he got rid of his hard drive,” said Dan Small.
And his alibi for the night his grandfather is shot dead?
“He's not able to account for his time that night,” said Dan Small.
And there's more.
“A high-end $3,000 semiautomatic assault rifle,” said Small.
“John Chakalos was murdered in his sleep with three shots from a .308-caliber rifle,” said Small. “Nathan had bought a .308 rifle before the murder.”
Word spreads fast in the deceased millionaire's safe neighborhood. But when police plan to run ballistic testing on the Nathan's rifle to see if it's a match to the one that killed John Chakalos:
"Nathan claims he somehow lost a $3,000 assault rifle," said Dan Small. "How do you lose it? Did he leave it at the Dunkin' Donuts?":
Investigators continue to gather evidence, speaking to Nathan's neighbors. As noted in a police warrant, one neighbor calls him "Murder Boy," and another, "A time bomb waiting to go off."
And according to Nathan Carman's own family, they were so scared of him that they hired "armed private security to protect them in their homes."
"There's a lot of fear," said Dan Small.
And people have been wary of Nathan for some time, according to an incident when he was just in high school.
"There was a charge that in high school he was waving a knife and essentially held a student hostage briefly at knifepoint," said Small.
Investigators have heard enough and file an arrest warrant for Nathan Carman for the murder of his grandfather.
"The police recommended an arrest warrant. The police thought that they had probable cause," said Small.
"There was some breakdown between the police and the D.A.," said Small. "The D.A. thought they needed something else, and so he was never arrested."
Nathan remains free, and his grandfather's case goes cold. That was, until three years later and the fateful fishing trip, shifting focus back to Nathan Carman. But with more evidence tying Nathan to his grandfather's death than his mother's disappearance, the family's attorney begins to build a case.
"That Nathan Carman murdered his grandfather," said Small. "The gun is the most shocking. The fact that he had the gun, that he lied about it and that he has now made the gun disappear is both shocking and I think terribly damaging evidence against him."
Then, in an unprecedented move by Linda's three surviving sisters, they file a civil motion in New Hampshire probate court against their nephew known as a "Slayer Suit."
"It's about justice," said Small. "If, as a result of the 'Slayer' action, Nathan is prevented from inheriting his grandfather's money, and that he doesn't get to profit from murder."
Nathan's Aunt Valerie leads the charge.
"This person killed at least once that we know of, this person has gotten away with murder, and chances are it will happen again," said Valerie Santilli.
It court paperwork, "They ask this court to declare that the murderer was Nathan Carman...and that Nathan committed this heinous act out of malice and greed."
But Nathan's biological father, who is recently back in his life, says his son is innocent.
"They were the two closest people to my son in the world. And let me just say this: There is no way he would ever injure either one of them," Clark Carman told Crime Watch Daily affiliate WBZ-TV.
And then there's the possibility that Nathan's suspicious behavior has more to do with his Asperger's than actual guilt.
"Several people have commented on how socially awkward he's been on some of the things that he's said publicly, but then again people have to keep in mind that he does have Asperger's Syndrome," said Michelle San Miguel.
"First and foremost, this case has nothing to do with Asperger's," said attorney Dan Small. "I think he's troubled and I think he's a murderer."
Nathan Carman continues to deny any involvement in his grandfather's death or his mother's disappearance. To date, he has not been arrested or charged with any wrongdoing in either investigation.
These days Nathan can be found living alone in a home in Vernon, Vermont. And that's where we went to get Nathan's side of the story. After knocking on the door and asking to talk about the lawsuit, Nathan asks me to leave, so I do.
Nathan Carman has yet to make a public comment on the lawsuit brought against him by his family, but just recently he filed a motion in court to represent himself in the civil case.
The homicide of John Chakalos and disappearance of Linda Carman remain open investigations.