Sister of woman killed in shed arson homicide still grieves 3 years later

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Christi Allen will be holding a vigil for her little sister today, three years to the day after the young woman burned to death in an arson fire in Oildale.

A very, very small vigil.

“Because of everything that’s going on,” Allen said, referring to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions designed to blunt the progress of the deadly virus.

Allen might otherwise have gathered with several of their nine brothers and sisters to remember Danielle Karlan, like she did last year on this date. Instead, she’ll go it alone, visiting the cemetery where her sister lies, or perhaps Beardsley Avenue and the site of the dead-of-night blaze that destroyed the shed where Danellle, 23, slept.

The crime remains unsolved.

Investigators immediately suspected Lauren Phillips, 19 at the time, who neighbors say  — and Phillips confirmed — was having an affair with Danielle’s boyfriend.

Phillips told 17 News three years ago that not only did she not kill Danielle, she passed a polygraph test for investigators. The Kern County Sheriff’s Department, which is handling the case, did not immediately confirm that Phillips was administered the test — but she was not arrested, despite having been detained at the scene of the fire.

“I ran to the middle of the street, stood in the middle of the street, and I could hear Danielle screaming,” Phillips told KGET in April 2017. “They made me strip all the way naked and they took pictures of my clothes and then they sent me home in these fake paper clothes.”

Neighbors say Danielle had been living in the shed, which had no door — just a blanket hanging where a door would normally go.  Just after 1 a.m. that Saturday morning, neighbors heard Danielle screaming for help, as flames burst from the shed at 215 Beardsley Ave.

“I can’t get it out of my head,” neighbor Bobby Smith told 17 News days after the fatal fire. “… I keep hearing her scream… Let me out… Help… Let me out. And it just keeps going over and over in my head, I just can’t get it out.”

The Kern County Coroner’s Office listed the cause of death as smoke inhalation and thermal burns.

“People were saying I said, ‘Oh finally I got that (explicit). I hope she burns alive,’” Phillips said in 2017. “I didn’t say that. People on Beardsley were telling the cops I said that, that’s why I got put in — I almost got arrested for it, something I didn’t do.”

Neighbors said the two women had fought that day.

“Yeah, that is true,” Phillips said. “So you could see why they thought I did it, but I didn’t, I took the polygraph test and I passed, that I was telling the 100 percent truth. … They asked, ‘Did you in any way tie or strap Danielle down or barricade the door of the shed so she couldn’t get out and light the shed on fire?’ And I said, ‘No I didn’t do that, and I was truthful.”

 Allen said she isn’t buying the love triangle story line anyway.

“Danielle was messed up with some other things,” Allen said. “I don’t think it was that (triangle) at all.”

Her sister was involved in drugs, Allen said, and that may have brought her together with the wrong people. 

It also bears noting that Danielle wrote several Facebook posts, in February and March 2017, about having been abused.

“I was here for her, she knew that, but she also knew that I can’t have that lifestyle around my family,” said Allen, who was about 20 years older than her sister.

Allen, who says she is still being denied access to Danielle’s autopsy report, hopes renewed publicity about the unsolved homicide spurs someone’s memory or emboldens a witness who has kept quiet all this time.

“It’s important to keep this alive,” she said. “Because if somebody knows something, maybe they’ll come forward. Nobody deserves to die like that.”

If you know anything about Danielle’s death, you’re asked to call Secret Witness at 322-4040.

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