Elderly woman pretended to be victim of assault; arrested on arson and embezzlement charges

A 74-year-old woman pretended to be the victim of an assault, where she was found bound and gagged inside her Saratoga office last year. But she was really the person who started a fire inside her building and she did so, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office said on Friday, because she wanted to hide the fact that she was embezzling from the company. 

Janice Carlstrom of San Jose was arrested on Thursday after the sheriff's office said she "confessed" to the bizarre string of crimes, which stem from a fire at her office, Pollack Investments at 14500 Big Basin Way, Suite C, in Saratoga, on Nov. 4, 2019.

Reached by phone at her home on Friday, Carlstrom, who lists herself as the office manager at Pollack Investments, said she didn't want to speak about her situation. She also said she didn't have an attorney whose name she would pass along. Jail records show she was released on $40,000 bond. Her next court date is Jan. 11, pending a review of the case by Santa Clara County prosecutors.

Slightly more than a year ago, Deputy Russell Davis said Carlstrom was found bound and gagged inside her office, which had been set on fire. She had a cut on the back of her head and a broken nose. She told authorities, which included Davis, that she had no idea who assaulted her, or who started the fire. Davis said when authorities arrived, "there was a good amount of smoke inside." 

At the time, she told investigators that she arrived to work around 7:30 a.m., went upstairs and unlocked the office. She then went back down to her car for a short period of time before returning up to the office. After re-entering the office, she remembered an unknown assailant coming up behind her and duct-taping her eyes and mouth closed. In a news release at the time, Carlstrom said she "did not have a memory of anything else related to the assault until she was awoken by fire sprinklers and being helped by firefighters."

She was taken to Valley Medical Center for treatment of her injuries and Davis said the Sheriff's Office launched a major investigation into what happened. "We used multiple resources for this," Davis said, adding that because of the fire, many businesses and streets were shut down temporarily, as well. 

Over the last year, Davis said that detectives have been working on the case. What they found: Carlstrom allegedly stole more than $44,000 from her employer. In addition, authorities said they found "other fraudulent activity"  totaling more than $580,000 involving multiple financial institutions. Davis said most of the money was used to pay off Carlstrom's home loans as well as that of her son.

The Sheriff’s Office Identification Unit also said they found Carlstrom’s thumbprint on a "critical piece of evidence" involving the arson, which was found at the crime scene.

On Thursday, detectives interviewed Carlstrom, who they said told them that she made the fraudulent payments and started the fire to "conceal evidence." Detectives also said she made up the part about being assaulted by an unknown suspect.

Asked how Carlstrom could have bound and gagged herself up in the office, or if she had an accoplice, Davis answered: "That we don't know."