FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --A charred shell of a house is all that's left of the life Eva Pearson lived. The 91-year-old died last month in hospice care, most likely unaware the home in which she spent decades had gone up in smoke.
For three years, she had allowed Alicia Vasquez -- who is also known as Alicia Pfalzgraff-- to live in the home. But in June, Fresno County Sheriff's deputies let Vasquez know they were looking into Pearson's finances.
An investigator was at the home on August 18th and five days later, it burned down.
"It certainly appears that Pfalzgraff could've had time to concoct a plan to try and get rid of some stuff that would make her look guilty," said Tony Botti, Fresno County Sheriff's Office
Investigators said Vasquez admitted to destroying a checkbook and other documents. But a search warrant gave them a window into the money movement.
Vasquez used Pearson's check to buy a car for more than $20,000. She paid off loans totaling about $19,000 and she withdrew about $24,000 in cash.
In court documents, we uncovered investigators said Vasquez claimed $15,000 of that was for her salary, but admitted she never reported it as income to the IRS, even though she worked for the agency.
"It's a little more malicious, it's a little more well thought out than 'oh, well I accidentally deposited this check into the wrong account,'" said Botti.
Vasquez also sold Pearson's 1963 Chevy Impala-- in near mint condition -- to a neighbor, but never deposited a big chunk of the money into Pearson's bank account.
After five years in Vasquez's control, $68,000 was gone from the account and Pearson couldn't pay for her prescribed medicine or her rent at an assisted living center.
Employees there reported the problem to investigators and three months later, Pearson passed away.
"Granted she was 91-years-old, but if she was getting her medicine like she was supposed to, maybe she would've lived a longer life," said Botti.
Vasquez's defense attorney tells us he believes Pearson gave the money to his client. And he said it's ridiculous to think she would've started the fire at Pearson's home or a second fire earlier this month, just days before her arrest.
Vasquez's defense attorney also said he hopes investigators get the clues they need to find the arsonist. As it stands, his client faces nine felony charges.