KSBY Investigates: Kristin Smart disappearance - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

KSBY Investigates: Kristin Smart disappearance

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May 25, 2015 marks the 19th anniversary of the day Cal Poly student, Kristin Denise Smart, disappeared. With no body, no crime scene, and no arrests, her missing person's case is among the highest-profile cases on the Central Coast. It leaves Kristin's family, investigators, and the community frustrated and aching for answers.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office says it has never stopped searching for Kristin and is still actively working the case. However, investigators say they need a break.

It all started early in the morning in late May of 1996, when Kristin left a party and was last seen outside of the Muir Hall dorm, where she lived at the time. That is when the trail goes cold and the mystery begins. Her family is left with no answers while continuing the fight for justice in their daughter's name.

Kristin Smart was 19-years old. She was weeks away from finishing her first year at Cal Poly. Summer break and saying goodbye to her freshman year were just around the corner that Memorial Day weekend. But that night, Kristin never said goodbye to anyone.

Friends of Kristin told investigators she had left a fraternity party and walked back to her dorm room with a friend. Within days, Kristin was reported a missing person.

Fast forward to 2015, and Kristin is still gone.

"That is a lot of years, 20 years," says Kristin's father, Stan Smart. "When she disappeared, there were a lot of people today that live in the county that are not even aware she disappeared."

Another anniversary of her disappearance and Kristin's family has not stopped their search.

"Well there are five of us, my wife Denise, and then we have three children, Kristin is the oldest, then Matt is the middle child, and Lindsey is the youngest child," says Smart. "And our two children are doing very well, however, Kristin, we don't know where she is or what happened to her."

Missing as many years as she was alive, no one has been held accountable for what happened to Kristin.

"It is not over with and it has not gone to trial, which is an eye opener for a lot of people I think," explains Smart. "But keeping her name out in front of people, the general public, that is a good thing. Having her picture on a billboard can be a good thing, just as a reminder to people that this happened and it should be resolved."

In an Arroyo Grande front yard, there stands a billboard, with Kristin's smiling face. It has been there for 19 years, put up by someone Kristin had never met, but who can not forget her.

"Here I am saddened by a person I never knew in my life and my only connection to her is her tragic and unnecessary death," says Jim Murphy, the Smart family's attorney.

Murphy has been working with Kristin's parents, Denise and Stan, since 1996. Together, they have chased hundreds of leads, hoping just one would lead them to Kristin.

"I have grown to love her through the people who loved her, very wonderful people, have been through a living hell," describes Murphy about the relationship he has with the Smarts.

In 2002, Kristin was declared legally dead. Murphy believes another former Cal Poly student knows what happened to Kristin.

"All evidence seemed to point toward this man, named Paul Flores," states Murphy.

Paul Flores was the last person Kristin was seen with on the night she went missing, according to police witnesses. Nineteen years later, Sheriff's officials say, Flores remains a person of interest in her case, but he has never been arrested or charged for Kristin's disappearance.

Kristin's parents have filed several wrongful death lawsuits against Flores, starting just months after she went missing.

In a 1997 taped deposition with Murphy, obtained by KSBY, Flores refused to answer questions about Kristin's disappearance. In the tape, Murphy asks questions to Flores about his parents' names, what he does at work, and where he attends school. In response to each question, Flores responded with the same statement: "On the advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer that question based on the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Still, 18 years after the deposition taping, Murphy waits for the day to take Kristin's case to trial.

"When the time comes to try the case, I will get Paul Flores found responsible, I will," states Murphy. "He will not escape me if I can get a court date because I have enough evidence to make it look pretty bad for him."

The evidence thus far, though, has not been strong enough for the Sheriff to make an arrest.

"Some of those rumors and some of those leads have been examined on multiple occasions," says San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

One of those leads prompted a dig in the backyard of Flores' Arroyo Grande home in 2007, but no signs of Kristin were found.

"You can never absolutely say it didn't happen, because if you say, hey, it is potentially in this backyard and I dug up the whole backyard, did I dig deep enough? Did I look hard enough? Or is it outside the area that I dug," says Sheriff Parkinson. "So there are always possibilities."

Despite the suspicions, there is no evidence to charge anybody with Kristin's disappearance.

"It is not what you believe, but it is what you can prove, and at the end of the day we can have beliefs about a lot of things but we have to prove it in court," explains Parkinson. "I have faith in some of the things that we have uncovered. We have a stronger case now in the ability to solve this than we have had in the years past."

Sheriff Parkinson's optimism comes from new help he is now getting from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney.

"What I decided to do was to assign a Deputy District Attorney, one that could look at the evidence alongside of investigators, to assist them to look at different angles that might not be explored in trying to bring a resolution to this case," says San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow.

For the District Attorney, it is important for Kristin to be found not only for the Smart family, but also for the community of San Luis Obispo.

"It is uncommon generally, for particularly our county, to have a case go unsolved for 19 years," explains Dow. "I will make sure we do everything that we can and put every resource we can in making sure that we bring justice for Kristin Smart."

Other new partnerships within recent years include the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and the National Center for Missing Children, all working to find those responsible for Kristin's disappearance, and where her remains are.

"As long as there are leads coming in, it is an active case," states Sheriff Parkinson.

With Kristin's parents in mind, the Sheriff will only close the case when he has the long awaited answers for the Smarts.

"When we prosecute the people responsible and we recover Kristin," states Sheriff Parkinson. "I am going to tell you, I am not giving up. This is personal to me. I want nothing more than to be able to pick up the phone or drive to Stockton and sit down with them and tell them the good news."

While the search continues for Kristin, her parents are left with a memorial of their daughter in Shell Beach.

"We enjoy going down and visiting the Dinosaur Park and seeing the location where our daughter is getting some coverage there, but it is a little bit frustrating to go back there quite frankly, until we get it resolved," says Smart.

Leaving a father and mother yearning for the opportunity to finally lay their child to rest in the presence of those who loved her. For now, only the person who took her, knows where she lies.

"We don't feel that is justice. Let the question be raised if it found that yes, in fact Paul is responsible for the death of our daughter, would we be happy? No we would not be happy because that would not bring our daughter back. That would make us happy that legally he had been held responsible, but it would not resolve the issue of bringing our daughter back or her remains back," explains Smart. "She is a special person always will be. I do not think she is getting any older than she was, we are getting older. So that is a sad, sad situation, sad commentary."

Kristin would have been 38-years old on the 19th anniversary of her disappearance. Her family, friends, and investigators hope to mark no more anniversaries with her case unsolved.

Her parents live on the joy their two children give them and the strength that comes from the hope of one person coming forward with the information that will bring their daughter home.

KSBY-TV has repeatedly tried to reach Paul Flores and his attorney for comment. They have not responded to our requests.

Again, Flores has said in the past he had nothing to do with Kristin's disappearance and pleaded the Fifth Amendment in any questioning regarding her case.

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