NewsKristin Smart Case


Kristin Smart: 25 Years Later

Posted: 5:40 PM, May 25, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-26 11:57:42-04

In the early morning hours of May 25, 1996, a 19-year-old college student left a fraternity party in San Luis Obispo, said goodnight to her friends, and walked back toward her dorm at Cal Poly.

That young woman was Kristin Smart, and she hasn't been seen since.

But now, 25 years later, a man sits in a San Luis Obispo County Jail cell, charged with her murder.

In the late 1990s, the investigation into Kristin Smart's disappearance was full of setbacks, rumors, and false leads.

It was two days after she was last seen that her roommate reported her missing. Reports came in that Kristin, who her friends often called Roxy, had been spotted possibly hitchhiking or traveling with a friend.

Her mother, Denise, said Kristin had been frustrated with some hard classes, but her parents couldn't imagine why she would have left on her own without telling anyone.

In June 1996, Stan Smart marked his first Father's Day without one of his three children.

"It's really been a nightmare situation for myself, my wife and my children," he said at the time. "We would love to have a phone call or for our daughter to show up but I really don't think that will happen."

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Kristin Smart

Later that month, the Cal Poly Police Department turned the investigation into Kristin's disappearance over to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.

Multiple searches failed to turn up any sign of Kristin, but it wasn't long before investigators identified a person of interest in the case - Paul Flores, a fellow student and the last person seen walking with Kristin on the way back to the dorms.

According to authorities, Flores had a black eye in the days after Kristin disappeared and during a later search, dogs trained to find human remains reacted to his dorm room.

Flores denied any involvement in the case.

But in November 1996, frustrated and anguished by the disappearance of their daughter, the Smarts filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Flores.

A year later, in a deposition related to the lawsuit, Smart family attorney James Murphy asked Flores about Kristin's disappearance as well as simple questions such as the names of his parents and their places of work, but Flores refused to answer.

"On the advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer that question based on the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution," he said.

Paul Flores deposition 1997

Investigators searched the Arroyo Grande homes belonging to Flores's parents several times but no evidence leading to Kristin's remains was recovered, and no arrests were made.

"It's terrible," Denise Smart said in 1998. "Because every time you look at her picture, every time something should be a holiday, a time to rejoice, part of you is missing and you can't celebrate life the way you used to."

On May 25, 2002, exactly six years after she disappeared, Kristin Smart was declared legally dead.

Years continued to pass without any resolution in the case.

In 2011, Ian Parkinson became San Luis Obispo County Sheriff and pledged to review the investigation.

"I understand they are frustrated," he said of the Smart family. "I would be equally frustrated not having this case solved after all these years."

But by 2015, Kristin had been missing as many years as she'd been alive at the time of her disappearance.

"There isn't a day that has passed that we don't think of our daughter," Stan Smart told KSBY News in 2015. "She is very much part of our life and still alive in our minds, but we're very much troubled by what has happened and why it hasn't been solved as far as finding her remains."

The following year, investigators excavated a hillside at Cal Poly after sheriff's officials said FBI cadaver dogs had alerted in surrounding areas. Investigators never revealed whether anything related to the case was found.

Several more years would pass before the sheriff's office would release new information about the investigation.

In the meantime, a podcast dedicated to Kristin's disappearance, "Your Own Backyard," created by Central Coast resident Chris Lambert, was bringing new attention to the case.

It was launched in 2019, and after a little more than a year and eight episodes, it had been downloaded more than 5.5 million times.

"Chris Lambert has been an absolute blessing for the family," Kristin's brother, Matt Smart, told Dateline NBC. "He has reenergized the case in a way that has been missing for a long time."

Then in January 2020, sheriff's officials issued a press release detailing the work that had been done on the Smart case since 2011, including a complete re-examination of every item of physical evidence seized, the service of 18 search warrants, physical evidence searches at nine separate locations, the submission of early evidence for modern DNA testing, and 91 person-to-person interviews.

A few days after that release, on February 5, 2020, detectives served four additional search warrants - one each at the Arroyo Grande homes of Paul Flores's parents, Susan and Ruben, Paul's house in San Pedro, and his sister's home in Washington state.

Investigators search Paul Flores home

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's investigators were back at Paul's San Pedro home the following month, searching for what they called "specific items of evidence."

A year later, starting in February 2021, a series of events in the case played out in quick succession.

February 11 - Paul Flores was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Sheriff's officials said the arrest was the result of information obtained during the previous year's searches. He posted bond and was released from custody later that evening.

March 15 - Sheriff's officials served another search warrant at the Arroyo Grande home of Paul's father, Ruben. They spent two days at the property using cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar and digging in several locations.

April 13 - Paul Flores was arrested on suspicion of Kristin Smart's murder. Ruben Flores was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact, accused of helping hide Kristin's body.

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Paul Flores was taken into custody on the morning of April 13, 2021, at his home in San Pedro, CA.

"The reality being what it is, it's simply understanding there is a methodically slow, like molasses, pace that this has taken," Matt Smart said. "But if that ultimately leads to a prosecution, if that ultimately leads to finding a body, it'll have all been worthwhile."

While Kristin's parents haven't spoken publicly in a few years, they released a statement after the arrests, saying, "We now put our faith in the justice system and move forward, comforted in the knowledge that Kristin has been held in the hearts of so many and that she has not been forgotten."

"I think they're feeling a bit of relief, but as you can imagine, until we return Kristin to them, this is not over," Sheriff Ian Parkinson said of the Smarts during a press conference announcing the arrests.

Parkinson said he believes investigators are closer to finding Kristin and they will continue to focus on locating her remains.

Meanwhile, Paul Flores is being held without bail. Ruben Flores posted bail and was released from jail a week after the arrests.

The two have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and are awaiting a preliminary hearing in July which is expected to last 12 days.

Ruben Flores is also facing a new lawsuit alleging that he, along with his estranged wife, Susan, and Susan's boyfriend, Mike McConville, moved Kristin's remains from his property on White Court in Arroyo Grande a few days after investigators searched the home in February 2020.

The wrongful death lawsuit against Paul is also still making its way through the court system.

As the case continues, Kristin's legacy lives on in many ways.

In 1998, then-California Gov. Pete Wilson signed the "Kristin Smart Campus Safety Act" requiring all college campus police to contact local law enforcement agencies for any case of violence against a student.

And in 2017, the Smart family established a scholarship in Kristin's name.

"Now we have an opportunity to let her life live on, for one, and give another person an opportunity to pursue her dreams," Denise Smart said in 2017.

"Kristin was, you know, full of life," Matt Smart told NBC. "The sorta individual who sought out adventure. The sorta individual who sought out, you know, the best that life had to offer."