Kristin Smart Disappeared In 1996, Years Later, There’s Been A Break In The Case

The last time anyone saw Kristin Smart was on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 1996 when she left an off-campus party at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Years passed, and her disappearance remained a mystery.

Now, new information is coming to light, and the police have arrested a long-time person of interest in the case. However, this mystery isn’t over. Here’s what the public knows so far.

Kristin Smart Was A Freshman At Cal Poly

Kristin Smart Was A Freshman At Cal Poly
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

Kristin Smart was a 19-year-old freshman, enjoying her first time away from home at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). Her first year of college was winding down, and the young student from Stockton, California, was ready to celebrate the last few weekends with friends.

That led her to an off-campus party the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, 1996. That was the last night anyone saw Kristin; she had disappeared.

Paul Flores Offered To Walk Kristin Home

Paul Flores
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

According to the authorities, a classmate of Kristin’s, Paul Flores, offered to walk her home that Friday night. She was allegedly a bit inebriated, and Flores wanted her to get home safely.

Whether he was being polite or something else altogether, Flores was officially the last person to see her alive. That bit of information made him very interesting to the police. They detained him for questioning as long as possible but, eventually, had to let him go.

Kristin Called Her Parents That Night

Kristin Called Her Parents That Night
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

Before leaving for the party that night, Kristin called her parents. They didn’t pick up, but she left a message letting them know her plans for the evening. In the message, Kristin said she and some friends were heading to a party around 8:00 p.m, asking them to call her when they got the message.

They never called her back. And Kristin went to the off-campus party with some friends on Friday, May 24, 1996.

At First, Kristin’s Friend Was Helping Her Home

At First, Kristin's Friend Was Helping Her Home
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

According to witness statements, Kristin was pretty inebriated that Friday evening. So much so that she passed out on the front lawn of the house where the party was being held. A female friend of hers offered to bring her home since she was in no condition to walk by herself.

On the way back to Muir Hall, Kristin’s dorm, the girls ran into Paul Flores. He offered to bring her the rest of the way home.

The Next Day, Her Friends Knew Something Was Wrong

The Next Day, Her Friends Knew Something Was Wrong
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

When Kristin didn’t show up for lunch with her friends the next day, the girls knew something was wrong. They went straight to the campus police, letting them know that they weren’t sure where their friend was.

Unfortunately, the campus police didn’t take their statement too seriously. They didn’t begin fully investigating her disappearance until classes began that Tuesday, a few days after Kristin’s friend’s initial statement. Now, everyone was beginning to worry.

Paul Flores Was Questioned

Paul Flores Was Questioned
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

As Paul Flores was the last known person to see Kristin, he was immediately a person of interest in her disappearance. Something that caught the authorities’ attention about Kristin’s classmate: a black eye.

When they asked Flores how he got the black eye, he said it happened during a pickup game of basketball. They later found out that wasn’t entirely true. One of the guys Flores was playing with said that he showed up to the basketball court already bruised.

He Was Lying

He Was Lying
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images
Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images

When the cops found out Flores was already sporting the black eye when he arrived at the basketball court, they went back to question him further. He admitted to lying, saying that he didn’t actually get the bruise from the game but from fixing his truck.

After tweaking his initial statement, Flores abruptly ended the interview, refusing the answer any more questions about Kristin or her sudden disappearance and evoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Months Later, Police Searched Flores Dorm Room

Months Later, Police Searched Flores Dorm Room
Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when students had cleared out their dorm rooms and were home for the summer, that the police decided to search both Kristin and Flores’ rooms.

They searched Kristin’s on June 5, 1996, and Flores’ five days later, on June 10. They didn’t find anything in Kristin’s room. But, searching Flores’ room, the four cadaver dogs zoned in on his mattress. Unfortunately, it was weeks later, and there wasn’t any physical evidence left behind.

A Search Party Of 400 Volunteers Began

A Search Party Began
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Between interviews and searching the dorm rooms, the police were at a loss. They hadn’t found a thing relating to the disappearance of Kristin. All the authorities had was a hunch that Paul Flores had something to do with the case. But they had no evidence to back their claim.

On June 29, 1996, around 400 volunteers searched high and low around Cal Poly, hoping to find something that would help the authorities find the missing girl.

Flores’ Attorney Stated That There’s No Evidence

Flores' Attorney Stated That There's No Evidence
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Along with the volunteers, the authorities decided to search Flores’ parents’ home in Arroyo Grande, hoping to find something that would help them find Kristin. Unfortunately, their search didn’t bring anything to light. They were running off hunches and had no evidence.

That was something working in Flores’ favor. According to a statement made by Flores’ attorney, Melvin de la Motte, “It’s one thing to have suspicions, but that doesn’t make up for evidence.”

Recently, Denise Smart Has Been In Touch With The FBI

Recently, Denise Smart Has Been In Touch With The FBI
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In 2020, new information was revealed. In an interview with the Stockton Record, Kristin’s mom, Denise Smart, said she’s been in contact with a former official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.

According to Mrs. Smart, they told her to “Be ready” because new information was going to be released very soon. His recommendation for the Smart family was to be prepared for when it does because they “might want to get away for a while.”

The News Wasn’t Exactly Forthcoming

The News Wasn't Exactly Forthcoming
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The FBI never game the Smart’s a time frame for the “flight plan,” though. According to an interview Denise did with Stockton Record, “I wish I knew when. Because it’s very anxiety-producing.”

“It’s like, ‘Can you give me the flight plan?’ When is this happening?’” As it turns out, the information wasn’t exactly forthcoming. And the Smarts had to wait around a year to hear anything new about the case.

Evidence Included Two Trucks Owned By The Flores Family

Evidence Included Two Trucks Owned By The Flores Family
Falkenpost/pixabay
Falkenpost/pixabay

In January 2020, the authorities announced some of the evidence they had in their ongoing investigation. Two major subjects of interest were trucks previously owned by the Flores family in 1996, the year Kristin disappeared.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the sheriff’s office, they have been hard at work gathering as much evidence as possible to make a sound and legal arrest. Since 1996, their person of interest has never changed.

The Evidence Has Been Piling Up

The Evidence Has Been Piling Up
Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images
Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images

While the actual evidence has not been disclosed, San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson has given the public a vague idea about what they’ve been gathering since 1996.

In a statement, the Sherrif said the office has issued “41 search warrants at 16 physical locations, a complete reexamination of every item seized including modern DNA testing on 37 items, recovered 193 new pieces of physical evidence, 137 person-to-person interviews, and conducted over 500 additional police reports.”

Two Arrest Warrants Were Issued In 2021

Two Arrest Warrants Were Issued In 2021
4711018/pixabay
4711018/pixabay

A few of the search warrants were issued for Paul Flores’s residence in San Pedro, California, his parents’ home in Arroyo Grande, California, and even a residence in Washington State. After ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs searched throughout Paul’s parents’ home, the arrest warrants were issued.

They had found something they believed linked the Flores’ to Kristin’s case. One warrant was for the arrest of Paul Flores, now 44, and the second was for his father, Ruben Flores, who is 80 years old.

Flores Has Always Been The #1 Person Of Interest

Flores Has Always Been The #1 Person Of Interest
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Since Kristin’s disappearance in 1996, Paul Flores has been the authorities’ number one person of interest. He’d lied, abruptly stopped helping the police, and even evoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during interview proceedings.

And while the police could never pin the disappearance on the guy who was the last person to see Kristin, he was no match for modern CSI evidence-gathering techniques. They were going to put this man behind bars.

Paul Flores Is Being Held Without Bail

Paul Flores Is Being Held Without Bail
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While the case was originally being handled by the Sheriff’s Office, after the arrest of Paul and Ruben Flores in 2021, it was handed over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office for further proceedings.

Currently, Paul is being held without bail in the San Luis Obispo County Jail, while his father, Ruben, is being held on bail for $250,000. After the arrests, Sheriff Parkinson stated, “Until we return Kristin to them [her family], it is not over.”

Cal Poly President Released A Statement

Cal Poly President Released A Statement
Denise Smart/Facebook
Denise Smart/Facebook

Upon the Tuesday, April 13, 2021, arrests of Paul and Ruben Flores, many statements were released. One such statement being from Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong.

In his statement, Armstrong said, “The news today of arrests in connection with the case brings sadness, but also a measure of release and hope for a resolution. While we know that today’s developments do not represent the end of the case, it is a significant step.”

The Smart Family Also Released A Statement

2020: The Year Of Multiple Search Warrants
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, after the arrests of the two Flores men, a spokesperson for the Smart family released a statement to CBS News. “For over twenty-four years,” the statement read, “we have waited for this bittersweet day. It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family; we pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home.”

“While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs, and smiles is a heartache that never abates.”

Sheriff Parkinson Is Determined To Find Kristin

Election day fast approaching and I'm asking for your vote on June 5th. I've been committed to serving our community…

Posted by Ian Parkinson, Sheriff on Friday, June 1, 2018

The statement continued, saying, “The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain.”

While their daughter’s body has yet to be found, Sherriff Ian Parkinson believes they will, stating in an interview with CBS News that, “We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action.”

District Attorney Dan Dow Released A Statement

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announces criminal charges filed against Paul Flores and his father…

Posted by San Luis Obispo County District Attorney on Wednesday, April 14, 2021

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow also released a statement on that fateful April Tuesday in 2021. In his statement, he said, “The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office is evaluating the Kristin Smart investigation following the arrests of Paul and Ruben Flores.”

“We are carefully reviewing the evidence and will provide more information as it becomes available.” As of April 14, 2021, both men are in San Luis Obispo County Jail. Paul Flores was denied bail, while Ruben’s bail in $250,000.

They Believe They Know Where Kristin’s Body Is Located

They Believe They Know Where Kristin's Body Is Located
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Paul Flores is being detained and charged with first-degree murder of Kristin Smart while his father, Ruben is being charged with accessory to murder. During a press conference, District Attorney Dow let the public know the authorities had an idea of where Kristin’s body might be located.

Dow said, “It’s alleged that Ruben Flores assisted in secreting (Smart’s body) after the homicide. We do believe we have the location where the body was buried. We certainly believe Mr. Flores’ [dorm] room was a crime scene.”

Everything Changed In 2011

Yard signs are now available! I’d be honored if you show your support by picking up a yard sign at any of these…

Posted by Ian Parkinson, Sheriff on Thursday, April 5, 2018

In 2011, Ian Parkinson became the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff, and everything changed. First, he requested a full report and review of all of the physical evidence gathered from Kristin’s case.

He was set on finding out what actually happened to Kristin Smart all those years ago. And after the arrests in 2021, he told the public that “We are committed to them [ the Smarts]. We are not going to stop until Kristin is recovered.”

The Sheriff Brought In A Cold-Case Detective

The Sherrif Brought In A Cold-Case Detective
Justice for Kristin/Facebook
Justice for Kristin/Facebook

It took a few years, but in 2016, Sheriff Parkinson thought it was time to bring new eyes into the case. He decided to bring in a full-time cold-case detective, Clint Cole, hoping he’d find new information about the disappearance.

As it turned out, the more the detective looked into the case, the more apparent it was that Paul Flores was definitely a person of interest. He had something to do with the case. It was just a matter of finding out what.

2019 And The Podcast That Changed Everything

2019 And The Podcast That Changed Everything
Justice for Kristin/Facebook
Justice for Kristin/Facebook

After looking around for new evidence, in 2019, new witness testimony came into the picture. Several witnesses who were not interviewed back in 1996 stepped forward, thanks to a podcast that renewed the public’s interest in Kristin’s disappearance.

In 2019, Chris Lambert started a podcast series titled Your Own Backyard, a multi-episode telling of Kristin’s disappearance along with interviews from the police, former classmates, reporters, and, most importantly, witnesses who weren’t originally interviewed by the police.

The Podcast Helped Renew Public Interest

The Podcast Helped Renew Public Interest
Justice for Kristin/Facebook
Justice for Kristin/Facebook

In the first four months of Your Own Backyard‘s release, Lambert’s podcast had over one million downloads. The mystery surrounding Kristin’s disappearance was making headlines once again, and the new witness testimony renewed the authorities’ confidence that they were going to find and arrest the people responsible.

The Smart family even commented on the series, thanking Lambert for “his outstanding podcast,” stating that it was in part to his program that renewed the public interest and law enforcement progress.

A Court Order Allowed Police To Monitor Flores Cell Phone

A Court Order Allowed Police To Monitor Flores Cell Phone
Justice for Kristin/Facebook
Justice for Kristin/Facebook

The new witness testimony, along with the evidence compiled by the cold-case detective Cole, was enough to get a court order, allowing the authorities to monitor Paul Flores’ cell phone. This meant they had access to all of his text messages and incoming and outgoing phone calls.

This was the closest they’d ever been to finding hard evidence against their main person of interest. Now, it was just a matter of time.

2020: The Year Of Multiple Search Warrants

2020: The Year Of Multiple Search Warrants
Denise Smart/Facebook
Denise Smart/Facebook

On February 5, 2020, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office announced that they had received search warrants for four different locations across California and Washington State. Their goal: to find specific items of evidence they believed were located in the various residences across the two states.

One location was in Los Angeles County, two were in San Luis Obispo County, and the final location was in Washington State. Unfortunately, the office was unable to make further comments since the warrants were sealed.

Two Months Later Another Search Warrant Was Issued

Two Months Later Another Search Warrant Was Issued
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Two months after the initial search warrants were issued, another was approved. At around 7:00 a.m. on April 22, 2020, in San Pedro, Los Angeles County, police officers arrived at the home of Paul Flores, their long-time suspect in Kristin Smart’s disappearance.

As with the four warrants issued in February, the authorities were unable to give information about what they found in the home of Mr. Flores. But from news pictures, it seems as though the police left with decades-old computer towers, cell phones, and other electronics.

7,500 Employee Hours Have Been Spent On The Case

7,500 Employee Hours Have Been Spent On The Case
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Since Ian Parkinson was appointed Sheriff of San Luis Obispo County, there was a renewed sense of finding Kristin and figuring out the mystery behind her disappearance. With new ways of sourcing and dissecting CSI-related evidence, the Sherriff’s Office has put in many employee hours and money into the case.

According to EdHat, since 2011, “the Sheriff’s Office has spent approximately $62,000 in investigative expenses including, but not limited to, DNA forensic testing as well as investing more than 7,500 employee hours.”

2021 Was The Year They’ve Been Waiting For

2021 Was The Year They've Been Waiting For
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After all of the time, energy, and resources that Sheriff Ian Parkinson and the office had put into the case; they were ready to make an arrest. They had the evidence, even if they couldn’t release it to the public; 2021 would be the year they would finally put Paul Flores behind bars.

On April 13, 2021, Sheriff Parkinson held a press conference, stating that Flores had been arrested for first-degree murder, and his father, Ruben, was arrested for accessory to murder.

There Was New Physical Evidence Found

There Was New Physical Evidence Found
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During the press conference, Sheriff Parkinson was able to relay what little information he could to the public since all of the new evidence had been sealed by the court. As it turned out, the Sherriff’s Office had discovered new forensic physical evidence by way of ground-penetrating radar detection.

Parkinson believed the Office’s new findings were, somehow, related to Kristin Smart’s disappearance back in 1996. Unfortunately, even with the new evidence, her body had not been found. But they’re hopeful.

The Smart’s Finally Decided To File A Lawsuit

The Smart's Finally Decided To File A Lawsuit
Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images
Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 1996, a grand jury did not indict Paul Flores, as there wasn’t enough or any evidence pointing to him as the guilty party in the disappearance of 19-year-old Kristin Smart. Even though he lied to the police, admitting to his fib on camera wasn’t enough to arrest him.

But that didn’t stop the Smart family from pressing charges. It was the only thing they could do in what felt like a hopeless situation.

In 2002, Kristin Was Legally Presumed Dead

In 2002, Kristin Was Legally Presumed Dead
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A few months after Kristin’s disappearance, the Smart family filed a civil case of wrongful death against Paul Flores. They wound up adding California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, to the lawsuit a bit later. Their reasoning behind adding the university was simple: they failed to keep their daughter safe from a predator.

In 2002, Kristin Smart was legally presumed dead by the San Luis Obispo Sherriff’s Office, even though a body had never been found.

Both Lawsuits Are In A Weird Legal Limbo

Both Lawsuits Are In A Weird Legal Limbo
CBS News
CBS News

In retaliation to the 1996 lawsuit against Paul, the Flores family wound up throwing a civil suit back at the Smart family. Their suit was for emotional distress since Paul denied any involvement with Kristin’s disappearance, and the Smarts and police kept badgering him.

According to The Tribune, both the Smart’s and the Flores’ lawsuits are still in a weird limbo, as there is still an ongoing investigation related to the case both parties are filing against.

Sheriff Parkinson Believes They Have Enough Evidence

Sherriff Parkinson's Believe They Have Enough Evidence
Ian Parkinson, Sheriff/Facebook
Ian Parkinson, Sheriff/Facebook

But, after many years, the mystery behind Kristin Smart’s disappearance is finally coming full circle. According to Sheriff Parkinson, “I am confident we have enough of a case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Throughout our investigation, Paul Flores has remained a person of significant interest. As the case progressed, he became a suspect and the prime suspect in the case.” Now, they finally have Flores and his father in custody, something the Smart family has been waiting for since 1996.