The Kristin Smart Disappearance Case Explained

Kristin Smart was a 19-year-old college student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, who disappeared on May 25, 1996, as reported by The Doe NetworkSmart was reportedly last seen at 2 a.m. on her way back to her residence hall from a party. Per Mustang News, some witnesses reported seeing her acting intoxicated at the party, others didn't recall seeing her with a drink at all, and still others wondered if she had been slipped a "date rape drug" at some point during the evening. Fellow student Tim Davis found Smart lying on the lawn next door to the party, apparently passed out. 

An acquaintance of Smart's, Cheryl Anderson, agreed to help David walk Smart back to her dorm. They were joined by Paul Flores, a friend of Kristin's, who lived in the same dorm and was heading back himself. In a later deposition, Anderson called Flores' behavior "odd," noted his arm was around Smart's waist and her arms were around his neck, and reported that she made sure to confirm that Flores would walk Kristin back to her room. Flores later reported that he last saw Kristin "at the intersection of the walkways leading to their respective residence halls at approximately 2:30 a.m." She "walked uphill toward the red brick building," according to Flores, and has not been seen since. 

Paul Flores had a mysterious black eye

Mustang News reported that Kristin Smart was officially reported missing three days later. Her roommate, Crystal Calvin, said that none of Smart's belongings were missing from their room; it appeared that Smart never made it back to the room at all. On May 30, 1996, authorities interviewed Paul Flores, who came to the interview with a black eye. When asked about it, he responded that the injury was from getting elbowed while playing basketball

A friend of Flores' later told investigators that the black eye was there before the basketball game, and when he'd asked Flores about it on Sunday, May 26, he'd responded that he'd just woke up with it and didn't know how he got it. According to the Los Angeles Times, during his June interview with the district attorney's office, Flores "pulled his arms into his T-shirt, bent over at the waist in his chair and lifted his feet off the floor, as if moving toward a fetal position." He later invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination during a civil deposition and before a grand jury. Mustang News quoted former Sheriff Ed Williams: "We need Paul Flores to tell us what happened to Kristin Smart." Of the over 100 interviews conducted about Smart's disappearance, all of them led to Flores.

Rescue dogs found evidence of a dead body

Flores was the only known suspect in the Kristin Smart case, but until recently, there was never enough evidence to charge him with a crime. Flores dropped out of Cal Poly shortly after Kristin's disappearance. He also had a previous history with law enforcement; in December of 1995, San Luis Obispo police "received a call from a female student at approximately 1 a.m. The student told dispatchers that a drunken Flores had climbed onto her balcony and refused to leave. He left before officers arrived."

A month after Kristin Smart's disappearance, investigators asked the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) to bring dogs to the campus. On June 29, 1996, four cadaver dogs searched Smart's former dorm individually; each dog "alerted" to Paul Flores' room, room 128, per Mustang NewsThe dogs were specifically interested in a corner of Flores' mattress and paid no attention to any other parts of the room. CARDA dog handler Madela Morris told investigators that this indicated there was "a strong possibility that a dead body had been in room 128."

In the early days of the investigation, Kristin's father Stan Smart "all but moved" to San Luis Obispo to follow every lead that came in regarding his daughter's disappearance. In a 2011 television interview, he told the reporter, "I climbed through so many drainage pipes, over road passes." Kristin's mother Denise Smart stayed home in order to be near the telephone and wait for Kristin to call. 

'It's the only gift we can give to her to make sure she's not forgotten'

According to the Los Angeles Times, Kristin Smart was declared legally dead in June of 2002, six years after her original disapperance. Her family, however, "vowed to get justice for her" and solicited donations in 2004 to keep two billboards devoted to Smart up beside Highway 101. Denise Smart (pictured above) told reporters, "Billboards are the only way we can remind people that she's still missing after eight years. It's the only gift we can give to her to make sure she's not forgotten." Per Mustang News, the investigation was never declared a "cold case," as there have been "some form of leads" coming in continually since Smart's original disappearance. 

The Flores family has continually refused to speak to any reporters about the case. Paul Flores has been arrested for driving under the influence several times; at one court appearance, his mother Susan Flores responded to a reporter's request for comment by providing a stack of papers that read: "A long time ago we chose to / Handle our legal matters in a / Court of Law / Not in the / Media Court of Public Opinion."

Paul Flores arrested for firearm possession

In September of 2016, per the Los Angeles Times, FBI agents and San Luis Obispo County officers spent five days digging up three different spots on the hill where Kristin Smart was last seen. They were responding to a lead in the case that had developed as well as trained dogs "alerting" in the area. The dig turned up remains, but they were thought to be from animals, rather than human. 

When Ian Parkinson took office as the sheriff of San Luis Obispo County in 2011, he took special interest in the Smart case. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, under Parkinson's leadership authorities collected 140 "new items of evidence," searched nine separate locations, served 18 search warrants, resubmitted 37 pieces of evidence from the investigation's early stages for more current DNA testing, and conducted more than 90 face-to-face interviews." In 2020, efforts intensified, with authorities working to track vehicles owned by the Floreses at the time of Smart's disappearance. 

In February, investigators used search warrants to search Paul Flores' home in San Pedro, California as well as three other buildings in California and Washington. A second search warrant was served in April of 2020. In February of 2021, reports the Los Angeles Times, Paul Flores was arrested "on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm based on information developed when his home was searched last year in the killing of Kristin Smart."

Paul Flores charged for the murder of Kristin Smart

As reported by Fox News, on March 15, 2021, a judged served a sealed search warrant for the home of Paul's father Reuben Flores in Arroyo Grande, California. Paul Flores was described as the "prime suspect" in the case, with no other details released to the public. On April 14, 2021, authorities arrested Paul Flores for murder and Reuben Flores as an accessory to murder, per ABC News. Authorities credit the podcast Your Own Backyard for "shedding a new light" on the case and bringing forward new witnesses and evidence. Smart's family called the arrest "bittersweet" and hoped it was "the first step in bringing [their] daughter home."

The Los Angeles Times reports that on April 14 prosecutors formally charged Paul Flores with first degree murder and allege "Paul Flores killed Kristin Smart in his college dorm room as he sexually assaulted the 19-year-old student." Flores is thought to have sexually assaulted other women over the years; women who may have been assaulted are asked to contact San Luis Obispo authorities. Flores is being held without bail. Neither he nor his father, "accused of helping his son dispose of Smart's remains," have entered a plea.