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Cal Poly student Kristin Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996.
That’s when Smart left an off-campus fraternity party at around 2 a.m. and was walked back to her Muir Hall dorm by several people. Paul Flores was one of them and the last person to be seen with her, according to witnesses.
Two days later, May 27, Kristin’s roommate reported her missing.
Nearly a month after her disappearance, Cal Poly police turned the case over to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, and hundreds of volunteers went on an organized search for Kristin on June 29.
In July 1996, investigators named Paul Flores a key witness and later, a person-of-interest. Kristin’s parents, Stan and Denise Smart, have filed several lawsuits against Flores, starting just months after she went missing.
In a November 1997 deposition, Smart family attorney James Murphy asks Flores about his parents’ names, place of work, and Kristin’s disappearance, but Flores refused to answer each question.
“On the advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer that question based on the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” he says.
In June 2000, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office searched the Arroyo Grande backyard of Susan Flores, Paul’s mother. It would be one of several home searches over the years.
On May 25, 2002, exactly six years after she disappeared, Kristin Smart was declared legally dead.
As part of a discovery process in a civil suit, crews dug up part of the yard at the Flores family home in May 2007. The search yielded no new evidence.
Ian Parkinson is then elected sheriff in 2010, pledging to review the Smart case.
“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.”
Several years later, on September 6, 2016, investigators excavated a hillside at Cal Poly after FBI cadaver dogs alerted in surrounding areas.
Deputies have not said what they found there, remaining tight-lipped about the investigation, as always.
Three years later, on September 30, 2019, local Chris Lambert flushed out details of the disappearance, launching the first episode of the “Your Own Backyard” podcast series.
Kristin’s case emerged in the national spotlight again after an article published by the Stockton Record on January 18, 2020, claimed Denise Smart was contacted by an FBI agent who told her to “be ready” for surprising new developments in her daughter’s case.
A couple of days later, a family spokesman said it was actually a former FBI agent who reached out to the Smart family and there was no timeline for any announcements.
On January 29, 2020, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office announced it had two vehicles — trucks which belonged to family members of Paul Flores — in evidence, and detailed the work that’s been done on the Smart case since it was made a priority for the sheriff’s office in 2011:
The service of 18 search warrants
Conducting physical evidence searches at nine separate locations
A complete re-examination of every item of physical evidence seized by all agencies involved in this case
Submission of 37 evidence items from the early days of the case for modern DNA testing
Recovery of 140 new items of evidence
Conducting 91 person to person interviews
The writing of 364 supplemental reports
Four additional search warrants were served on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. Two at the Arroyo Grande homes of Paul’s parents, Susan and Ruben, and one each at Paul’s home in San Pedro and at a location near Kenmore, Washington, where it’s believed Paul’s sister lives.
On Wednesday, April 22, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office served another search warrant at Paul Flores’ San Pedro home. Sheriff’s officials said they were being assisted with the search “for specific items of evidence” by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
“As with the search warrants in February, this current search warrant is sealed by the court. As a result, we are precluded by law from disclosing any further details about them including items sought or recovered during the process,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release.
On February 11, 2021, just over a year after the initial search at Flores’ San Pedro home, he was arrested on a weapons charge that sheriff’s officials said was the result of information obtained during those searches.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Flores was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He posted bond and was released from custody later that evening.
On March 15, 2021, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s detectives served another search warrant at the Arroyo Grande home of Ruben Flores. Officials said they would be using cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar and that the search could take a couple of days.
For the first time, in a press release issued that morning, the sheriff’s office called Paul Flores the “prime suspect” in the Smart case.
During the search on March 15, investigators hauled away from the property a 1985 Volkswagen Cabriolet after it was searched by cadaver dogs. Investigators returned the following day and could be seen digging in several locations. They wrapped up the search by 2 p.m. on March 16.
Following that search, Susan Flores spoke exclusively with KSBY News.
“We have no responsibility for her disappearance and what happened to that young woman, and I’ve said it in a court of law,” she said.Flores said it was the first time she had spoken to the media and that she was prompted to do the interview because she was upset that the sheriff’s office took her Volkswagen.A spokesperson for the Smart family said they had no comment on the interview.