25 Years After Kristin Smart Disappeared, Prime Suspect Arrested for Murder

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Brenna Ehrlich
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

UPDATE (4/14): San Luis Obispo District Attorney Dan Dow has announced charges against Paul Flores and his father Ruben in connection with what he is calling the 1996 “homicide” of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.

Paul Flores is being charged with first-degree murder and it is being accused of killing Smart while attempting to rape her. The elder Flores is being charged with accessory after the fact to the crime of murder for allegedly helping Paul conceal Smart’s body.

More from Rolling Stone

“These charges mark a major milestone,” Dow said in a statement. “Today, we make the first move toward bringing justice to Kristin, her family, and the people of San Luis Obispo County.”

The pair will be arraigned on Thursday, April 15th.

UPDATE (4/13, 5 p.m. ET): Twenty-five years after 19-year-old Cal Poly student Kristin Smart went missing on campus after a party, prime suspect Paul Flores, 44, was arrested on one count of murder in connection to the case. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested as an accessory after the fact.

***

Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced the news Tuesday at a press conference held on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, telling those gathered, “This is where it all began on the campus of Cal Poly University,” before going into the history of the case, sharing that he requested a cold case detective bring new attention to Smart’s disappearance four years ago; he has been actively looking into the case since his appointment in 2011.

Parkinson also revealed that Chris Lambert’s podcast Your Own Backyard led to a new witness coming forward who helped moved the investigation forward. “What Chris did was take a local story and turn it into an international story. … It did produce some information that I believe was valuable,” he says.

The search warrants are currently sealed and there is no information available about what they uncovered. Smart’s body has not been found.

“This is not over and we have committed to [the family] that we are not going to stop until Kristin is recovered,” Parkinson says. “We will find Kristin.”

“James R. Murphy, Jr., A Law Corporation is encouraged by and grateful to the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department who have exerted a heroic effort to bring Paul Flores and Ruben Flores to justice,” the Smart family’s attorney said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “We believe that now is the time for the San Luis Obispo District Attorney to criminally prosecute everyone and anyone who was involved in Kristin’s disappearance. We hope that the decades-long investigation undertaken by the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorneys’ Office, the Smart family, and our law firm can finally conclude with all participants in this heinous crime being brought to justice. … While bringing Paul Flores and Ruben Flores to justice is the ultimate goal, nothing can alleviate the pain and suffering the Smart family has suffered and will continue to endure for the rest of their lives.”

***

Twenty-five years after Cal Poly student Kristin Smart went missing, the only suspect in her disappearance, Paul Flores, was taken into custody in San Pedro, California, Tuesday, in connection with the case (per KSBY News). His father, Ruben Flores, was also taken into custody in Arroyo Grande. Another search warrant was also served at the elder Flores’ home.

“Please be advised Sheriff Parkinson will be holding a news conference today at 2:00 p.m. [PST] on O’Neill Green, in front of the Orfalea College of Business on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA,” a press representative from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office tells Rolling Stone. “The Sheriff will be discussing major developments in the investigation into the disappearance of Kristin Smart. No further information will be available until that time.”

Paul Flores’ lawyer told Rolling Stone he does not comment on pending cases, but did confirm the two men had been arrested. Ruben’s lawyer also declined to comment.

Flores was only named a suspect in Smart’s disappearance last month when the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant at Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home to use cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) on the property, according to a release issued at the time.

In February 2020, Flores’ home, his parents’ home, and his sister’s home were also searched by police. They seized digital devices during the search and, in April 2020, executed another search on Paul Flores’ property in San Pedro.

Smart, then 19, disappeared from Cal Poly campus in 1996, last seen with Paul Flores, a fellow student she had met at a party. Flores has long been a person of interest in the case and is the focus of popular true-crime podcast, Your Own Backyard, hosted by musician Chris Lambert. Lambert became obsessed with the case over the last few years due to the fact that it had never been solved. “True crime podcasting is not something that particularly captivated me,” Lambert told Rolling Stone last year. “But it was a local story and the thing that stood out to me is that nobody was talking about it anymore. I didn’t understand why. How are we not all talking about this every day until she’s found?”

The Sheriff’s Department has, in the past, credited Lambert’s podcast with renewing interest in the case. “The podcast that Chris put together is very well done,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said in an interview with KVEC 920AM. “Getting the story out there is what [persuades] people to come forward with information. I think the value of it has been big.”

Denise Smart, Kristin’s mother, is similarly effusive about the show. “We feel like the stars aligned when the podcast aired,” she told Rolling Stone. “It encouraged the previously reluctant to come forward. … This obviously gave law enforcement new leads to follow and connect with what they already were holding close.”

Smart’s body was never found, but she was declared legally dead in 2002.

See where your favorite artists and songs rank on the Rolling Stone Charts.

Sign up for Rolling Stone’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.