According to stunning new allegations by prosecutors, Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart following attempts to sexually assault her in her dorm room on the night she went missing. This week, investigators, family members, and true crime fans are all feeling some semblance of progress in the case of missing Cal Poly student, Kristen Smart after Paul Flores, a long-time person of interest in the case was arrested in connection with her disappearance. Smart disappeared in 1996 after she left a party with her friends and never arrived back at her student dormitory. Since her disappearance, investigators have been looking Flores, who was reportedly the last person to see Smart before she went missing.
The public’s fascination with the Kristen Smart’s case goes back to 1996 when she first went missing. The Cal Poly student was on her way to a party the night she went missing, May 24, 1996. She was supposed to speak to her parents on the phone before she left her dorm room for the party, but her parents never heard from her. Kristen ended up at an off-campus party where she became heavily intoxicated and passed out on the lawn of a neighboring house. Kristen was leaving the party with friends when Paul Flores came up on them and offered to walk Kristen back to her dorm. Kristen was never heard from again, and Paul Flores has always been identified as the last person to see her alive.
The theory that Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart came from the presumed timeline of Kristen’s last movements the night she disappeared. Since Flores was the last person to be seen with her, it stands to reason he would have information about her disappearance. However, over the years, Paul Flores has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Despite the fact that Flores remained ingrained in discourse around the case for the next 20 years, he was never formally charged by law enforcement, and invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when deposed in a wrongful death suit in 2005 levied by Kristen’s parents. Despite numerous searches by law enforcement, friends, and family, her remains have never been found.
Authorities investigating the disappearance of Kristen Smart have credited a true-crime podcast in part for the progress that has been made in the case. Your Own Backyard, a true-crime podcast that takes a deep dive into Kristen Smart’s disappearance, was launched in 2019 by Chris Lambert, a veteran podcaster who was humble when describing his investigative efforts to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, “The podcast was one part of the whole formula. Even with what I found, I can’t go arrest somebody. I needed [the sheriff’s office] to do their job. I was willing to do what I could to assist in that. You can get varying levels of agreement about what I did directly led to an arrest. My personal opinion was that I was one piece of the formula.” Following the release of the podcast, law enforcement was able to develop leads. Paul Flores and his father, Ruben, was also arrested as an accessory after the fact and is believed to have helped Flores dispose of Kristen’s remains. In a press conference following their arrest, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said to the media, “In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with.”
Paul Flores and his father, Ruben were arraigned on Thursday morning. The DA’s office is reportedly requesting a higher bail amount for Ruben Flores set at $250,000. Paul Flores remains in jail, held on zero bail for felony murder.
As true crime continues to climb the cultural ladder into mainstream culture, there has been a wave of true crime documentaries, television shows, and podcasts that revive interest in cold cases. A recent example has been the true crime podcast Your Own Backyard, hosted by Chris Lambert, which focuses on the disappearance of Kristin Smart—a Cal Poly freshman who went missing after a friend’s birthday party in spring of 1996. The podcast has listeners questioning the involvement of one of Kristin Smart’s friends, Paul Flores, who escorted her back to her dormitory after the party and was allegedly the last person to see Kristin Smart alive.
Paul Flores was instead labeled a “person of interest,” by
authorities in 1997 and has remained so for over 20 years. The sheriff at the time,
Ed Williams, told the media that there were “no other suspects” in Kristin’s
disappearance. Law enforcement was only able to interview Flores once when Kristin
was first reported missing and since then he had remained uncooperative in the investigation.
During that interview, Flores gave conflicting accounts of how he had received a
black eye that investigators observed, first stating that he got the shiner
playing baseball and then later said he got it while working on his truck
moments before he shut the interview down.
Flores was subsequently sued by Kristin Smart’s family in 1996, stating that Flores was the man responsible for their daughter’s disappearance and murder. Cal Poly was subsequently added to the lawsuit, with the family citing that the university did not do enough to keep their daughter safe while living on their campus. In a 1997 deposition, he repeatedly cited his right against self-incrimination, according to periodical archives. The lawsuit remains unresolved, as documents that could prove any of the family’s allegations still remain sealed in interested of preserving the criminal investigation. The family’s attorney, Jim Murphy, said in 2016, “In civil law, it’s what’s reasonable based on a preponderance of the evidence, not within a reasonable doubt as in criminal cases. Here, I believe there’s enough circumstantial evidence to prove to a civil jury that Flores is responsible for Kristin’s death.”
The popularity of Your Own Backyard has coincided with a recent break in the cold case, with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office announcing that they have issued warrants to retrieve potential evidence from Flores’s mother’s home, including two vehicles and electronic devices, with authorities commenting only that these were “items of interest.”
Kristin Smart was legally presumed dead in 2002, but the
community still holds out hope that law enforcement will find answers in her
disappearance. A new billboard has been erected in Murphy’s front yard, urging
anyone with information about her disappearance to contact the San Luis Obispo
Sheriff’s office at 805-781-4500.
For practically a quarter of a century, Kristin Smart’s family has been through some unimaginable turmoil. Kristin Denise Smart disappeared in May of 1996, and was legally declared dead in May of 2002. Over the years, investigating authorities have received several tips regarding the circumstances of the young woman’s disappearance, but recently, Kristin’s family issued a statement that there might soon be a break in the case.
Kristin was finishing up her freshman year at California
Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California when she went
missing. On May 24, 1996, Kristin went to a friend’s birthday party, which happened
to be Memorial Day weekend—an active time in a college town. In the early
morning hours of May 25, around 2 a.m., she was found passed out on the neighbor’s
lawn by a pair of friends, Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis. Kristin was highly intoxicated
and did not have any personal effects on her, such as a purse, I.D., or credit
cards. Paul Flores, another party guest, eventually joined the group as the
trio helped Kristin back to her dorm. Anderson and Davis eventually separated
from the group on their respective journeys home, and Flores was left to escort
Kristin the rest of the way. Flores told police that he only escorted Kristin
as far as his own residence hall, Santa Lucia Hall, and Kristin was left to
return to her own residence hall on her own. This was the last known sighting
One of the most frustrating aspects of crimes against
persons living on college campuses is the necessary institution of campus
police. It can be to the benefit of university students to have localized,
specialized protection from campus police. Not all campus police departments
are created equal, but sometimes, campus police can hinder formal police
investigations. The University Police Department was not convinced that Kristin
had gone missing, but rather thought she had gone on an impromptu vacation over
the holiday weekend. They did not immediately report her as a missing person to
Despite the fact that the case remains open and unsolved, police
suspected Paul Flores of knowing what had happened following the discovery of crucial
evidence. Kristin’s bloody earring was discovered by a tenant living in the building
where Flores’ mother had once lived. The earring was lost after police took
custody with no explanation. Over the years, many searches have been conducted
with ground teams, cadaver dogs. In September of 2016, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s
department received a tip about a possible location of Kristin’s remains,
resulting in an excavation of a part of California Polytechnic State
University. There was ambiguity regarded whether or not the remains were human
or animal, and the last reports on this find declared that genetic testing
could take months. As of 2020, items found at all three dig-sites were still
being investigated by police.
On January 18, 2020, the Stockton Recordpublished a piece regarding a possible break in the case after the family had been in touch with a former FBI agent. In a statement, Kristin’s family said that the detective had informed them that new information had come to light, and the family might want to “get away for a while.” Denise Smart, Kristin’s mother, said she was told, “Be ready. This is really going to be something you don’t expect. We want to give you the support we need.” However, The Record later issued a correction to their breaking news story, saying that it was not an active member of the FBI, but rather a retired detective who, according to Denise Smart, “has provided us guidance over the years.” The family later said in a subsequently released statement, “The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation and they are not putting any timetable on the completion of it. We support the Sheriff Department’s efforts and commitment.”
Now in another twist, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s investigators announced that they had taken two trucks that belonged to the Flores family at the time of Kristin’s disappearance. In addition to the trucks, they also announced that over 30 pieces of evidence from the initial investigation were also being reexamined, undergoing DNA testing. In the 23 years-long investigation, announcements such as this can stimulate public interest in the investigation, keeping a missing person’s face in the media. Christ Lambert, the host and creator of the podcast Your Own Back Yard, which is about the case has also been credited with raising awareness about Kristin’s case. In a statement, Kristin’s family thanked him personally, “Thanks to Chris and all the supporters who have made such an amazing difference. Your Own Backyard has been instrumental in renewing interest in Kristin’s investigation and generating many new leads. Keep the faith and know that you are all making a difference.”