WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
Kristin Smart was a 19-year-old finishing up her freshman year of college at California Polytechnic State University when she disappeared on May 25, 1996. Though she is still technically considered a missing person, she was declared legally presumed dead on May 25, 2002.
Kristin was seen escorted by 3 students to her residence hall after a party off campus, but she has never been seen again. The San Luis Obispo police reported they had received information about a possible location for Smart's remains in September of 2016, but the findings are still unclear.
BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE (1)
Kristin was born on February 20, 1977 in Ausburg, Germany to her parents Stan and Denise Smart. She had one brother and one sister. During her childhood, the family moved to the United States, and Kristen was raised in Stockton, California.
After high school, Kristin began attending Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. She was finishing up her freshman year when, on the evening of May 24, 1996, she attended an off-campus birthday party for a fellow student and friend.
At around 2 AM on May 25, Kristin was found by 2 students passed out on a neighbor's lawn by 2 students, Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis, who had just left the same party. Cheryl and Tim were joined by another student, Paul Flores, and they helped Kristin get back to her dorm, which was nearby.
Though the 3 intended to return Kristin together, Tim departed, since he lived off campus and had driven to the party, thus going the opposite direction. Because Paul lived closest, Cheryl also left the group, saying Paul could finish getting her home on her own. Paul claims he completed the trek, dropping her off at her dorm, but she walked back to her actual room herself.
Paul was the last known person to see her alive.
THE INVESTIGATION (1)
The University Police initially believed that Kristin had gone on an unannounced vacation, as it was Memorial Day weekend and it was common for students to go on vacation during the 3-day weekend. As such, it was a slow process for her to be officially announced as a missing person, and to be treated as such.
One odd suspect was Scott Peterson, who had been charged with murdering his wife, Laci. He was a regular at the Cal Poly campus, and on trial for another murder, some believed he could have been involved. However, after a quick inquiry into the theory, he was ruled out as a suspect.
Kristin's disappearance, and presumed death, remains unsolved. "Compelling evidence" was discovered that implicates Paul Flores, however, or at least that he knows what may have happened to her. For instance, her bloody earring was found by a tenant at Paul's mother's old house. (The police have since lost the earring. WAY TO GO, GUYS.) However, in the years following her disappearance, many searches have been conducted, and her remains have never been found.
On September 6, 2016, police announced they had a new lead, and cadaver dogs from the FBI were brought in to spend days excavating an area on Cal Poly's campus. Items were found at 3 different dig sites near Kristin's dorm, but despite police saying the analysis could take "days, weeks or months", the items are still being investigated now, as of 2020.
AFTERMATH AND LEGACY (1)
In what appears to be a pattern with most of the disappearances and murders I write about, Kristin's disappearance sparked new legislation to help others in her situation. The Kristin Smart Campus Security Act was written, voted upon and signed into effect and took effect on January 1, 1999, which requires all public colleges and publicly funded educational institutions to have their security services work with local police about cases involving possible violence against students, including missing students.
On the 6th anniversary of her disappearance, Kristin was declared legally dead. Her parents took a wrongful death civil case against Paul Flores in 2005, however, he has continually denied any involvement in her disappearance. His family has filed a lawsuit against the Smart family for emotional distress. Which seems really over the top, as their daughter was probably killed and their son was the last to see her alive.
The case is still open, and the police still review the case regularly and have continued to spend thousands of hours and money to try to determine what happened to her. The FBI has her on file as a high priority missing person, and a $75,000 reward is available for information leading to her case being solved.
A podcast on September 30, 2019 detailed Kristin's case, and renewed public interest in her disappearance. This renewed interest lead to a new billboard being put up in Arroyo Grande in January of this year, which replaced the billboard that has been up since 1997.
On January 18 of this year, the Stockton Record reported that the FBI informed Kristin's family that news was going to break about the disappearance and the family may want to get away for some time, but a correction was issued on January 22 saying that the FBI did not contact them, but a retired FBI agent who had been working with the family. On January 29, 2 trucks owned by Flores were taken as evidence, and on February 5, search warrants were issued in 4 different locations. Flores was detained briefly during the search.
On April 22, 2020, just over a month ago, the LA Times reported that a warrant was served at Paul Flores' home, but no news has come from the search, yet. However, the continued dedication from the police and the public interest in bringing Kristin's killer to justice is strong, and I do believe this case will be solved in the next few years.
ABOUT THE SUSPECT
The day after Kristin went missing, allegedly, Paul Flores had a black eye, though he kept changing his story about how he got it. Additionally, according to the California Register an electric golf cart and 2 car-covers were reported missing the same weekend Kristin disappeared. Because Flores worked for a campus department that used golf carts, it is believed that he may have used one to transport the body. The golf cart was eventually found, but washed down, and the covers were never found. (2)
It is also believed that Flores' family had connections with the police, leading to an insufficient first search of their residence, and the missing bloody earring. (2)
Flores himself was in danger of being expelled from the university, from poor grades and a DUI. He dropped out in the summer of 1996, and had cleaned out his dorm room before it could be searched by the police. He has pleaded the fifth amendment many times and refuses to talk, and Cadaver dogs have lead police to Flores' mattress, but no evidence was found. (2)
In addition to Flores' DUI while in school, he served 240 days in county jail for another DUI. The Daily Beast also reported in 2016 that 4 women had accused Flores of sexual assault. In one case, he was accused of drugging and raping a fellow student and in another, he used a knife to try to assault a woman. (2)
According to The Charley Project, Flores wasn't well-liked among his peers, and was a heavy drinker. He was known for creeping women out. His ex-girlfriend claims that they broke up due to abusive behavior. He also went by a few different names when in college, and lost the chance at a job because he was submitting fraudulent documents. (2)
On Reddit, most people believe that Paul Flores was Kristin's killer. And why wouldn't they? "What are the odds that someone as creepy as Paul Flores just happened to be the last human to ever see a pretty, young, and incredibly drunk girl alive AND has nothing to do with her death!? How likely is it that someone else entirely unrelated killed her instead? The odds Flores is innocent is less than minimal," one user states. I tend to agree. It seems pretty unlikely that Kristin, barely able to stand and requiring 3 people's help getting to her dorm, was walked home by the campus creep but then was killed by somebody else. (3)
Another user says, "Everything seems to point to Paul. I think he saw an opportunity to take advantage of her while drunk or high (maybe even drugged her himself) and when he was raping her she died so he freaked out and instead of calling an ambulance and get charged with rape and murder, he hid the body." Another user corroborates this thought, bringing another element into the case: Apparently, Paul's father received a phone call that evening and left the house quickly in the middle of the night, and apparently, there has been reluctance to dig up some cement that was put in their yard just days after she disappeared. I don't think he'd call his father if he killed someone on purpose, but if he accidentally killed her, perhaps he'd call his father in a panic and his father helped him cover up her death. (3)
Like many high-profile missing persons cases, this one has a pretty clear solid theory about what happened. Paul Flores probably did it, but despite a lot of evidence against him, mostly circumstantial but some physical (that was lost), he has evaded prison time for 24 years. His parents, who may know about his involvement, have tried to sue the family with a murdered child for harassing him. All roads point to Flores, but hopefully, over 24 years later, enough evidence may point to him that he is brought to justice for Kristin's death.