A San Pedro resident, a longtime person of interest in the 1996 disappearance of his former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo classmate Kristin Smart, was arrested Tuesday at his home on suspicion of murder, and his father was booked on suspicion of being an accessory.
Paul Flores, long described as a “prime suspect” by authorities, was taken into custody early Tuesday morning by San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s officials and driven to San Luis Obispo, where the 44-year-old suspect was booked shortly after noon.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said investigators had served search warrants at Flores’ home and simultaneously at the residences of his mother, father and sister, in February 2020, telling reporters Tuesday afternoon that “physical evidence recovered during these searches led to the service of (an) additional search warrant at Paul Flores’ residence in April last year.”
“During the search warrant, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart,” the sheriff said, adding that “additional evidence related to the Smart investigation” was discovered last month when a search warrant was served at the Arroyo Grande home of Flores’ 80-year-old father, Ruben.
A San Luis Obispo County judge subsequently signed arrest warrants for Paul Flores and his father, along with two additional search warrants, the sheriff said during a news conference at Cal Poly Pomona, where Smart and Flores were each 19-year-old freshmen students at the time of her disappearance.
Flores was booked on suspicion of murder and was being held without bail, while his father’s bail was set at $250,000. The two were arrested simultaneously about 7:30 a.m., and investigators are still in the process of executing the latest search warrants, the sheriff said.
He declined to discuss details about the evidence detectives had recovered, but said they “have not recovered Kristin.”
“We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action,” Parkinson said. “We will continue the process of finding out where Kristin is. We know that’s an important part or important issue with the family.”
“… It’s my hope that we’re able to take the first step toward justice for the Smart family, peace for the community, some justice out there for all of us and most especially for Kristin,” the sheriff said. “I have spoken to the Smart family numerous times including this morning, matter of fact twice today. I think they’re feeling a bit of relief, but as you can imagine, until we return Kristin to them this is not over. And we have committed to them that we are not going to stop until Kristin has been recovered no matter what the cost, no matter what the time. We are committed to that. I know they believe in us. I know they believe we will find Kristin.”
In a statement released after the arrests, the Smart family said, “For over 24 years, we have waited for this bittersweet day. It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family. We pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home. While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates.
“The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain,” their statement says. “We now put our faith in the justice system and move forward, comforted in the knowledge that Kristin has been held in the hearts of so many and that she has not been forgotten … We are pleased that Kristin’s case has now moved to the district attorney’s office, where we know we will be in good hands, and look forward to the day when there will be justice for Kristin.”
Flores was the last person seen with Smart before she disappeared while on her way home from an off-campus party. Flores was seen walking on a path to the college dormitories with her at approximately 2 a.m. on May 25, 1986.
“Kristin never returned to her dorm room that night and has not been seen or heard from since that time,” the sheriff said.
Flores, who was questioned about Smart’s disappearance then, has lived for more than a decade in San Pedro, where authorities served a search warrant at his Upland Avenue home last April in a quest “for specific items of evidence” related to the investigation into Smart’s disappearance, a San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said then.
In February 2020, search warrants were served in San Pedro, San Luis Obispo County and Washington state, but authorities declined to provide any specifics.
In 2016, federal investigators dug up a hillside near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, looking for remains. They also searched the yard of a home. Investigators also examined vehicles that Flores and his father owned at the time of Smart’s disappearance.
“Since I came into office in 2011, we have served over 41 search warrants on this case, done physical searches of 16 different locations …a complete re-examination of every physical item seized, submission of 37 items of evidence from the early days of the case for modern DNA testing, recovery of 193 items of physical evidence, new physical evidence,” the sheriff told reporters. ” We’ve conducted approximately 137 person-to-person interviews and in addition completed over 500 additional police reports.”
The investigation into Smart’s disappearance was initially handled by Cal Poly police, then turned over about a month later to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. The FBI, California Department of Justice and numerous law enforcement agencies have also provided assistance, Parkinson said.
Smart’s family has sued Flores in civil court. He invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before a grand jury and in a civil deposition.
A woman who identified herself as Flores’ aunt spoke to KTLA Tuesday in San Pedro and said she asked her nephew about Smart.
“He said he didn’t do anything to her, that he liked her. I don’t know,” Karen Kinsley said.
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