SLO Sheriff announces Paul Flores booked on murder charge
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday that two people have been arrested in connection with the 1996 missing person case of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced that Paul Flores, 43, was arrested on suspicion of murder and that his father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory to the murder.
Sheriff Parkinson made the announcement during a press conference at Cal Poly, the location she was last seen alive on May 25, 1996.
Ms. Smart, who was a 19-year-old freshman Cal Poly student at the time, was last seen near the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue as she walked home from an off-campus party. She was last seen with Paul Flores, who was also a 19-year-old freshman at the time. Ms. Smart never returned to her dorm and has not been seen or heard from since.
Sheriff Parkinson said Tuesday that the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation about a month after Ms. Smart went missing and that since he took over the Sheriff’s Office in 2011 that Paul Flores has “remained a person of significant interest.”
“There’s been some discussion of ‘What is a person of interest versus a suspect,’ and it’s really a matter of terminology,” Sheriff Parkinson said. “When a crime occurs, everybody involved in that area could be a person of interest until they are ruled no longer of interest, either through alibi, through witness or physical evidence, but Paul remained as a person of interest and as the case progressed, became … the prime suspect in the case.”
When Sheriff Parkinson took over the Sheriff’s Office, a complete review of all the physical evidence was conducted. In late 2016, authorities discovered additional evidence that confirmed Paul was the suspect in the disappearance. Additional information was learned in 2019 following witness interviews, including some information that came to light during a podcast titled “Your Own Backyard Podcast” produced by Christopher Lambert.
When new evidence was discovered, a court order was secured authorizing the interception and monitoring of Paul Flores’ cell phone and text messages.
In February 2020, detectives served search warrants at the home of Paul Flores, as well as the residences of his sister, mother and father. Physical evidence was recovered, which led to an additional search warrant at Paul Flores’ residence in April 2020, the sheriff said.
At that time, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder or Ms. Smart. Last month, an additional search warrant was served in Arroyo Grande at the home of Ruben Flores, yielding more evidence.
As a result of the new evidence found, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge signed two arrest warrants and two additional search warrants, which were served on Tuesday. One search warrant was served at Paul Flores’ residence in San Pedro, and another at Ruben Flores’ residence in Arroyo Grande.
Both men were taken into custody. Paul is being held without bail, and Ruben was being held on $250,000 bail. Both men were expected to appear for arraignment on Thursday.
Sheriff Parkinson said Tuesday that authorities were in the process of executing the search warrants and could be there for the rest of the day Tuesday or into today if needed.
He clarified that Ms. Smart has not been recovered and that the Sheriff’s Office will continue to focus on finding her remains, regardless of any court action.
The case was turned over to the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday for review. The D.A.’s Office will announce any further proceedings.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow issued the following statement on his website:
“The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office is evaluating the Kristin Smart investigation following the arrests of Paul and Ruben Flores. We are carefully reviewing the evidence and will provide more information as it becomes available.”
Sheriff Parkinson said that the search warrants served Tuesday were sealed, and he could not discuss what evidence was found. He did say that physical evidence was located at at least two homes, which he said is believed to be linked to Ms. Smart.
He later explained there was “no hiding the fact” that mistakes were made in the case early on.
“That first 48 hours is pretty critical in a missing person or a homicide, and there were mistakes made that made that that much harder,” he said. “When I talk about ‘It’s what you can prove, not what you believe,’ I think there’s a lot of people that listened to Chris’ podcast and … either re-lived it because they were around during that time or learned of the story. What (listeners) tended to focus on was, ‘Hey, why aren’t we moving forward?’ And we’re trying to really impress upon people that our duty has to be to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s not just we believe this person did it and we’re going to pull them off the street and deprive them of their freedom.”
Despite not having recovered Ms. Smart’s body, Sheriff Parkinson said he was confident that there was a strong enough case because of the physical evidence recovered.
The case may not be tried in San Luis Obispo due to its high-profile nature, but that will be something that is decided by a judge, he added.
The Smart family issued a statement to the media, which read, in part: “For over twenty-four 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. 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.”
Sheriff Parkinson discussed the massive scope of the investigation during Tuesday’s press conference.
He said more than 41 search warrants have been served, 16 different locations have been searched, and 37 items of evidence have been submitted for DNA testing. Authorities also received 193 items of physical evidence, conducted approximately 137 in-person interviews and completed more than 500 police reports. The file said, he said, was more than three terabytes of data.
The Smart family said in a statement the task was “unprecedented in volume and scope,” but the Sheriff’s Office “met every setback and challenge with resolve and an unequaled commitment to Kristin and our family.
“Our gratitude to Sheriff Parkinson and his department for their professionalism, compassion, and perseverance is without measure.”
The family also acknowledged Mr. Lambert’s podcast, which they said “balanced Kristin on their shoulders while lightening our burden and held our hearts and hopes with fierce resolve and commitment. There are simply ‘no words’!”
The statement concluded: “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.
“To HEAL, we must REMEMBER not only Kristin but also every heart that carried Kristin and our family in theirs! Kristin’s story is ultimately one of unwavering commitment, resilience and immense gratitude.”
Cal Poly students held a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night next to Santa Lucia Hall, where Paul Flores lived during his time as a student.