Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart went missing after walking back from a party off campus in 1996, and the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department is still investigating the case.
Special to Mustang News
In two weeks, Kristin Smart would have turned 37. The last time anyone saw her was in 1996, when the then-Cal Poly freshman walked back toward her residence hall after an off-campus party and mysteriously went missing.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department is continuing to search for an answer to her disappearance.
“We will continue to track down any and all leads that come our way until we’ve exhausted every one of them,” Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tony Cipolla said.
In the early hours of May 25, 1996, 19-year-old Kristin Smart was walking back to Muir Hall from a party on Crandall Way, according to a 2006 story in the Los Angeles Times. Her freshman year at Cal Poly was coming to an end, and the Memorial Day weekend weather had her wearing a cropped T-shirt, black running shorts and red athletic shoes.
Three fellow students accompanied her on her walk, but by 2 a.m., the number had dwindled to just one: food science freshman Paul Flores. As the last person to see Smart alive, Flores — who lived in a block away, in Santa Lucia Hall — quickly became a suspect.
Although he has remained the investigation’s sole suspect, he has never been charged with a crime in connection with Smart’s disappearance.
With no traces of Smart after that night in May, she was declared legally dead in 2002. The FBI has offered a $75,000 reward for information that helps locate her remains.
Despite the time that has passed since Smart’s disappearance — 18 years in May — it has never been considered a cold case, Cipolla said. The investigation is still active, and will remain that way until investigators deem there are no new leads to follow up on.
Her parents, Denise and Stan Smart, were initially uncomfortable with the way local law enforcement, particularly the University Police Department, handled the case. According to the L.A. Times story, campus police declined to file a missing persons report until a week after Smart’s disappearance. This eventually led to a new California law, the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act of 1998, which requires public colleges to notify law enforcement of potential violent acts.
Given the Smarts’ distrust in the early stages of the criminal investigation, they took action themselves, searching for their daughter with the help of private investigators and psychics. They also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Paul Flores shortly after the disappearance — but since the criminal case is open, the lawsuit is still in limbo. The Smarts will not be able to access the Sheriff’s Office’s findings until the criminal investigation has been completed.
A potential turning point in the case came in 2010, when newly elected sheriff Ian Parkinson renewed efforts to solve the mystery.
“When Sheriff Parkinson came in, he was dedicated to getting a fresh set of eyes onto the case,” Cipolla said.
Forensic evidence related to the Kristin Smart case is currently being evaluated in a lab, Cipolla said, although he declined to comment on whether these are new findings, or reexamination of old evidence.
He also said it is hard to say whether the case has been moving toward a resolution in recent years.
“It’s hard to quantify that,” Cipolla said. “We hope that it is, and I’m sure the family and the community hopes so as well.”