PostsIt’s been 15 years since Kristin Smart disappeared. To this day, her disappearance is an unsolved case.
Kristin, a 19-year-old freshman at the time of her disappearance, went to a student’s birthday party off campus the night she went missing on May 25, 1996, during Memorial Day weekend. She was last seen with fellow student Paul Flores on her way back to the dorms, but many of the details about what happened that night remain uncertain.
For Kristin’s mother, Denise Smart, these past 15 years have been difficult, she said.
“The hardest thing to live with is that you don’t know where your child is. You don’t know if she’s in a ditch, behind someone’s house. Our daughter doesn’t deserve that; no child deserves that,” Denise said.
In Denise’s version of what happened the night Kristin went missing, someone slipped a drug in Kristin’s drink. Another student at the party, Cheryl Anderson, along with Flores, offered to walk Smart back to the dorms. Anderson later described Flores as acting “obnoxious and inappropriately,” so Anderson left Flores to walk Kristin the rest of the way, Denise said.
When Kristin left for the party Friday night, her backpack was left on her bed and her lipstick had fallen out of it. When her roommate returned Monday after the long weekend, Kristin’s backpack and lipstick were exactly where she had left them three days earlier — something wasn’t right.
Campus police did not initially file a missing person report to local law enforcement because they thought Kristin had taken an unannounced vacation over the long weekend. It was five days after her disappearance before the report was filed.
“The first hours of a disappearance are the most critical in an investigation,” Denise said. “In the meantime, Paul Flores was able to do whatever he wanted to do for five days.”
This event led to the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act. Effective in California, the law requires campus police to report potential criminal cases involving missing students or violence to the local police force.
Even with the Sheriff’s Department involved, Denise is still frustrated with the lack of communication and commitment by the police, she said.
“We try to be relentless but we probably haven’t had anyone contact us from the Sheriff’s Department for minimally three years, maybe even five,” Denise said. “Communication is an issue. We were hopeful with the new sheriff things would be different, but so far it’s the same song, second verse.”
Denise and her husband Stan regularly get calls from people who say they have tried to contact the Sheriff’s Department with tips and leads but no one has returned their calls, Denise said.
“The Sheriff’s Department can tell us they respond to every tip but then why do people call us and tell us no one has called them back?” Denise said.
Even with the leads and the tips, neither the Smarts nor law enforcement know anything more 15 years later than what they knew a month after she disappeared, Denise said.
“That puts us in a desperate place. Little faith. Little hope,” Denise said.
To find hope, Denise comes back to San Luis Obispo where she feels closest to Kristin. Denise and Stan return to San Luis Obispo every three to four months.
“Kristin loved the coast, especially Shell Beach,” Denise said. “That community really embraced Kristin. I get recharged when I get there. My husband (Stan) has a hard time coming to SLO because he spent two months digging through trenches and going under houses wherever anybody thought they had a lead. It’s harder for him.”
Kristin was declared legally dead in May 2002, six years after she went missing. The FBI has Kristin on file as a missing person investigation. There is a $75,000 reward for information that helps to find her.
University Police Chief Bill Watton was not working for the University Police Department when Kristin disappeared but said he has heard many rumors.
“I’ve heard very little fact about this case. I think what you’re going to find is a whole lot of rumor and not a whole lot of fact,” Watton said. “There’s a ton of things out there that people are talking about that they have no personal knowledge of.”
Because the Sheriff’s Department insists the case is under active investigation, records and documents are not made available to the public.
Attorney Mark Connely has worked for the Smarts the past four years. He is defending the family for the civil action filed by the Flores family. The Smarts are being sued for alleged emotional distress caused by investigating their son, Paul Flores.
“This is an interesting civil case because by the Flores’ going out and suing the Smarts, they put the attention right back in the center of things, whether their son is the one who did it,” Connely said. “(The Flores’) want to silence the Smarts, but by suing they effectively bring it right back to square one — (this issue of) did Paul do it.”
Police have questioned Paul Flores but he has taken the Fifth Amendment.
In the light of recent reported sexual assaults, Kristin’s disappearance has much relevance to Cal Poly, Denise said.
“With the sexual assaults that (have) been going on in campus, I think you’re in a fortunate state because the new president is acknowledging that there is a problem and he is addressing it,” Denise said. “Kristin really paid the ultimate price to Cal Poly’s blind eye to rape on campus because her story was basically ignored. Because of that, we not only lost our daughter, we’ve lost 15 years of our lives trying to fight for what she deserves.”