Update April 14: Paul Flores and Ruben Flores have not formally been charged for murder and accessory after the fact, respectively. They were arrested on suspicion of these charges and booked into jail, and will later be formally charged by the District Attorney.
After 24 years, 10 months, two weeks and five days, the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart is nearing a resolution.
Prime suspect Paul Flores was arrested for suspicion of murder this morning, along with his father, Ruben Flores, who was arrested for suspicion of participating as an accessory after the fact, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at an April 13 press conference at Cal Poly.
After three search warrants issued in the last three months for areas in San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and Washington State, evidence — including forensic physical evidence believed to be linked to Smart — has been found in at least two homes, Parkinson said. Due to sealed search warrants and due process rights, Parkinson said further details about the evidence cannot be revealed at this time.
Smart’s remains have yet to be recovered.
“We are not going to stop until Kristin has been recovered,” Parkinson said. “No matter what the cost, no matter what the time, we’re committed to that.”
The Smart family released a statement after the press conference in response to the progress of the investigation.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Paul was arrested at his home in San Pedro and driven to San Luis Obispo County Jail. He is charged without bail, while Ruben’s bail is set to $250,000.
The case has been turned over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, which will file the charges and determine if any other charges are applicable. Parkinson said it is up to the court to determine a motive.
Paul will appear in court this Thursday, April 15, where the District Attorney will announce his official charges. Ruben’s court date is also set for this day, unless he is bailed out of jail before.
Information regarding Susan Flores, Paul’s mother and Ruben’s ex-wife, was unclear during the press conference. When a reporter asked about her, Parkinson said he had already spoken on this subject and quickly moved on — although he had not.
Following a March 15, 2o21 search, police elevated Paul’s status of “person of interest” to “prime suspect.” Cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radars were used during the search, Mustang News reported earlier this year.
Parkinson credited some progress in the investigation to Chris Lambert, host of the “Your Own Backyard” podcast that brought more witnesses and information to the Sheriff Department’s attention.
Lambert said several sources went to him personally to tell their stories and he would encourage them to report it to the Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s hard to say why they wouldn’t feel comfortable coming forward previously, but whatever the case … all of the sudden there was something about the way things were shaping up that made them willing to come forward to me,” Lambert said.
For one student, dairy science senior Kiara Gilardi, it was the podcast that first got her “invested” into the case. But as a woman on campus, Gilardi says the podcast opened her eyes to an important message for her as well.
“It’s not always safe here,” Gilardi said. “Stay on the safe side because you never know — it could be someone that’s in the next dorm over.”
Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996 when she was returning to Cal Poly’s campus after a fraternity party, and witnesses say Paul was the last person to be seen with her, Mustang News previously reported.
After 193 pieces of physical evidence, 37 items of evidence from early DNA testing, 137 person-to-person interviews and more than 500 police reports, Parkinson said it’s been a slow process to find each puzzle piece.
“The news today of arrest in connection with the case brings sadness but also a measure of relief and hope for resolution,” President Jeffrey Armstrong said at the press conference.
Cal Poly students are lighting a vigil in honor of Kristin Smart at 7:30 p.m. tonight outside the Santa Lucia residence hall.