Kristin Smart, who disappeared in 1996 as a Cal Poly freshman, is still missing 19 years later. | Denise Smart/Courtesy Photo

Olivia DeGennaro
Special to Mustang News

This is the second in a continuing series about the disappearance of Kristin Smart. Read the first installment here

Pleading the fifth

“On the advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer that question based on the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Other than providing his name, this is the only answer Flores gave to every question the Smart family’s attorney, Murphy, asked him in a November 1997 deposition. Those questions included his father’s name, if his mother had a sister, where he previously held employment and if he had “reported his Nissan truck stolen in San Diego.”

“Guy wouldn’t say a thing,” Murphy said.

“We need Paul Flores to tell us what happened to Kristin Smart,” former Sheriff Ed Williams told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. The sheriff said his detectives had conducted more than 100 interviews, all of which led them to Flores.

“There are no other suspects,” he said. “So absent something from Mr. Flores, I don’t see us completing this case.”

Years ago, the Smarts filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Flores. However, the court decided the case could not proceed as long as the criminal investigation was active. The case has been active for 19 years.

Not only has Flores been tight-lipped for 19 years, but his family has done the same. None of them has ever been open to talking publicly about the Kristin Smart case.

During a courtroom appearance for one of his DUIs, a reporter approached the Flores family in the Torrance Courthouse cafeteria. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Flores family refused to even speak to the reporter. Instead, Susan Flores retrieved a stack of small papers from her purse with the following lines printed on them:

“A long time ago we chose to”
“Handle our legal matters in a”
“Court of Law”
“Not in the”
“Media Court of Public Opinion.”

Murphy believes Flores will never confess. Denise, however, has hope one of the Flores family members will eventually talk.

“I would just like to think that there’s a breath of humanity in Paul Flores or his family, who have been very recalcitrant,” she said.

Mustang News reached out to Flores several times but received no replies.

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Denise said Flores refusing to talk makes coping with the disappearance of her daughter that much more difficult.

“Losing a child is never easy, but having a lost child, there’s really just no words for it because it means the perpetrator has control over her still,” she said.

A roommate talks

While Flores would not talk with authorities about what happened to Kristin Smart, he did allegedly joke about her disappearance with his roommate.

A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Detective interviewed Derrick Tse, Flores’ roommate on July 12, 1996. Tse told investigators he asked Flores about Kristin’s disappearance. Flores joked in response, saying, “Yeah, she’s at my house eating lunch with my mom.”

At the time of Kristin’s disappearance, Flores’ mother was living at 529 E. Branch St. in Arroyo Grande.

Tse was interviewed again at the end of that September, this time by the FBI. Tse told the FBI special agent he spoke with Flores one week after Kristin went missing. Tse said he joked with Flores, saying, “You killed her and drug her body off.”

Flores responded, “Yes, I killed her and brought her to my mom’s, and she is still there.”

May 25, 2002

“There isn’t hope for us to find her alive,” Denise said.

Kristin Smart was legally declared dead on the sixth anniversary of her disappearance. Murphy said by declaring Smart dead, the family could move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against Flores.

“When you don’t have your child, you’re fighting,” Denise Smart said. “It’s a battle. And this battle is not over. There are times we get very weary, but you can’t quit.”

“I don’t think the Smarts will ever take a normal breath, because there’s a very slim chance she could be alive,” Murphy said. “You never stop looking for your child, unless you know that your child is dead.”

Parkinson ‘will find her’

“Losing a child and having no one who has authority on your side just makes it even worse. It’s unimaginable,” Denise said.

That’s how she describes her experience with past sheriffs. She said her family waited for long periods, sometimes two years at a time, without any communication from investigators.

“For a very long time, we felt that the sheriff’s office was doing nothing,” Murphy said. “And I don’t believe for years they did anything at all.”

At the time of Kristin’s disappearance, Ian Parkinson worked for San Luis Obispo Police Department. Little did he know that in 1996 he would one day take on the responsibility of finding Kristin more than a decade after she went missing.

Parkinson met with the Smart family, even before he was elected into office in 2011, in an attempt to build a relationship with them.

“Communication with the family is very important,” Parkinson said. “They’re incredible people. The entire family, and I think that they have confidence in what we’re doing to the extent and level that I can share things with them.”

While Parkinson has faced his fair share of criticism over the case, he said the family is happy with how he’s handling the investigation. And if you don’t believe him, he said, “don’t take my word for it.”

“We feel very blessed to have the support of Ian Parkinson because we have not had the support of past sheriffs,” Denise said. “If we’d had that at the beginning, it would have been a lot easier.”

The Smarts aren’t the only ones happy with the new sheriff.

“I would trust that guy with my family,” Murphy said. “I would trust him with anything, so if Ian Parkinson tells me they’re investigating, then I accept that.”

Next to investigators, Parkinson said the Smarts know more than anyone about their daughter’s case.

“There’s hope,” Denise said. “When other people believe, you can believe.”

An ongoing investigation 

The investigation into the disappearance of Kristin has not gone cold for 19 years.

“The case was still active, which is sometimes confusing to people,” Parkinson said. “A cold case is a case that becomes cold with no further leads and is essentially shelved because of lack of investigative leads. The Kristin Smart case has never been a cold case … There’s always been some form of leads coming in.”

Parkinson made it his mission to start from the beginning of the case when he was first elected. He said he has reinterviewed witnesses and reinvestigated several of the events that occurred the night Kristin went missing.

“We’ve already gone through and pulled every single piece of evidence that we have in the case, that’s ever been associated with the case,” Parkinson said.

He said evidence that may have been dropped as a lead 10 years ago could become a lead again today because there could have been misinformation, lack of information or memory on the witness parts.

“We always want to find that smoking gun,” Parkinson said. “That one piece of single evidence, but we need to take a very careful, systematic view of the case and proceed with a plan. And that’s what we’ve done.”

Parkinson said he won’t release any details about the ongoing investigation.

“We have to be very careful what we can share with the case because we’re actively investigating it,” he said.

Parkinson said he assigned a new investigator to the case about a year ago. The investigator was a Cal Poly student at the time of Kristin’s disappearance, giving him a personal connection.

While Parkinson said the case is active, he noted investigators aren’t always able to dedicate all of their time to it. “They might have 40 hours a week. They might have zero hours a week.”

The sheriff said it depends on the other active cases on their desks, which may draw their attention away from Kristin.

The sheriff’s office said it uses the help of both state and federal law enforcement whenever it can benefit the case.

“I want it yesterday. I’m a yesterday kind of guy,” Parkinson said. “The investigators know that I’m involved in this. I pay attention to it. I have regular briefings and discussions on progress. I’m sure they want to do it equally.”

Working with the District Attorney

Along with a new lead investigator, another set of fresh eyes is looking at the Kristin case. Parkinson said investigators are working with District Attorney Dan Dow’s office, which has assigned a deputy district attorney to the case.

“We want him to read from day one — the first reports that came in all the way through present and see what he sees in his unbiased, untainted view of everything,” Parkinson said.

The sheriff said he hopes the partnership between the district attorney’s office and his detectives will provide a new perspective on how to prosecute the case.

“There’s nothing I want more than to be able to call (the Smarts) up and say that we’re prosecuting the person or people responsible,” Parkinson said.

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