The Kristin Smart disappearance: A podcaster’s attempt at solving a mystery ends with an arrest

Kristin Smart billboard
CBS News

The prime suspect in the Kristin Smart disappearance is arrested and authorities say a podcaster helped make it happen.  

A Major Break

Paul Flores arrest
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

On April 13, 2021, almost 25 years after Kristin Smart went missing,  longtime prime suspect Paul Flores, 44, was arrested at his home in San Pedro, California, and charged with murder.  At a press conference the next day, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow stated, “It is alleged that Mr. Flores caused the death of Kristin Smart while in the commission of a rape or attempted rape.”

A Second Arrest

Ruben Flores arrest
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

Paul’s father Ruben Flores was also arrested in connection with the disappearance of Kristin Smart. The 80-year-old was charged as an accessory after the fact. According to D.A. Dan Dow, “The allegation against Ruben is that he helped to conceal  Kristin’s body after the murder was committed.”   

Pleading Not Guilty

Paul and Ruben Flores in court
San Luis Obispo County Superior Court/Zoom

Nearly a week after their arrests, father and son both pleaded not guilty in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Paul Flores, lower left, will remain in jail without bail while Ruben Flores, upper right, was able to post bail after a judge agreed to lower the bail amount from $250,000 to $50,000.

Kristin Smart

Kristin Smart
CBS News

On Memorial Day weekend 1996, 19-year-old college freshman Kristin Smart vanished after attending a college party at California Polytechnic State University also known as Cal Poly. 

“Your Own Backyard”

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CBS News

Chris Lambert was 8 years old when Kristin Smart went missing. Twenty-two years later, he released the podcast “Your Own Backyard,” which focused on her disappearance.  

A Worried Mother

Denise & Kristin Smart
Carla Hoffman

Two days after her daughter went missing, Denise Smart got a call from Cal Poly’s campus police. They told her Kristin had not been seen all weekend and asked them if Kristin was with them. 

Margarita Campos

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Margarita Campos

Campus police thought that Kristin Smart was off having fun and ignored worried friends, like Margarita Campos, who said she was missing. By the time Cal Poly police began investigating, Kristin had been gone for four days.

The Last Person to See Kristin

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Chris Lambert, “Your Own Backyard” podcast

Fellow student Paul Flores walked Kristin Smart home the night of the party. He was the last person to see Kristin, but authorities waited six days to formally interview him.

What Happened in Saint Lucia Hall?

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CBS News

Paul Flores claimed that after walking Kristin back from the party, he went to his room in Saint Lucia Hall alone. But James Murphy, the Smarts’ attorney, says that when the Sheriff’s Office later brought cadaver dogs to the Cal Poly dorms they alerted on Paul Flores’ room and bed. 

A Black Eye

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James Murphy

Two days after Kristin Smart vanished, Paul Flores went to the Arroyo Grande Police Department because of an outstanding DUI warrant.

In his mug shot, you can faintly see a black eye. When asked about how he got the injury Flores told three different stories.

A Bad Reputation

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David Middlecamp/The Tribune/Zuma Press

According to James Murphy, Paul Flores had a reputation amongst the girls that knew him at Cal Poly as being a “creeper.” Podcaster Chris Lambert learned that another student had told police that he was given the nickname “Chester the molester”… because he was known for groping girls.  

Tight-Lipped

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James Murphy

Five months after Kristin Smart disappeared, Paul Flores was brought before a grand jury but no charges were ever filed.

Just weeks later, Kristin’s frustrated parents hired attorney James Murphy who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Paul Flores. In 1997 when Flores was deposed for the civil suit, he kept quiet. The only thing he would confirm on tape was his name.  He invoked the Fifth Amendment 27 times.

A Missing Earring

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Carla Hoffman

In October 1996, Mary Lassiter was renting Paul Flores’ mother’s house in Arroyo Grande when she found a woman’s earring in the driveway. She says the jewelry appeared to match a necklace that Kristin Smart was wearing in one of the missing posters. The earring was turned over to a San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office detective, but it was never marked as evidence and was lost.

What’s in the Backyard?

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CBS News

Susan Flores’ backyard has been the focus of widespread speculation. At the time Kristin Smart disappeared, investigators did not immediately search the home. However, the backyard has been searched three times over the past two decades and no evidence has been found.

A New Sheriff in Town

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CBS News

In 2011, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson was sworn into office. Since Parkinson came on the scene investigators have dug up hillsides, searched the homes and properties of all the Flores’, collected evidence, seized Paul’s computers, monitored his cell phone and text messages, and found new witnesses. Some with the help of Chris Lambert.

A Word from Cal Poly

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CBS News

In statement to CBS News, Cal Poly said, “Our hearts continue to go out to Kristin Smart’s family. We cannot imagine the pain they have endured over the years, and we hope this investigation leads to answers. We are cooperating fully with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office.”

24 Years Later

Paul Flores and Jonathan Vigliotti
CBS News

A few months before Paul Flores was arrested, CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti tracked Flores down to try and find out what happened to Kristin Smart.  

Where is Kristin?

Ruben Flores property search
AP Images

In March 2021, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant at the Arroyo Grande home of Ruben Flores. Authorities haven’t revealed what was found because there is a gag order in place, however Sheriff Ian Parkinson was able to confirm that forensic physical evidence that authorities believe is linked to Kristin was located at, at least two homes. In a civil lawsuit, the Smarts attorney claims that Kristin’s remains were buried at one time on Paul Flores’ father’s property.

Arrests Made

Paul and Ruben Flores booking photos
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

On April 13, 2021, investigators charged the now 44-year-old Paul Flores with Kristin Smart’s murder, and his 80-year-old father as an accessory after the fact.

On September 22, 2021, a judge ruled both men will stand trial.

Kristin Smart’s Legacy

Kristin Smart
Carla Hoffman

The Smarts keep the memory of their daughter alive through the Kristin Smart scholarship. Its goal is to help young women pursue their hopes, ambitions, and impact the world in the same way Kristin had hoped.