25 years ago, a CalTech student went missing on the way to her dorm after a party. After connecting with a fellow student who promised to see the very inebriated 19-year-old home, she was never seen again. For a quarter of a century, friends and family of Kristin Smart have heartbreakingly had nothing but questions as investigators refused to table their quest for answers and declare it a cold case. Over the years, evidence and eye witness accounts have trickled in, at an achingly slow pace. However, persistence and determination may have finally paid off: Paul Flores, long a person of interest in Smart’s disappearance, was arrested this week on suspicion of her murder. 

What Happened 25 Years Ago?

Paul Flores Kristin Smart

The case of Kristin Smart seems like it should be open and shut – a student goes missing after leaving with a classmate. But somehow, Flores has managed to conceal evidence for a quarter of a century as investigators have stewed in frustration.

On May 25, 1996, CalTech student Smart left a party. Los Angeles Times reports, “Tim Davis, a senior who helped stage the party, told investigators he was shooing away the last stragglers about 2 a.m. when he spotted a tall girl later identified as Smart sprawled on a lawn next door, apparently passed out. He roused her. She was in no condition to walk home alone.

Davis and Cheryl Anderson were going to walk her home when Flores, a 19-year-old from the nearby town of Arroyo Grande, volunteered to help. Smart was last seen walking home with him, authorities said.”

After a desperate search which turned up basically nothing, Flores was named a person of interest on June 25th, 1996. However, with a lack of evidence, there was little that frustrated investigators could do. An interview with Flores at the time showed him acting oddly and at one point even taunting investigators. When told that he was the last person to see her alive, Flores withdrew his arms into his shirt and almost assumed a fetal position – what psychologists call ‘guarding’ behavior. This is often displayed by someone trying to withhold information. Unfortunately, it worked; Flores didn’t crack. At the end of the interview, Flores reportedly said, “if you are so smart, tell me where the body is?” Taunting investigators with their helplessness. 

It wasn’t until 2016 when more evidence was uncovered and 2019 when previously unknown witnesses were interviewed that the case began gathering some substantial information. In 2019 investigators began monitoring Flores’ phone conversations and in February of 2020, search warrants were executed at the homes of Paul, his father, mother, and sister. In April of last year, another warrant was executed for Flores’ home and evidence was uncovered, “related to the murder of Smart.”

Paul and Ruben Flores Arrested

Last month, a search warrant was again issued for the home of Flores’ father, and yesterday both Paul and his father Ruben Flores were arrested. 

Paul was arrested on suspicion of Smart’s murder, and Ruben was arrested on suspicion of having helped his son dispose of her remains. 

Fox News reports, “In March, investigators returned to the Arroyo Grande home of Paul Flores’s father, Ruben. This time, cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar were used to search the property.

One car was towed away, but deputies did not reveal at the time if they had found anything during their search.

On Tuesday, the investigation was blown wide open. Paul Flores and Ruben Flores were arrested and booked into jail. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced Paul Flores was arrested for murder and he felt confident to prove Flores’ guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.'”

What Happens Next?

Paul Flores Kristin Smart

First, the family and friends of Smart will have to deal with the wash of emotions that will be hitting them. From relief from having answers to heartbreak at knowing what those answers are, the conclusion to a long-open case can be both welcome and horrible. 

Now that they know what happened to their love one, grieving can begin in earnest, it’s no longer protracted and uncertain. But now they also know for sure that she isn’t living some double life in a far off tropical paradise; they know for sure what happened. 

Now investigators will review the apparent mountain of evidence that has surfaced in the intervening 25 years. Since the Sheriff has taken the unprecedented step of saying he believes there is proof beyond doubt, it’s likely Flores’ goose is cooked. While his arrest may be small comfort to the Smart family, it’s one step on the path towards justice for the 19-year-old who disappeared 25 years ago.

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