Paul Flores, now 45, Tuesday was convicted in the murder of Kristin Smart in 1996
Jury heard how he hunted her and buried her under his dad’s decking … but her body STILL hasn’t been found
Kristin Smart, 19, was a freshman at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo when she disappeared after a party in May 1996, and her body has never been found
The last person to see her was Paul Flores, another 19-year-old freshman, who walked her back to her dorm after the party
Flagged from the onset as the prime suspect Flores denied knowledge regarding her fate, instead invoked the fifth amendment when pressed by interviewers
After two and half decades Paul Flores who in April 2021, Paul Flores was charged for her murder – and now he has been convicted, and will be sentenced
Suspect’s father Ruben Flores, now 81, was charged with helping bury the body behind his home, then moving the remains when investigators came back for in-depth searches
Investigators conducted dozens of searches over two decades, but turned their attention in the past two years to the property of the older Flores, 12 miles from Cal Poly
Reuben Flores was found not guilty by a separate jury
Paul Flores faces life in jail at sentencing scheduled for Dec. 9
Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart disappeared without a trace after a college party 26 years ago – and now the prime murder suspect has been found guilty after a crime podcast helped cops crack the case.
More than two and a half decades after Kristin’s disappearance, her killer has been found guilty of the crime at Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, California.
The cold case cracking podcast, ‘Your Own Backyard,’ saw the host, Chris Lambert, interview those close to the case, leading to a breakthrough. Ultimately the long-held suspect Paul Flores, now 45, was charged with Smart’s murder.
His father Ruben Flores was charged with acting as an accessory after the fact.
Paul Flores and Kristin Smart, both 19, were freshmen at Cal Poly in 1996 when she vanished. He was staying in Santa Maria Hall and she was in Muir Hall, which are 0.2 miles apart, an estimated four minute walk.
Timeline shows that Flores was the last person to see Smart alive.
Smart, has been described as a ‘bright’ student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. On the fateful night in May 1996, Kristine Smart attended an on-campus party and was never seen again.
Flores was questioned at the time but he denied any involvement and the investigation into her disappearance stalled, gradually drifting into a cold case.
Now, partly thanks to the podcast and its host Chris Lambert, Smart’s family have finally received some measure of the closure they have been seeking after their daughter’s death.
Kristin Smart’s body has still never been found, but that did not stop Paul Flores being handed his verdict on October 18.
The suspect’s father Reuben Flores, now 81, was alleged to have helped bury Kristin behind his home in Arroyo Grande, and later dug up the remains and moved them, but the jury found Ruben not guilty.
The 19-year-old California Polytechnic State University freshman from Stockton, California, disappeared after a college party on May 25, 1996. Interviews conducted with her peers reveal that on the night of May 25, 1996 Smart and her friends from school caught a ride in a truck and arrived at an unofficial fraternity house near campus.
According to her college friend Margarita Campos, Smart was ‘not under the influence at all’ when she last saw her at around 10.00pm on the intersection of California and Foothill Boulevards.
Ross Ketchum another student at the party, recalls speaking to Smart about surfing and school at the Memorial Day weekend party, held at 135 Crandall Way.
According to Ketchum about 70 people were at the gathering, everyone was ‘shoulder-to-shoulder,’
Tim Davis, a senior who helped host the party, told investigators that towards the end of the night he spotted Smart sprawled on the lawn, apparently passed out.
Davis said he was going to walk her home with another student, Cheryl Anderson. However Paul Flores, another 19-year-old freshman, volunteered to help after appearing ‘out of nowhere,’ Cheryl Anderson recalled.
Anderson said Smart appeared ‘very intoxicated’ and her speech was slurred. Davis and Anderson walked with Flores and Smart, but parted ways before reaching their dorm buildings.
Flores was then the only person left helping Smart stagger back from the party at around 2am.
He was the last person to see her alive.
A missing-person report was filed with campus police on May 28. Searches were conducted on campus and in her Muir Hall dorm room, where they found her wallet and other belongings.
Smart’s body has never been found and it was not until 2002 that she formally declared dead.
Recalling moments from 1996, Smart’s heartbroken mother Denise said she contacted police shortly after Kristin failed to call home on Sunday, May 26. Kristin’s cheerful call home was a weekly ritual, she said.
Before she vanished on May 25, Kristin sent her parents an excited voicemail claiming to have good news. They never found out what it was.
Denise Smart called the college president days earlier, but was redirected to a residential advisor who refused to give any information about her daughter on ‘privacy’ grounds.
A sheriff at the local San Luis Obispo Police Department then told Denise he had no jurisdiction over the college campus.
Four days after her disappearance, police filed a missing persons report.
Smart’s former roommate Crystal Teschendorf claimed police didn’t take her seriously when she reported the 19-year-old missing twice before police finally filed a report.
Teschendorf said she and several other residents in the dorm contacted police two days after Smart failed to return to her room, and then, again, two days later when she didn’t show up for class.
‘We had talked about possible scenarios of why she would not have come back to the dorms,’ Teschendorf said of the concerned students. ‘We kind of thought it was unusual.’
Testifying about her last interaction with Smart, Teschendorf said her roommate appeared to be in a ‘good mood’ as they parted ways on Friday, May 24.
When Teschendorf returned to their room, she noticed that Smart’s keys and personal belongings that she normally took everywhere were still in the room, untouched, and her roommate was nowhere to be found.
Teschendorf said it was odd because although they weren’t particularly close, Smart would usually tell her if she was going to spend the night out of their dorm.
She said that she and the other girls in the dorm grew uneasy when none of them heard from Smart as they decided to make their first call to police on Sunday, May 26.
At the onset of investigation, Paul Flores who was flagged as the only ‘person of interest’, downplayed his interactions with the missing student. In his first police interview, days after she was declared missing, he claimed that she walked to her dorm under her own power.
Officials from the San Luis Obispo County DA’s office interviewed Flores in June 1996, but he later invoked his Fifth Amendment right before a grand jury, and then again during a civil disposition.
When Flores was first interviewed, he had a black eye. He told them he got it playing basketball with friends, who denied his account, according to court records.
He later changed his story to say he bumped his head while working on his car.
At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented evidence that four cadaver dogs stopped at Flores’ room and alerted to the scent of death near his bed.
Over the years, women called him ‘Chester the molester’ and ‘Psycho Paul,’ according to a court document.
In the months after Smart disappeared, her frustrated parents hired attorney James Murphy who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both Ruben and Paul Flores.
During the deposition for the civil suit, he only spoke to confirm his name and invoke the Fifth Amendment 27 times. It was dropped when the father filed for bankruptcy.
All through the years Kristine’s grieving parents never gave up hope of finding justice and closure. With the surfacing of Lambert’s podcast there was a revival of public interest in the cold case. In April 2021, Flores was charged for her murder.
While announcing the arrest of Flores, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson gave credit to the tireless work of podcast host Chris Lambert. Citing the podcast, Your Own Backyard, Parkinson said: ‘In 2019, (we) interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed.
‘Some of that information came to light through the podcast … that was produced and eventually led to our interviewing that witness.’
Lambert who has since been credited with renewing global interest in the unsolved case.
Lambert forensically interviewed Smart’s parents, best friend, college roommate, and others who knew the prime suspect, Flores. After the witnesses that came forward, police were able to arrest Paul Flores.
Speaking about his journey documenting aspects of the unsolved case, Lambert said: ‘This didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen. At the time I picked it up, it felt like the Kristin Smart case is that local case we all talk about, how come it never got solved?
‘It didn’t feel like this would happen.’
‘Getting into court was not a goal of mine and I didn’t see it happening. And honestly once it’s done, I think we’re all just going to be relieved that it’s over, regardless of the outcome.’
Smart’s case was never closed, but momentum was revived in the last two years.
Investigators conducted dozens of searches over two decades, but turned their attention in 2020 to Ruben Flores’ home about 12 miles south of Cal Poly.
It’s believed that the new-found impetus was driven by the fresh interviews police conducted, which first came to light via the Your Own Backyard podcast.
Fast forward, Paul Flores was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm in February 2021 when his home was searched. A month later, detectives executed a search warrant against his father’s home.
In April 2021, the Smart family lawyer James Murphy filed a lawsuit against Ruben Flores alleging that ‘under cover of darkness,’ the father and unnamed accomplices moved the body four days after investigators searched his house in 2020.
Flores was previously accused of moving Smart’s remains from the burial site ‘in the event of an additional search of the property.’ A year into the re-energized investigation, an additional was conducted of Reuben Flores’ home, but only underneath the deck of his home in 2021.
Using ground-penetrating radar and a cadaver dog during the probe, investigators checked behind lattice work beneath the deck of his large house on a dead end street off Tally Ho Road, archaeologists working for police in March found a soil disturbance about the size of a casket and the presence of human blood. said.
The blood was too degraded to extract a DNA sample. While an expert said it was human blood, the test used did not rule out the possibility it was from a ferret or primate, though court records said no remains of either such animal were found there.
During the father’s trial in October, Deputy DA Peuvrelle in his closing statement highlighted: ‘Only one spot in that entire backyard happened to have a surface disturbance showing it had been dug down into.
‘Happened to be the perfect size for a human burial site,’ he said.
However, a jury did not find the evidence credible enough to convict Ruben Flores.
Paul Flores was arrested at his San Pedro, California home on April 13, 2021 and charged with murder.
His father was then taken into custody. Both men pled not guilty.
At the time of their arrest, the Smart family said in a statement: ‘It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family.
‘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.’
Authorities also said that they linked two other attacks on women in Los Angeles to Paul Flores.
Prosecutors in July 2021 added that Paul Flores ‘has a specific fetish for forcing himself upon women especially when they are drugged or inebriated, which is exactly the state of Kristin Smart in the early morning of March 25, 1996.’
With the opening arguments when the trial began in July 18, 2022, prosecutors stated that they believe that Flores killed Smart in his dorm room after trying to rape her. With the aid of his father, the defendant buried the body under the deck behind senior’s home in Arroyo Grande, California.
The co-conspirators were accused of later digging up Smart’s remains and moved them when law enforcement returned to search the house in 2020.
While noting that no witnesses who can corroborate Flores’ story of what happened in his dorm room on May 25, 1996, San Luis Obispo County Deputy DA Christopher Peuvrelle observed that at the time, Paul Flores and his father did not join in the community hunt for the missing teenager.
‘Paul Flores is guilty as sin. Justice delayed does not have to be justice denied. You now know the truth of what happened,’ he said, according to those in the court.
Peuvrelle accused the defendants that while the community was searching for the missing teen : ‘She was under their deck.
‘ Paul and Ruben …moved the dirt under their deck to hide her.’
Defense attorney Robert Sanger told the court there was no evidence against his client – instead the case was based on rumor: ‘Conspiracy theories can be fun. We love to hear them,’ said Sanger.
Noting it had been 26 years since Smart’s death, which made the recollection by witnesses questionable.
In his closing arguments, Sanger said the prosecution’s case was not to showcase evidence, but rather to evoke an emotional prejudice against Paul Flores by using phrases like ‘guilty as sin’ and quoting witness testimony that says Paul Flores called Smart a ‘d*** tease.’ That she was not a young innocent, as prosecution presented, insisting she was ‘wild’.
Come decision time, the jury found Flores a guilty.
After Paul Flores was found guilty of first degree murder on October 18. He faces a minimum of 25 years in jail. His sentencing is scheduled for December 9.
In a separate trial, his father Ruben Flores was charged as an accessory after the fact was found not guilty.