By Hayley Mattson and Camille DeVaul

SAN LUIS OBISPO — On Apr. 13, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson held a press conference on O’Neill Green in front of the Orfalea College of Business on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

The press conference came just before from the 25th Anniversary of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart who went missing on May 25, 1996. 

Getting through this together, Atascadero
SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson hold a Press Conference in Kristin Smart Case in front of the Orfalea College of Business on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Photos by Camille DeVaul

Before Sheriff Parkinson began, large photos of Kristin Smart, Paul, and Ruben Flores’s arrest, and a chronological timeline of the case was unveiled.

As Sheriff Parkinson and officials walked to the podium, the clock tower echoed deep chimes, and the crowd fell silent.  

Tony Cipolla, the Health Information Officer for the SLO County Sheriff, started the conference stating, “Today is a day that many have hoped for, wished for, and prayed for. We have major developments in the Kristin Smart investigation.”

Before turning the conference over to Sheriff Parkinson, Cipolla acknowledged the President of Cal Poly, Jeff Armstrong, sign-language interpreter Robin Babb, Cal Poly Police Chief George Hughes, and Undersheriff Jim Vogue.  

Parkinson started by recognizing that Unsolved Cold-Case Detective Clint Cole was not introduced by Cipolla so that he could make a special introduction along with acknowledging several members of his team in the audience.

“We are beginning here today because this is where it all began, on the campus of Cal Poly University. On May 25, 1996, this is the last place that Kristin Smart was seen alive. It has been 24, almost 25 years since Kristin went missing. 24 years without a resolution, until today. I am here this afternoon to announce the arrest of Paul Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart. The Arrest of Ruben Flores as an accessory to the murder,” Sheriff Parkinson said as he started the press conference. 

Sheriff Parkinson reviews the details of the investigation and announces the arrest of Paul Flores a classmate of Kristin Smart.

Paul Flores, now 44-years-old was the last person seen with Smart in 1996. 

Kristin Smart was a 19-year-old Cal Poly freshman who was in the last few months of her freshman year at Cal Poly. 

Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996, at approximately 2 a.m. near Perimeter and Grand Avenue’s intersection on the Cal Poly campus as she walked home to her dorm from an off-campus party. Smart was last seen with Paul Flores, who at the time was a 19-year-old male Cal Poly freshman who walked home from a party with her. 

Parkinson stated that Smart was not reported missing to the Cal Poly Police Department until May 28, 1996. 

Kristin Smart missing since 1996

Parkinson then went through a timeline of the investigation. After Smart was reported missing, the Cal Poly Police handled the initial investigation into Smart’s disappearance with the assistance of Investigators from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. On Jun. 26, 1996, almost a month later, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office assumed the lead investigative role in the case, and it has remained an active investigation ever since. 

On Jan. 3, 2011, Parkinson was sworn in as Sheriff and intensified efforts to find Smart and hold the person responsible for her disappearance accountable. 

In late 2016, the Sheriff’s Office discovered additional evidence that confirmed Paul Flores was indeed a suspect in Kristin Smart’s disappearance. 

In 2019, Sheriff’s Detectives interviewed a witness in the case that was not previously known. With the discovery of new evidence and a new witness, Sheriff’s Detectives secured a court order authorizing the interception and monitoring of Paul Flores’ cell phone and text message communications. 

Parkinson explained, “in 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not previously been interviewed…I will say that some of that information came to light through the podcast [Your Own Backyard,’ Christopher Lambert] that many of you are familiar with that was produced and eventually lead to interviewing that witness.” 

In February of 2020, Sheriff’s Detectives served search warrants at the home of Paul Flores and his sister, mother, and father. Physical evidence recovered during these searches led to the service of an additional search warrant at Flores’ residence in April of 2020.

In March of 2021, Detectives served a search warrant at the Arroyo Grande home of Ruben Flores, the father of Paul Flores, where additional evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart was discovered at the site.

Parkinson stated that the search warrant that was served at Ruben Flores’s home earlier in the day most likely will continue through Wednesday. 

The Sheriff did explain that he is not able to discuss the details of what was located at the Flores home; however, he could say that Kristin Smart’s body has not been found.  

During the Apr. 13 search of Ruben Flores’s home, forensic crews were seen digging and sifting through a portion of the backyard under a blue pop-up tent, similar to where they dug during the search in March.

Throughout the day of the search, the press, neighbors, and other SLO County residents came to watch and speculate what investigators and forensics were looking for or have already found. 

During the press conference, the Sheriff could not confirm if Smart’s remains are at a previously search location.

Paul Flores, over the years, has remained a “person of interest” in the case and then in March was named the prime suspect in her disappearance. 

Flores was arrested on Apr. 13 and taken into custody in San Pedro for the murder of Kristin Smart. Additionally, his father, Ruben Flores, was arrested in Arroyo Grande the same day as an accessory to murder. 

“I am extremely proud of all the dedicated investigators who worked tirelessly over the years to solve this case,” Sheriff Parkinson said. “It’s taken many years to get to this point, but as I’ve always said, it’s not what you believe; it’s what you can prove. And we can finally say we have done that today.” 

The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the agencies which have assisted with this investigation, including the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, Kings County Washington Sheriff’s Office, Clackamas County Oregon Sheriff’s Office, FBI Los Angeles, and Santa Maria Field Offices, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Detective Division, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Central Coast Cyber Forensic Lab, DOJ Goleta Lab, Natural Investigations Company, Serological Institute Richmond. 

“After 24 years, we have finally brought justice for Kristin,” Sheriff Parkinson said. “And hopefully some closure for the Smart family and peace to our community.”

Following the conference on behalf of the Smart Family, spokesperson John Segale released a following statement from the family that can be read here.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow held a press conference on Wednesday, Apr. 14, to discuss Paul and Ruben Flores’ arrest and referral. You can read the coverage here.