It’s been nearly 25 years since Cal Poly student Kristin Smart went missing in 1996 after last being seen walking back home from a party on campus, and the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s department has officially taken a suspect into custody.
On April 13, the SLO County sheriff’s department arrested prime suspect Paul Flores on a murder charge, along with his father Ruben Flores as an accessory to the murder. Paul Flores has been the primary suspect in Smart’s disappearance as he was the last person seen with her prior to her being reported missing. Despite the allegations, there was no physical evidence for prosecutors to charge Flores until now.
After Smart’s family declared their daughter legally dead in 2002, there were no updates in the investigation despite the case being actively open. According to a press release from the SLO County Sheriff’s Office, there wasn’t any movement in the case until 2019, when a new witness came forward and was interviewed by detectives.
Coincidentally, Chris Lambert’s podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” came out in 2019, greatly increasing media coverage of the case.
In February, 2020, the SLO County sheriff’s department served search warrants for four residences, and after finding “items of interest,” they served another search warrant for Paul Flores’ residence.
Most recently, investigators took cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar to Ruben Flores’ home in Arroyo Grande in March to conduct a search of the premises. Both Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested and charged less than a month later after physical evidence was obtained from the property.
Their arraignment was set for April 19, where both men pleaded not guilty to their respective charges. The day of the arraignment, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen chose to move forward with defense attorney Robert Sanger’s motion for a protective order. This protective order bars many persons’ involved with the case, or working within the courtroom, from publicly making comments regarding the case.
Sanger felt that with the high amount of publicity, his defendant wouldn’t be ensured a fair trial, and Judge van Rooyen agreed.
CBS’ “48 Hours” updated their episode on Smart’s case to include new information and footage from news conferences in April. In the newest episode of “The Disappearance of Kristin Smart,” reporters claimed information about the case had leaked out despite the protective order being put in place.
According to a county probation bail report obtained by The San Luis Obispo Tribune, there was biological evidence found below Reuben Flores deck.
The Smart family’s attorney, James Murphy, recently filed a civil lawsuit against Ruben Flores for the intentional infliction of emotional distress with “explosive claims” in regard to the alleged movement of the remains.
“He threw her in a hole for 24 years, and sipped his morning coffee on the deck,” Murphy said, when explaining the reasoning for the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Murphy alleges there were two individuals who helped Ruben Flores hide the body under the deck. After a search warrant was conducted, biological evidence was found in February, 2020. An eye witness documented the activity underneath the deck, and released it to Chris Lambert as an anonymous tip.
“I’m not at liberty to describe how it was documented, but I’ve seen it,” Murphy said, in regards to the documentation.
Ruben Flores was released after posting $50,000 bail. Paul Flores is still being held without any bail. A preliminary hearing for the case is set for July 6, 2021.