It was Memorial Day 1996. Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old freshman at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, went out to a college party and never returned. Twenty years later, no one has been arrested, no body has been found, and no answers exist for Smart’s friends and family.
Smart’s night out on May 24,1996, began at 10:30 P.M., when she arrived at a birthday bash at an “unofficial” fraternity house near the Cal Poly campus. About three and a half hours later, Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis, two other students at the party, saw the striking six-foot-one swimmer passed out on a neighbor’s lawn, presumably drunk.
Anderson and Davis helped Smart to her feet and assisted her in walking back to her dorm. Along the way, fellow student Paul Flores joined their group. Davis, who lived off campus, broke away from the trio first. Flores told Anderson that he would walk Smart the rest of the way home. It was only about 40 steps up a hill from where he lived at Muir Hall. Anderson agreed, and watched them walk up the hill together. Anderson later told investigators that Flores had his arm around Smart’s waist.
From there, Smart seemed to vanish without a trace. Her ID, prescription medication, contact lenses, and clothing remained untouched, but she never made it back to her room. A dorm neighbor of Smart’s contacted campus police, but was frustrated when they initially seemed to believe that Smart had simply taken an unplanned vacation. Two days after the party, the frustrated freshman neighbor contacted Smart’s parents and the San Luis Obispo Police Department, and campus police finally opened a file.
As the last person to be seen with Smart, Flores immediately became a suspect. His story also contained inconsistencies, and he showed up after the disappearance with an unexplained black eye. Still, Flores never admitted to any wrongdoing, and, as Smart’s body has never been recovered, the case has been extremely difficult to close.
“We need Paul Flores to tell us what happened to Kristin Smart,” former Sheriff Ed Williams told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. The sheriff said his detectives had conducted more than 100 interviews, all of which led them to Flores.
Authorities declared Kristin Smart legally dead in May 25, 2002, the sixth anniversary of her disappearance. In 2005, Smart’s parents, Denise and Stan Smart, filed a wrongful death suit against Paul Flores, but they dropped it after Flores pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions.
The search for Smart’s remains continues. On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo police announced that local investigators, along with a specialized FBI team, will spend four days digging up three sites on a hillside near three dorms at Cal Poly, the Los Angeles Times reports. Officials said they picked the locations based on the activities of a canine unit trained to detect the scents of human decomposition. FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan said the dogs, two Springer spaniels and a German shepherd mix from the FBI’s Quantico facility, keyed in on the three areas at the site.
In 2014, following anonymous tips about a patch of concrete being poured in the backyard of an Arroyo Grande residence owned by the Flores family, a newspaper publisher worked with a retired police detective to bring in the famous cadaver search dog “Buster” to help find Kristin’s remains. The publisher and detective obtained permission from a neighbor, and on June 2 and August 1 of that year Buster alerted on the scent of human remains immediately behind the Flores home. Buster’s alerts were immediately relayed to the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s office. So far, the information has failed to produce an arrest.
The Los Angeles Times revealed a theory from a law-enforcement source who “worked the case and knows it well.” Flores, the source told the paper, must have taken Kristin to his room. “He wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. He was more like a kid in the candy store.” There was a struggle, and somehow she died. The source said he believes that Flores panicked and hid the body by opening the window of his ground-floor room and disposing of her body in one of the two large dumpsters filled with trash. The garbage truck arrived at 7:30 A.M. on Saturday, and took Smart’s body with it to the dump.
Smart’s disappearance and slow response by the campus police resulted in the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act being passed in the late 1990s. The act requires all public colleges and publicly funded educational institutions to enter into agreements with local police departments to handle reports of violence to students,.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office has stated that they are still actively investigating the case and have never stopped looking for Smart. The FBI have offered a reward of $75,000 for information leading to the location of her body.
“It’s not over with. It’s not gone to trial,” Kristin’s father Stan told KSBY last year. “Having her on a billboard can be a good thing just as a reminder to people that this happened, and should be resolved.”
Main photo: Kristin Smart [Wikimedia Commons]