A podcast reignited interest in the cold case of Kristin Smart who went missing from her college campus in 1996. In October 2022, a California jury found longtime suspect Paul Flores guilty of her murder.
On Memorial Day weekend 1996, 19-year-old college freshman Kristin Smart vanished after attending a college party at California Polytechnic State University.
“Your Own Backyard”
Chris Lambert was 8 years old when Kristin Smart went missing. Twenty-two years later, he released the podcast “Your Own Backyard,” which focused on her disappearance. This podcast reignited interest in the case.
A worried mother
Two days after her daughter went missing, Denise Smart got a call from Cal Poly’s campus police. They told her Kristin had not been seen all weekend and asked them if Kristin was with them.
Campus police thought that Kristin Smart was off having fun and ignored worried friends, like Margarita Campos, who said she was missing. By the time Cal Poly police began investigating, Kristin had been gone for four days.
The last person to see Kristin
Paul Flores walked Kristin home the night of the party. He was the last person to see Kristin, but authorities waited six days to formally interview him.
What Happened in Saint Lucia Hall?
Paul Flores claimed that after walking Kristin back from the party he went to his room in Santa Lucia Hall alone. But when several trained cadaver dogs were brought in to search the Cal Poly dorm, four different dogs reacted to Paul’s room.
While authorities did not rush to investigate Paul Flores, the Smart family says they were very quick to judge Kristin. Just days after she disappeared, an incident report filed by campus police said:
“Smart does not have any close friends at Cal Poly. Smart appeared to be under the influence of alcohol on Friday night. Smart was talking with and socializing with several different males at the party.”
A black eye
Two days after Kristin vanished, Paul Flores went to the Arroyo Grande Police Department because of an outstanding DUI warrant.
In his mug shot you can see his black eye. When asked about how he got the injury Flores told three different stories.
A bad reputation
Paul Flores had a reputation amongst the girls that knew him at Cal Poly. He was known for groping girls and was even given the nickname “Chester the molester.”
Kristin’s frustrated parents hired an attorney who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Paul Flores. In 1997 when Flores was deposed for the civil suit, he kept quiet. The only thing he would confirm on tape was his name. He invoked the Fifth Amendment 27 times
A missing earring
In October 1996, Mary Lassiter was renting Paul Flores’ mother’s house in Arroyo Grande when she found a single woman’s earring. She says the jewelry appeared to match a necklace that Kristin was wearing in one of the missing posters. The earring was turned over to a detective but it was lost before being marked as evidence.
What’s in the backyard?
Susan Flores’ backyard had been the focus of widespread speculation. At the time Kristin disappeared police did not immediately search the home. Despite the backyard being searched three times over the past two decades, no evidence has ever been found.
A new sheriff in town
In 2011, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson was sworn into office. He promised the Smarts that solving Kristin’s case would be a priority. Since Parkinson has taken over, the department has executed 23 search warrants, 96 different interviews, and collected 258 pieces of additional evidence.
Two decades later
More than two decades after Kristin vanished, Paul Flores remained the only suspect in her disappearance. CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti tracked Flores down to find out what happened to Kristin Smart.
New evidence emerges
In March 2021, officials conducted a search at Ruben Flores’ home. Biological evidence was found under a deck in the yard
Taken into custody
In April 2021, Paul and his father Ruben Flores were taken into custody. Paul was charged with murder and Ruben was charged with being an accessory after the fact.
Pleading not guilty
Nearly a week after their arrests, father and son both pleaded not guilty in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Paul Flores, lower left, remained in jail without bail. Ruben Flores, upper right, was able to post bail after a judge agreed to lower the bail amount from $250,000 to $50,000.
Wheels of justice begin to turn
More than 26 years after Kristin Smart’s disappearance, opening statements begin in the trials of Paul (pictured) and Ruben Flores in Monterey County Superior Court. There were two juries seated, one for each defendant
The split verdicts
After a three-month trial, a jury convicted Paul Flores in the murder of Kristin Smart. Ruben Flores was found not guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Kristin Smart’s father, Stan, addressed the press shortly afterwards. He said, “without Kristin, there is no joy or happiness in this verdict. After 26 years … We learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue.”
Kristin Smart’s legacy
The Smarts keep the memory of their daughter alive through the Kristin Smart scholarship. Its goal is to help young women pursue their hopes, ambitions, and impact the world in the same way Kristin had hoped.