After nearly 25 years, Paul Flores was formally charged in the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo freshman Kristin Smart, authorities announced Wednesday. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also arrested as an accessory for allegedly helping to dispose of Smart’s remains.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow says that Flores, 44, a fellow Cal Poly freshman and the last person seen with Smart before her disappearance on Memorial Day weekend, killed Smart in his dorm room while raping or attempting to rape her, but Dow did not reveal further details, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Dow acknowledged that his office is also investing whether Flores committed several other sexual assaults against women in San Pedro, where he has lived since about 2005 and is known to frequent area bars. Dow said the victims in those cases had “some kind of a criminal act perpetrated on them by Mr. Flores,” and urged other women who may have been attacked by Flores to contact San Luis Obispo authorities.
The Los Angeles Police Department is also looking at Flores as a suspect in two of those assaults. According to Captain Jonathan Tippet, head of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, detectives recently presented newly discovered evidence in those cases to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, but a spokesperson for the DA said the office has not yet conducted a formal review of the cases.
Additionally, the spokesperson said that while prosecutors reviewed allegations against Flores in a 2013 rape in Redondo Beach, they declined to proceed further “due to insufficient evidence.”
Cops have eyed Flores as Smart’s murderer since the beginning. After her disappearance, two students told investigators they had been walking with Smart from an off-campus party to her dormitory when Flores, also 19 at the time, approached and said he would escort her back to her residence.
Smart was never seen again.
Flores, who classmates described as awkward and unpopular, had come to the attention of the police five months earlier when another female student called them after he climbed onto her balcony, apparently drunk, and wouldn’t leave.
Flores’s story never held together under questioning. He initially told investigators that he’d walked Smart to her dorm and then returned to his room and that he’d gotten a black eye during a pickup game of basketball. Flores then admitted he’d lied and claimed to have injured himself while working on a truck at his father’s home.
Although San Luis Obispo authorities had seemed to be closing in on Flores through the years, their efforts had been repeatedly stymied by the fact that Smart’s body was never found. They searched Flores’s home and his parents’ homes, tapped his cell phone, read his texts, and even brought him before a grand jury as he progressed from a “person of interest” to “suspect” and then “prime suspect,” but Flores always eluded charges.
Now, Dow says prosecutors can prove Flores murdered Smart through new evidence obtained over the last two years, including new witness interviews. He did not elaborate on that evidence except to say that text messages retrieved from Flores’s phone had proven “helpful” and that detectives had uncovered “very important” information last month, when investigators searched a home owned by Ruben Flores with cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar.
Smart’s family have been active participants in the search and have openly accused Flores of the murder all along. They have held regular press conferences, maintained billboards along the 101 Freeway when the case went cold, and even sued Flores for wrongful death in 1997, though the case languished for decades.
The Smart family was critical of the early investigation but praised San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson for his department’s work Wednesday.
“We honor Kristin today and those who worked with unparalleled tenacity and dedication to bring us to this day,” the Smart family said in the statement. “Without Kristin in our life, there will never be justice, but we will pray for peace. Unfortunately, the indifference and lack of resolve we experienced early on set the course for many years.”
They added that they hoped the arrests would be “the first step to bringing our daughter home.”
Flores and his family have maintained his innocence. Last month, his mother told a reporter, “We have no responsibility for her disappearance and what happened to that young woman.”
Regarding the Floreses, the Smarts said, “The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain. 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.”
Parkinson promised that his department will continue searching until it finds Kristin for her family.
“As you can imagine, until we return Kristin to them, this is not over,” he said. “We have committed to them that we are not going to stop until Kristin has been recovered, no matter what the cost, no matter what the time.”