Prosecutors claim Kristin Smart was murdered during attempted rape in 1996

Kristin Smart was a 19-year-old college student at Cal State in San Luis Obispo. Back in 1996 she went to a party and became so inebriated she passed out. But a fellow student named Paul Flores offered to help her home around 2 am. She was never seen again.

For a long time it seemed there wasn’t much movement in the case despite a lot of effort by investigators to find her. But all of that changed yesterday when police arrested Paul Flores and his father Ruben Flores. The San Luis Obispo County district attorney Dan Dow made comments about the new developments in the case:

“It is alleged that Mr. Flores caused the death of Kristin Smart while in the commission of or attempted rape,” Mr. Dow said during the news conference, referring to Paul Flores.

He added that “the allegation against Ruben is that he helped to conceal Kristin’s body after the murder was committed.”

The men, who have yet to enter a plea, are to be arraigned on Thursday morning, Mr. Dow said.

“These charges mark a major milestone,” Mr. Dow said, adding that “today we mark the very first move to bring justice to Kristin Smart, her family and the entire community of San Luis Obispo County.”

Authorities still aren’t saying exactly what changed but here’s what we do know. A popular true crime podcast was launched in 2019 with the goal of trying to locate Smart’s remains and bring the case to a resolution. That podcast series about the case, which has been downloaded 7 million times, eventually did turn up some new evidence which the host Chris Lambert then turned over to police:

Lambert said that he provided sheriff’s officials with information he gathered during the course of the investigation, which he believes helped the case, but he said it’s ultimately the sheriff’s case to tackle.

“I know what (evidence) I gave them, so I know what they’ve moved forward with, but they probably don’t want me to share the details,” Lambert said. “I feel good about the case at this point. But I’ve felt good about it for a long time. It was just a matter of the way the machinery works. You just have to wait a while for things to get done — the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and who’s going to do which part. I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to come to some sort of resolution.”

In the press conference announcing the arrests on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson credited the podcast with leading to some fresh interviews. “In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with,” he said. Based on the information from those new witnesses, the Sheriff got a court order to monitor Paul Flores phone.

In January of 2020, Smart’s mother Denise Smart told a local newspaper that she’d heard there were some big developments in the case:

Kristin’s mother, Denise Smart, said she recently has been contacted an agent retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and told to be ready for a development that might bring closure to her 23-year nightmare. Denise said she was told by authorities, “Be ready. This is really going to be something you don’t expect. We want to give you the support you need.”

A month later, in Feb. 2020, search warrants were served at four homes belonging to members of the Flores family:

The Sheriff’s Office issued warrants in two locations in San Luis Obispo County, one in Los Angeles County and one in Washington state, according to an agency news release Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Sheriff’s Office and FBI were seen outside the Arroyo Grande home of the mother of Paul Flores, and posted caution tape to keep people out.

About 15 spectators gathered across the street from the house to watch the investigators work, some shouting “Dig her up.”

Once again, authorities aren’t saying exactly what they found or even what they were looking for because the search warrants are sealed, but those searches led to another search warrant at Paul Flores’ home last April. Speaking specifically of that search Sheriff Parkinson said, “During the search, detective discovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart.”

That in turn led to another search warrant served last month at the home of Ruben Flores, the father, where more evidence was uncovered. And again, all they will say is that they have not found Kristin’s body thus far. Nevertheless, the evidence they do have was enough to get arrest warrants for Paul and Ruben Flores. No doubt more about the evidence will come out during the trial.

Here’s the statement Tuesday by the local Sheriff.