Man charged with murder in case of Kristin Smart, college student who disappeared in 1996

A man connected to the disappearance of college student Kristin Smart in 1996 was arrested on a murder charge Tuesday, California authorities said.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a news conference Tuesday that the man, Paul Flores, 44, was arrested and charged with one count of murder in connection with Smart’s disappearance.

Flores was arrested in San Pedro in Los Angeles County and transported to San Luis Obispo County, Parkinson said. He was held without bail, Parkinson said.

Smart, who in 1996 was a 19-year-old student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, disappeared after she went to a party. Flores, who was Smart’s friend, was reported to have walked her home from the party.

Smart, who was never found, was declared dead in 2002.

Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also arrested Tuesday. He was charged with one count of being an accessory after the fact. Bail was set at $250,000.

A lawyer representing Paul Flores, Sarah Sanger, said her firm would not comment about pending cases. Harold Mesick, an attorney for Ruben Flores, declined to comment because he has not yet been able to contact his client.

Paul Flores was long considered a “person of interest” in the case, which got renewed attention as the subject of true crime podcast “Your Own Backyard.”

“Throughout our investigation Paul Flores has remained a person of significant interest,” Parkinson, the sheriff, said Tuesday, and “as the case progressed became a suspect and the prime suspect in the case.”

An area near the campus where Smart was a student was excavated in 2016. Last year, a Flores home in Los Angeles County was searched, NBC News reported, as well as other locations on the West Coast.

On Tuesday, Parkinson revealed that his office interviewed more people in 2019, many of whom came to light thanks to “the podcast.”

Another warrant was served in March in Arroyo Grande at the home of Ruben Flores, Parkinson said.

“As a result of this evidence, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge signed two arrest warrants and two additional search warrants,” Parkinson said.

The Floreses were arrested simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo counties early Tuesday, he said.

“We have not recovered Kristin,” Parkinson said, adding later that he had promised Smart’s parents that “we are not going to stop until Kristin is recovered.”

Speaking after Parkinson, Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong said, “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Denise and Dan Smart, all of Kristin’s friends and family as this process proceeds.”