The “prime suspect” in the 25-year-disappearance of California college student Kristin Smart was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of murder, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department announced.
Paul Flores, 44, the last person seen with Smart before she vanished in 1996, was taken into custody in the Los Angeles area. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also arrested at his Arroyo Grande home.
In 2011, “I requested a complete review of all the physical evidence that had ever been taken in the [Smart] case,” said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson at a news conference. “In late 2016, we discovered additional evidence that confirmed that Paul was the suspect in the disappearance.”
Paul Flores has been booked on the charge of murder with zero bail, said Parkinson. His arraignment will be Thursday. Ruben Flores was arrested on accessory to murder with a bail of $250,000, and his arraignment will depend on whether he will post bail.
Smart, 19, of Stockton, California, vanished in May 1996 while returning to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo after a party. She was seen with Paul Flores, who was a student at the time.
Smart’s body has not yet been recovered by police, but physical evidence linked to her has been recovered, according to authorities.
“We are not going to stop until Kristen has been recovered no matter what the cost, no matter what the time,” Parkinson said. “We will find Kristen.”
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A spokesman for the Smart family issued a statement, saying the day was “bittersweet.”
“It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family. We pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home,” the statement said. “While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes about a month after the sheriff named Paul Flores as the “prime suspect” in the case.Investigators searched his father’s home and property using ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs.
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Investigators served another search warrant Tuesday at Ruben Flores’ home, about 15 miles south of the University on California’s Central Coast, KSBY-TV reported.
Over 40 search warrants had been executed at 16 locations over the years, according to Parkinson. So much evidence had been compiled that it would fill three terabytes on a computer hard drive, Parkinson estimated.
New evidence came to light at least partly through the podcast “Your Own Backyard,” an eight-part series detailing the Smart case. It has renewed and brought interest in the case locally, nationally and internationally, Parkinson said.
Shortly after the release of “Your Own Backyard” in 2019, police interviewed several witnesses connected to the podcast.
“I think what Chris [Lambert] did with his podcast was, he took a local story that was generally locally, and he expanded into a national story — international, actually, I will say, because once that message got out, we started getting more information,” Parkinson said, referring to the podcast.
He added that the information produced was “valuable” and led to new evidence which allowed detectives to secure a court order to intercept Flores’ calls and text messages.
Contributing: The Associated Press