Her killer was found guilty. But where is Kristin Smart’s body?



On Tuesday, after 26 years of waiting, Kristin Smart’s loved ones watched as Paul Flores was found guilty of murdering the missing Cal Poly student. But although her killer now faces 25 years to life in prison, the biggest question still remains: Where is Kristin? 

“This case will not be over until Kristin is returned home, and we have committed to that from the beginning,” San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters after Tuesday’s verdict. “We don’t take a breath. We do not put this aside.”

Smart disappeared on Memorial Day weekend 1996 after attending a party. Witnesses testified at her murder trial that Smart had been drinking and appeared to need help getting back to her dorm. Among the people who stepped in to walk her home was Flores, who was also an undergraduate student at Cal Poly at the time. One by one, Smart’s friends peeled off to their respective residences, leaving Flores alone with Smart. 

With Flores refusing to talk, the question of what happened to Smart after she left the company of her friends remains unknown. Flores claimed he bid Smart goodbye and last saw her walking toward her residence hall. But evidence presented at trial suggested Flores likely sexually assaulted and killed her in his dorm room; four separate cadaver dogs alerted to the “smell of death” on Flores’ mattress, prosecutors said.

Paul Flores, right, listens after a jury found him guilty of murdering Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in Monterey County Superior Court on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Salinas, Calif. Jurors unanimously found Flores guilty of first-degree murder. (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune via AP, Pool)
Paul Flores, right, listens after a jury found him guilty of murdering Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in Monterey County Superior Court on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Salinas, Calif. Jurors unanimously found Flores guilty of first-degree murder. (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune via AP, Pool)Laura Dickinson/AP

Somehow, he disposed of Smart’s body. In 2021, law enforcement must have felt close to finding her, executing a search warrant on the home of Ruben Flores, Paul’s father. Investigators dug up an area under the back deck of 710 White Court in Arroyo Grande, about a 20-minute drive from the Cal Poly campus. There, prosecutors say they found a human-sized disturbance — and blood — in the dirt.

“The excavation below his deck at 710 White Court showed damning evidence that a body had been buried in that location and then recently moved,” prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle said in April 2021.

The prosecution’s experts could only speculate, however, that Smart had been buried there. Traces of human blood were too deteriorated for DNA testing. Although prosecutors argued Ruben Flores, now 81, knows where Smart’s body was moved to, on Tuesday Ruben was found not guilty of being an accessory to murder after the fact. Smart’s family has argued that Ruben Flores helped move the body four days after a search warrant was authorized for the White Court home in 2020. In a court filing, the Smarts said they believed Kristin’s body was still somewhere in San Luis Obispo County.

FILE: Deputies from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office searched the home of Ruben Flores, father of Paul Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 15, 2021. 

FILE: Deputies from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office searched the home of Ruben Flores, father of Paul Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 15, 2021. 

San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office/Handout

For now, the secret of Smart’s burial site rests with Paul Flores, who has been largely uncooperative with law enforcement since his initial interviews in 1996. Flores will be sentenced on Dec. 9, but he may choose to appeal afterward, setting into motion years of court appearances. If there’s any chance Flores thinks he can be freed on appeal, it’s unlikely he would give up the location of Smart’s remains. Sometimes, though, prosecutors are able to cut a deal with convicted murders, bargaining for a reduced sentence in exchange for information.

What’s clear is that law enforcement and Smart’s loved ones have no intention of giving up the search. 

“After 26 years, with today’s split verdict, we learned that our quest for justice for Kristin will continue,” Smart’s father, Stan Smart, said Tuesday. “This has been an agonizingly long journey, with more downs than ups.”

“Without Kristin,” he added, “there’s no joy or happiness in this verdict.”



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