SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Paul Flores, long considered to be the prime suspect in the disappearance of Kristin Smart in 1996 has been taken into custody and booked into the San Luis Obispo County Jail on one count of murder. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Flores was arrested for the death of Smart.
Flores' father, Ruben Flores, was also arrested as an accessory to the crime.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office held a news conference to announce the arrests. Earlier in the morning, the sheriff's office had promised to announce major developments in the investigation.
"I'm here this afternoon to announce the arrest of Paul Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart, and the arrest of his father Ruben for the accessory to the murder," said Parkinson, while speaking at the press conference held at Cal Poly. "Paul was arrested for, charged with murder, with zero bail, meaning he is unable to bail, and Ruben Flores was arrested as an accessory to murder with a bail of $250,000."
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office has been investigating the disappearance of Smart for nearly 25 years. She disappeared while walking back to her dorm room at Cal Poly in May 1996. She was 19 at the time. Paul Flores, 43, is believed to be the last person to see Smart alive. Parkinson said Flores was considered to be the main "person of interest" throughout the investigation and later became the prime suspect in the case.
Several weeks ago, a search warrant was served at the home of Ruben Flores in Arroyo Grande. The family's home was searched and property scanned with ground-penetrating radar and other equipment. The ground was dug up with shovels and cadaver dogs scoured the property.
On Tuesday, Parkinson said the search warrants are sealed and specific details about what was recovered will not be discussed at this time. Parkinson did say, however, that remains of Smart have not been recovered.
Parkinson said 41 search warrants were served at more than a dozen locations as part of the investigation, during his tenure as sheriff.
"Forensic physical evidence was located, and, yes, we believe it is linked to Kristin," Parkinson said. "We did find physical evidence at at least two homes."
In February, Paul Flores was arrested on an illegal gun charge stemming from evidence recovered during the commission of one of these search warrants. He posted bond and was released from custody with a court date set for June.
Paul Flores currently lives in San Pedro. He was driven from the Los Angeles area and booked into the San Luis Obispo County Jail on one count of murder, Parkinson said. Ruben Flores was taken into custody at his home in Arroyo Grande.
The search for Kristin Smart has gained worldwide attention, in part to an ongoing true crime podcast series called Your Own Backyard. The series was created by Chris Lambert of Orcutt and gave renewed attention to the case. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said investigators have been working diligently for years to bring a conclusion to the case.
In 2016, new evidence linked Flores to Smart's disappearance, Parkinson said. In 2019, detectives interviewed witnesses who had not been previously interviewed. Parkinson said Tuesday that the attention given to the case thanks to Lambert's podcast did produce information that the department considered to be valuable.
Paul Flores is being held without bail. Ruben Flores has a bail set at $250,000.
The case has been turned over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office. Both are expected to appear in court on Thursday.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said his office was "carefully reviewing the evidence" and said it will provide more information as it becomes available.
The family of Kristin Smart released a statement to the media that says, in part:
For over twenty-four years, we have waited for this bittersweet day. 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. 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. 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.Statement from Smart family
To read the statement in its entirety, click here.
Parkinson said he has been in contact with Smart's family. During his afternoon press conference Parkinson said the sheriff's office would continue to work diligently until Smart's remains were recovered.
"Until we return Kristin to them, this is not over," Parkinson said.
Playlist: The Disappearance of Kristin Smart