On October 22, 2022, Paul Flores was convicted of the murder of Cal Poly freshman Kristen Smart after a 26 year unsolved case. For more than two decades, her family and friends have searched for answers for what exactly happened on the day of her disappearance.
Kristen Smart was from Stockton, CA, but moved to San Luis Obispo when she enrolled in Cal Poly SLO as a freshman. On May 25, 1996, her friends dropped her off at an off-campus party. At around 2 a.m., another freshman student by the name of Paul Flores, supposedly accompanied her back to her dorm. After her roommates and friends expressed concern when they did not hear from Kristen in many days, a missing person report was filed on May 28, four days after her disappearance.
Throughout the beginning of the investigation, the Sheriff’s department search party took many forms, including horses which searched remote parts of campus, specially trained cadaver dogs who searched Flores’s dorm room, and helicopters that searched the San Luis Obispo area. Because he was the last person to have been seen with Smart, Paul Flores was quickly identified as their prime suspect, but denied any involvement in the disappearance. During his deposition in late 1997, with the guidance of his attorney, he pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any questions. As the Sheriff’s investigative department could not find enough evidence to charge Flores, and Kristen’s body had not been found, the case lost traction after the first couple of years.
It was not until over twenty years later, when Paul Flores was convicted. In March of 2021, cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar technology were used to search the property of Ruben Flores, Paul’s father, in Arroyo Grande. His property had been in speculation for many years, but it was new technology that allowed investigators to uncover new biological evidence, soil containing traces of human blood, that led them to believe the victim was buried underneath the house’s deck at some point. Two weeks later, on April 13th, 2021, Paul was arrested at his home in Los Angeles, and was charged with murder in the first degree. Ruben Flores was also arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact. After the extensive increase in publicity around the case, the trial was moved to Monterey County. On October 18, 2022, Paul Flores was found guilty of murdering Kristen Smart, facing 25-years-to-life in prison. However, Rubin was found not guilty of accessory after the fact.
Despite the many leads and conspiracies, investigators believe Flores drugged Smart on the night of May 25th, and killed her during rape, or attempted rape. This conclusion was based on Flores’s convictions from the past, which were testified by multiple other women who said they believe they were drugged and raped by Flores prior to the disappearance of Kristen.
Popular Podcast Helps Solve Crime
The murder of Kristen Smart has increased in publicity immensely over the past couple of years, especially after the recently announced verdict. Central-California resident Paul Lambert is credited for a major portion of the case’s publicity. In 2019, Lambert released the first episode of his podcast In Your Own Backyard, which dives deeper into the disappearance, using suspenseful storytelling. He conducts many interviews with people who knew Flores and Smart, ranging from childhood friends to co-workers from decades ago. The twenty-episode podcast gives clear and extraordinarily interesting details about the investigation and trial. It allowed new witnesses to provide information, and eventually helped lead the case to a close.
In a statement on April 13th, the Smart family said, “It would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the exceptional skills, indefatigable work and unselfish dedication of Christopher Lambert.”
In Your Own Backyard created a newfound community within the public, who sympathize for the Smart family in the continued mourning and remembrance of their daughter, Kristen.