For practically a quarter of a century, Kristin Smart’s family has been through some unimaginable turmoil. Kristin Denise Smart disappeared in May of 1996, and was legally declared dead in May of 2002. Over the years, investigating authorities have received several tips regarding the circumstances of the young woman’s disappearance, but recently, Kristin’s family issued a statement that there might soon be a break in the case.
Kristin was finishing up her freshman year at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California when she went missing. On May 24, 1996, Kristin went to a friend’s birthday party, which happened to be Memorial Day weekend—an active time in a college town. In the early morning hours of May 25, around 2 a.m., she was found passed out on the neighbor’s lawn by a pair of friends, Cheryl Anderson and Tim Davis. Kristin was highly intoxicated and did not have any personal effects on her, such as a purse, I.D., or credit cards. Paul Flores, another party guest, eventually joined the group as the trio helped Kristin back to her dorm. Anderson and Davis eventually separated from the group on their respective journeys home, and Flores was left to escort Kristin the rest of the way. Flores told police that he only escorted Kristin as far as his own residence hall, Santa Lucia Hall, and Kristin was left to return to her own residence hall on her own. This was the last known sighting of Kristin.
One of the most frustrating aspects of crimes against persons living on college campuses is the necessary institution of campus police. It can be to the benefit of university students to have localized, specialized protection from campus police. Not all campus police departments are created equal, but sometimes, campus police can hinder formal police investigations. The University Police Department was not convinced that Kristin had gone missing, but rather thought she had gone on an impromptu vacation over the holiday weekend. They did not immediately report her as a missing person to law enforcement.
Despite the fact that the case remains open and unsolved, police suspected Paul Flores of knowing what had happened following the discovery of crucial evidence. Kristin’s bloody earring was discovered by a tenant living in the building where Flores’ mother had once lived. The earring was lost after police took custody with no explanation. Over the years, many searches have been conducted with ground teams, cadaver dogs. In September of 2016, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s department received a tip about a possible location of Kristin’s remains, resulting in an excavation of a part of California Polytechnic State University. There was ambiguity regarded whether or not the remains were human or animal, and the last reports on this find declared that genetic testing could take months. As of 2020, items found at all three dig-sites were still being investigated by police.
On January 18, 2020, the Stockton Record published a piece regarding a possible break in the case after the family had been in touch with a former FBI agent. In a statement, Kristin’s family said that the detective had informed them that new information had come to light, and the family might want to “get away for a while.” Denise Smart, Kristin’s mother, said she was told, “Be ready. This is really going to be something you don’t expect. We want to give you the support we need.” However, The Record later issued a correction to their breaking news story, saying that it was not an active member of the FBI, but rather a retired detective who, according to Denise Smart, “has provided us guidance over the years.” The family later said in a subsequently released statement, “The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation and they are not putting any timetable on the completion of it. We support the Sheriff Department’s efforts and commitment.”
Now in another twist, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s investigators announced that they had taken two trucks that belonged to the Flores family at the time of Kristin’s disappearance. In addition to the trucks, they also announced that over 30 pieces of evidence from the initial investigation were also being reexamined, undergoing DNA testing. In the 23 years-long investigation, announcements such as this can stimulate public interest in the investigation, keeping a missing person’s face in the media. Christ Lambert, the host and creator of the podcast Your Own Back Yard, which is about the case has also been credited with raising awareness about Kristin’s case. In a statement, Kristin’s family thanked him personally, “Thanks to Chris and all the supporters who have made such an amazing difference. Your Own Backyard has been instrumental in renewing interest in Kristin’s investigation and generating many new leads. Keep the faith and know that you are all making a difference.”