Search warrants served in unsolved killing of Kristin Smart, who vanished in 1996 from Cal Poly

Sheriff deputies search the home of a suspect Paul Flores in the case of missing student Kristin Smart
Sheriff deputies search the home of a suspect Paul Flores in the case of missing student Kristin Smart who vanished from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo nearly 24 years ago.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Nearly 24 years after college student Kristin Smart vanished from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, investigators and the FBI on Wednesday served search warrants in San Luis Obispo County, Washington state and San Pedro, where a man who was questioned at the time of Smart’s disappearance now lives.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said it disclosed the development “due to the high-profile nature of the investigation into the disappearance and whereabouts of Kristin Smart and to avoid the dissemination of misinformation.”

Sheriff’s officials said the warrants remain sealed. But multiple sources said they are part of an effort to gather physical evidence, including DNA, that may reveal what happened to the 19-year-old.

One warm Friday night in late spring 10 years ago, Kristin Denise Smart and three other young women started walking from their dorms at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

One of the locations being searched is in the 900 block of West Upland Avenue in San Pedro, where Paul Flores, a fellow Cal Poly SLO student who was questioned in Smart’s disappearance at the time, has lived for more than a decade, according to sources.

A missing person flyer is still posted on a telephone pole across the street from the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro
A missing person flyer is still posted on a telephone pole across the street from the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

FBI agents and San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s detectives were in the area Wednesday, but no arrests were made, authorities said.

Flores has been identified as a person of interest in the case by San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. Smart disappeared on her way home from an off-campus party May 25, 1996. Flores was seen walking on a path to the college dormitories with her the night she vanished.


The warrants come after investigators recently found that two trucks connected to Flores’ family at the time Smart went missing were found by investigators in another state.

Smart’s family has sued Flores in civil court, but he has not been criminally charged. In response to the suit, Flores has denied every allegation raised against him. He invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before a grand jury and a civil deposition.

The latest searches mark a new twist in one of California’s most enduring cold case mysteries.

After Smart disappeared, law enforcement used helicopters, horses and ground-penetrating radar as they hunted for the missing student. She was officially declared dead in 2002, although her body was never found.

In 2016, federal investigators dug up a hillside near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, looking for remains. They also searched the yard of a home.

Since Parkinson became sheriff more than a decade ago, investigators have collected 140 “new items of evidence,” previously searched nine separate locations, served 18 search warrants, resubmitted 37 pieces of evidence from the investigation’s early stages for more current DNA testing and conducted more than 90 face-to-face interviews.

But in the last few months, the investigation has intensified with efforts to track vehicles owned by Flores’ family at the time of Smart’s disappearance.

FBI agents digging into a hillside half a mile from where Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Denise Smart was last seen alive 20 years ago have found “items of interest” in the cold case mystery, authorities said Thursday.

When she disappeared, authorities delayed searching Smart’s dorm room until June 5 and did not search Flores’ room until June 10, more than two weeks after the woman was last seen.

Flores, who grew up in nearby Arroyo Grande, had moved all of his belongings out of the room by then.

A year before Smart’s disappearance, a female student summoned San Luis Obispo police at 1 a.m. and told dispatchers that Flores, apparently drunk, had climbed a trellis outside her apartment and was refusing to leave her balcony. He was gone by the time officers arrived, police said.

The stories shaping California

Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.