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Person of interest in Kristin Smart cold case is arrested on a weapons offense

L.A. County sheriff's deputies search home
In February 2020, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies search the home of Paul Flores in connection with the death of Kristin Smart.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A San Pedro man was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm based on information developed when his home was searched last year in the killing of Kristin Smart, who disappeared 24 years ago while walking back to her dorm at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Paul Flores, 43, was taken into custody by the Los Angeles Police Department about 9:45 a.m. in the harbor area, LAPD Officer Tony Im, a department spokesman, said.

The arrest was based on information developed by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department when it searched Flores’ home in April, accompanied by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.

Flores was the last person to be seen with Smart the night she vanished, San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said at the time. He “continues to be a person of interest in the disappearance of Kristin Smart in 1996.”

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That search followed another in February at the home in the 900 block of West Upland Avenue and three other locations in California and Washington state. All the search warrants have remained sealed.

Multiple sources told The Times the searches are part of an ongoing effort to gather physical evidence, including DNA, that may reveal what happened to the 19-year-old Smart, who disappeared May 25, 1996, on her way home from an off-campus party. Flores was seen walking on a path to the college dormitories with her the night she went missing.

Flores was questioned in Smart’s disappearance at the time. He has lived in San Pedro for more than a decade while working in Orange County, according to sources.

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

His arrest Wednesday marks 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 in the hunt 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 San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson took office more than a decade ago, investigators have collected 140 “new items of evidence,” revisited nine previously searched 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.

Last year, the investigation intensified with efforts to track vehicles owned by Flores’ family at the time of Smart’s disappearance. Authorities had delayed searching Smart’s dorm room until June 5, 1996, 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.


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