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California

From the Archives: A cold case, a haunting mystery

Kristin Smart
A missing sign showing Kristin Smart, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student at the time she vanished in 1996. Smart was declared legally dead in 2002, though her body was never recovered.
(Los Angeles Times)

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. They were headed for the neighborhoods of apartment complexes and overpopulated “Animal House"-like bungalows that border the campus. They were looking for a party.

It was Memorial Day weekend. Kristin’s first year away at college was coming to a close. The 19-year-old from Stockton would have considered that something to celebrate. As far back as February, she’d written to another student that “school seems like it is never going to end.”

Kristin, who earned A’s and Bs in high school, had struggled in a couple of her college courses. She had expressed doubts, in anguished conversations with her parents, about whether Cal Poly was right for her.

Three weeks earlier, her mother had sent a six-page, handwritten letter urging Kristin, the oldest of three children, to “learn from your mistakes and get on with life.... Wake up and smell the roses. You have a world of opportunities at your fingertips.”

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Later, after Kristin had failed to return to her dorm room and the searches had commenced -- searches with helicopters, horses and busloads of volunteers; searches guided by ground-penetrating radar, psychics and anonymous tipsters who signed their missives with code names like “Jellybean” -- her parents would be asked by reporters to describe their daughter.

Kristin, they would say, was “a dreamer,” a girl who would give her family bear hugs, cook them omelets and, even in her late teens, sit on her father’s lap. She loved the ocean and travel and poetry. She had been a counselor at a camp on Oahu. She would call her mother every week from Cal Poly, sometimes, yes, to “whine,” but also to share successes.

“She wasn’t one to run away from anything,” her mother said, a pointed reference to the initial instinct of campus police investigators that they were dealing with another runaway -- treating Kristin’s disappearance, in the opinion of her parents, “like a lost bicycle.”

Her first choice for college had been a university on the Virgin Islands. Her parents, both educators, thought that was too far from their San Joaquin Valley home; Kristin instead picked Cal Poly, a popular state university on the Central Coast.

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“We thought that would be a good place for her,” Kristin’s father, Stan Smart, recalled not long ago. “We thought it was a safe community, you know. And it is. It just didn’t work out that way for our family.”

Best known for its programs in agriculture, architecture and engineering, Cal Poly has long followed a hands-on educational philosophy calibrated -- without apology to academia’s loftier aspirations -- to prepare its graduates for ready and rapid entry into the working world. “Learn by Doing” goes the campus creed.

Of course, part of the learning that any freshman does at Cal Poly, or at any non-commuter college for that matter, involves lessons in how to live away from home for the first time. It can be a time for social experimentation, for tasting new things, trying out new identities.

Kristin was no exception. Her e-mails, recovered after she disappeared, were signed with such aliases as Marysol, Roxie, Trixie, Kianna and punctuated with a 19-year-old’s philosophical postscript: “Live your life to be an EXCLAMATION, rather than an EXPLANATION.”

At some point, other students said, she had dyed her naturally blond hair brunet. She also had demonstrated a flair for melodrama. It was not uncommon, a friend would tell investigators, for Kristin to act drunk at parties, even when she was sober. Still, Kristin had seemed happy when her family visited her earlier in the spring.

“She was enjoying it, the social piece,” said Stan Smart, a public school administrator in Napa who commutes home to Stockton for weekends. “I think she was exploring and finding her way.”

Kristin’s appearance was striking: 6 foot 1 with a lean swimmer’s physique, high cheekbones and dark, almond-shaped eyes. In high school, her mother has said, she was bothered when her good looks attracted attention.

On the evening she went looking for a party, May 24, 1996, Kristin wore a short-cropped T-shirt, black running shorts and red athletic shoes. This was not an unusual ensemble for a female student at Cal Poly, especially on a day when temperatures had reached the high 80s.

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Sometime after 5:30 p.m. Friday, Kristin left a message on her mother’s telephone, reporting, happily, that she would be allowed to make up a biology test that somehow had been lost earlier in the year.

“She was very excited,” Denise Smart recalled. “She said, ‘Hi, good news, good news.’ That was her good news: She had gotten a call from professor whatever his name was. She had been trying for so long to get that resolved.”

About 8:30 p.m., Kristin and her three companions were on their way from the dorms, a staggered row of brick and concrete buildings set against a steep incline known as Poly Hill.

They weren’t far into their walk when they flagged down a friend in a pickup truck. Kristin climbed into the cab and the others hopped into the back. For two hours, the truck trolled the surrounding neighborhoods. Finally, Kristin suggested they swing by 135 Crandall Way, an unofficial fraternity house near campus.

Kristin’s companions did not want to go to the party: In the course of any year, certain party venues at Cal Poly develop reputations for rowdy behavior, where the atmosphere created by the mix of testosterone and tap beer can make single, female students less than comfortable.

And so they dropped her off a couple of blocks from the house and went home. It was now about 10:30 p.m. So far, none of them, including Kristin, had been drinking.

“I can still see her standing there after we dropped her off, a little mad I think that I wouldn’t go with her,” Margarita Campos told the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune a year later. “Someone who wasn’t as independent as Kristin wouldn’t have gone to a party alone.

“She kept saying, ‘You go with me.’ But I didn’t want to go. I told her, ‘You better be careful,’ and she said she would be fine. Then she said ‘Bye.’ ”

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Unrealistic Expectations

It can seem so easy on television, where the ubiquitous fictional detectives can solve complicated cases, bringing the perpetrators to justice and the victim’s family to “closure,” and all in less than an hour. Or, in a single segment, one of cable’s nightly cavalcade of crime show hosts dissects the latest murder of the moment, debriefs the secondhand experts, consoles the survivors and then, after a short break, is back to take on the next perp waiting in the dock of presumed guilt.

Expectations raised by television crime fighters can complicate things for real-world investigators: “Everybody wants an answer, right now,” said a law enforcement official who has worked on the Smart investigation. “And if you can’t give them an answer in 30 minutes, you are derelict in your duty.”

Sadly, there have been no 30-minute answers in the case of Kristin Smart. In her story, the forensic pieces do not snap neatly into place, the suspect refuses to fold in the interrogation room, and the family is left not with “closure” but with the vapor of conjecture, deprived even of a body to bury.

The party at 135 Crandall Way had all the trappings of a typical Friday night beer bust. There was a keg, a stereo system and about 60 revelers, some invited, many not. There even was, late in the festivities, a fistfight -- the traditional signal at such get-togethers for the scholars to stagger on home.

Tim Davis, a senior who helped stage the party, would tell investigators that he was shooing away the last stragglers about 2 a.m. when he spotted the tall girl who had been calling herself Roxie sprawled on a lawn next door, apparently passed out. He roused her. She complained that she was cold.

Roxie -- it was Kristin -- had been noticed at the party.

“Her demeanor was described as ‘weird,’ ” reported a private investigator who debriefed people who were there, “as if she was ‘on something.’ ”

She was, the investigator was told, “acting ‘flirtatious’ and ‘highly active.’ ”

“At one point,” went another investigative report, “she dragged a student into a bathroom.... Once inside the bathroom with the door closed, Kristen [sic] began looking at herself in the mirror and saying, ‘Am I ugly? Do you think I’m ugly? Am I ugly?’ all the while primping.”

She was seen kissing a basketball player. She was heard insisting that she must apologize to the basketball player. One student said she was drinking tequila. A detective had information that she was “chugging tumblers of Vodka.”

There were people at the party, however, who could not recall seeing Kristin with a drink. This has led her parents to wonder if she might have been slipped one of the date-rape drugs that were just beginning to infiltrate the California college scene.

The Crandall Way house is a 10-minute walk from the dormitories. Kristin, however, was in no condition to make the walk without help, and so Davis said he would do it.

Another woman who lived in the dorms said she would join him. Her name was Cheryl Anderson, and her escort had disappeared. She had seen Kristin around campus but did not know her.

Before they started out, yet another dorm resident appeared from “out of nowhere,” as Anderson later put it, and volunteered to join them. It was Paul Flores, a 19-year-old from the nearby town of Arroyo Grande.

Flores had been a mediocre student at Arroyo Grande High, with grades and SAT scores that would not seem to have made him Cal Poly material. Through a sort of good-neighbor policy, however, the university gives extra weight to applicants from the Central Coast.

In the fall quarter, Flores flunked English composition and math. He received a D in an introductory course in food sciences, his major. He did earn a unit of credit in a pass-fail course: bowling. Flores’ grades would not improve much in the next two quarters, and at 0.6, his freshman GPA barely showed a pulse.

His troubles were not confined to academics. In December, a female student summoned San Luis Obispo police at 1 a.m.; she 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.

Six weeks later, Flores was seen racing his pickup through a downtown intersection. A police cruiser followed him into a gas station. Flores’ speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot, the officer reported.

He talked the officer into letting him go inside the station to pay for his gas. The policeman watched through a window as Flores purchased a pack of chewing gum and stuffed “a large quantity in his mouth.” The gambit failed. Flores was ordered to spit out the gum and was given a breath test, which he flunked with a 0.13% blood-alcohol reading. He lost his license.

Those who knew Flores from the dorms or back in Arroyo Grande tended to describe him the same way to investigators or in legal depositions. He was, they said with remarkable uniformity, “annoying.” He would hit on their girlfriends. He could be obnoxious when drunk.

At 5 foot 10 and 170 pounds, Flores was not physically imposing. His face did have a certain boyish charm. But he was not popular, and whenever he boasted about a sexual conquest, those who knew him would scoff, convinced that he was still a virgin.

In the days after Kristin’s disappearance, before their son was named a suspect, Flores’ parents told investigators that when he was in high school they had bought a pool table, hoping to attract other students to their house.

“Paul had no friends,” they told a law enforcement source, who recounted the conversation. “And so they thought that” -- with the pool table -- “Paul at least would have somebody to talk to.”

At Cal Poly, Flores kept a small refrigerator in his room on the ground floor of Santa Lucia Hall: “And on weekend nights,” this source said, “he’d sit in his room and drink beer, get drunk and then go wander around the outskirts of campus, looking for parties.”

His behavior at these parties earned him a nickname among a set of women in the dorms, Anderson would later tell investigators. She and her friends, she said, would refer to him jokingly as “Chester the Molester.”

Flores had seemed “very quiet” at the Crandall Way party, one student who was there told investigators: " He did not talk to people at the party.” He shot a lot of pool, others recalled. He was shooed away from one cluster of partygoers, a witness said, after hitting on a girl in front of her boyfriend.

Davis told investigators that, “at one point, he heard a loud noise in the hallway and saw Paul Flores on top of Kristin Smart. He didn’t know if Flores had knocked Kristin Smart down on purpose or if it was an accident.”

They got up, Davis said, “and went their separate ways.”

After the party, Flores joined Davis, Anderson and Kristin as they set out for the dorms. As they entered the campus, Anderson told Davis, who lived in an opposite direction, that the three freshmen could make it the rest of the way on their own.

They turned up Perimeter Road, a wide, well-lighted boulevard that cuts through the campus proper. The college was especially quiet because of the three-day weekend. Anderson would not remember seeing anyone else on the walk.

In a deposition, Anderson testified that Kristin occasionally would stop. Flores, holding Kristin, would tell Anderson to “go ahead if you want.” She thought this was “a little strange” and waited for them to catch up.

She recalled that Kristin, still in her running shorts and T-shirt, had begun to shiver in the late-night chill. She could not remember her saying a single word.

The trio reached the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue. Anderson’s dorm was half a block south down Grand. Santa Lucia, Flores’ hall, was about 75 yards up Perimeter Road. Just behind it, perhaps 40 steps up a path, was Muir Hall, where Kristin lived.

In her deposition, with Stan and Denise Smart present in the room, Anderson tried to explain her decision to leave Kristin in Flores’ care for the final leg home:

“I said, ‘Will you walk her to her room?’ you know, ‘Will you take her back to her room?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said something about ‘Yes?’ and he said -- and I said, ‘If you won’t, I will do it. I will walk her to her room,’ you know.... I didn’t want to have to do it. But, you know, if he didn’t want to do it I was -- I was going to do it.”

Flores, Anderson said, promised he would see Kristin to her room. Then he asked Anderson for a kiss. She thought that was weird and declined. He asked for a hug; she turned him down again. She may or may not have shaken his hand.

Flores and Kristin then began to move slowly up Perimeter Road, their dorms in view. Anderson recalled that Flores, 3 inches shorter than Kristin, had his arm around her waist. Anderson turned for her dorm. She did not look back again.

Unresolved Issues

Stan Smart can be animated and amiable discussing his other children, or his pending retirement, or his backyard gardening. Yet when he talks about Kristin’s disappearance, he invariably will slip into a deliberate, muted monotone -- a father’s tool for controlling emotions that have been run through the most hellish tests.

“Nothing really has changed,” he said one Sunday afternoon in early May, slipping into this flat, almost detached speech pattern. “I mean, I still have a lot of anger about the situation. And my wife is a bit of an emotional wreck at times. And it hasn’t been resolved. We haven’t really resolved the issues as to where our daughter is, and what happened to her.”

Kristin’s body -- a judge has declared her legally dead -- has not been found despite a decade of searches and sizable rewards seeking information. No arrests have been made, although early on investigators settled on Flores as their only suspect. That remains unchanged.

“He is still an active suspect,” said Sgt. Brian Hascall, a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County sheriff. “He has not been eliminated.”

Hascall described the case as “open and active. We have never inactivated this case. We have never taken our eyes off the ball, so to speak.”

From the Smarts’ perspective, the case is neither open nor active. They complain that law enforcement officials have all but stopped sharing meaningful information with them, leaving the parents to wonder just how much time investigators actually spend on the lingering riddle of their daughter.

“They’ve put it on the shelf,” Stan Smart said.

Investigators, in turn, maintain that early leaks to the media and the Smarts’ more recent relationship with an amateur sleuth who operates a website devoted to the case, have forced them to limit what they pass along.

Whatever, it is clear that the Smarts were uncomfortable with the investigation almost from the start. Convinced that something terrible had happened, they ran headlong into a campus police department that did not consider it all that unusual for a 19-year-old freshman to disappear for a weekend -- even though she’d left her identification, prescription medicine, cosmetics and all her clothes in her dorm room.

In fact, the department declined to take a missing persons report when a dorm neighbor of Kristin’s contacted them two days after the party. It was only when this first-year student persisted, calling both the Smarts and the San Luis Obispo Police Department, that campus police opened a file.

The first field report, filed by a campus patrol officer a week after Kristin had vanished, concluded with an “Officer Observations” paragraph: “Smart does not have any close friends at Cal Poly. Smart appeared to be under the influence of alcohol on Friday night. Smart was talking with and socializing with several different males at the party. Smart lives her life in her own way, not conforming to typical teenage behavior.”

Only in the final sentence did the officer tack on a disclaimer: “These observations are in no way implying that her behavior caused her disappearance, but they provide a picture of her conduct on the night of her disappearance.”

And so it is perhaps understandable that the Smarts felt driven to insert themselves into the investigation. They forwarded suggestions from Napa police detectives whom Stan Smart knew from his work in the schools there. They brought lawyers onboard, befriended FBI agents, reached out for help to a state senator (who later would sponsor legislation, named after Kristin Smart, requiring campus police departments to promptly report missing students.)

While Denise Smart stayed in Stockton -- “They told me,” she said, “to stay by the phone for when she called” -- her husband all but moved to San Luis Obispo, where for months he would pursue every lead that came his way.

When two San Luis Obispo women, claiming to have psychic instincts, called to tell him that Kristin could be found at a specific spot in the hills behind campus, he climbed there on a 100-degree day and came back down with only disappointment.

When a self-described dowser, or water witch, told Smart that he had identified Kristin’s whereabouts by dangling a weight on a string over a map, and that she was alive and living at Lake Tahoe, he jumped in his car and tore north.

When that didn’t pan out, the map was reconsulted, and Stan Smart was dispatched to a remote stretch of Nevada highway. And then to a public hospital in San Luis Obispo, where Stan was told Kristin had just checked herself in.

“And so I spoke to the head nurse and another person” -- that monotone again. “And I said, ‘Look on your list for a tall, blond woman who checked in today.’ And they said, ‘We haven’t had anybody like that come in.’ They gave me this look. They said, ‘Mr. Smart, we feel very sorry for you. But she is not here.’

“They thought I had gone over the edge psychologically.”

Here the father paused for a moment.

“She didn’t survive,” he said, his voice flatter than ever. “And that basically is what it comes down to.”

The D.A. Gets Involved

Although the initial response seemed amateurish to the Smarts, two veteran investigators from the district attorney’s office, in fact, had been called in to assist the campus police, which maintained jurisdiction on the case. And they quickly focused all their attention on Flores.

They spent hours with him every day for more than a week, retracing his route home the night of the party, revisiting his initial account to Cal Poly officers, trying to build a rapport even as they chipped away at his alibi.

There were inconsistencies. He had received a black eye, the result, he told campus police, of an elbow he took in a pickup basketball game the Monday after the party. The district attorney’s investigators tracked down a friend of Flores who swore the black eye had been there Sunday, the day before the game.

“Did you get rat-packed at the party?” this friend told investigators he had asked Flores.

“I don’t know how I got the black eye,” he said, quoting Flores. “I just woke up with it.”

In his first interview with campus police, Flores said he had watched Kristin walk up the path toward her dormitory before he entered his hall. Investigators said his roommate, who had been away for the weekend, was told by Flores that “he walked the missing person home and then came back to his room.”

The roommate, according to a police report, “said he did joke with Flores about the case and asked Flores what he did” with Kristin. “Flores told him, ‘She’s home with my parents.’ ”

This “joke,” as the police report characterized it, would seem less than funny to the Smarts and their supporters, who have received and passed along to police anonymous tips about a patch of concrete being poured in the backyard of an Arroyo Grande residence owned by the Flores family after Kristin disappeared.

Initially, Flores agreed to submit to a polygraph test. When prodded, he kept putting it off. Finally, the district attorney’s investigators picked up Flores and told him it was time for the test.

“He turned white,” is how these detectives, who would not comment for this article, described Flores’ reaction to others.

Flores was taken to a conference room at the Arroyo Grande police station. He still balked at a lie detector test but did agree to an interview. The 90-minute session was videotaped.

Bluffing, the investigators suggested to Flores that they knew he had taken a shower that night, instead of going straight to bed, as he first claimed. He admitted that, yes, he had gone into a communal shower about 5 a.m. after becoming sick.

He also admitted to lying about the black eye, not wanting to “sound stupid.” In truth, he said, he had whacked himself while working on a truck parked at his father’s house.

What was most striking about the interview, say those familiar with the tape, was Flores’ body language. As the investigators pressed him, pointing out that Kristin had last been seen with him, he pulled his arms into his T-shirt, scrunched over at the waist in his chair and lifted his feet off the floor, as if moving toward a fetal position.

It seemed, Smart’s lawyers have been told, that “he was going to give it up.”

He didn’t. Instead, he called the investigators’ bluff.

“If you are so smart,” he demanded, “then tell me where the body is.”

They had a theory, but no body. So they didn’t answer. Flores headed for the door. Shortly thereafter, his mother found him a lawyer.

There would be some intriguing developments in the early investigation. A team of cadaver dogs, trained to react to wherever a dead body has been, were brought into Santa Lucia Hall.

The dogs were taken one by one through the dormitory by handlers who had been given no case particulars. All three were drawn to the door of what had been Flores’ room, barking and scratching to be allowed in.

“She about like broke her neck,” is how one handler described her dog’s response to Room 128. Once inside, each of the dogs would make their way to a corner of what had been Flores’ bed.

Investigators were impressed but said dogs “can’t testify in court.” And when handlers do, their testimony can be countered by opposing experts who poke away at the scientific uncertainties about why cadaver dogs react as they do.

There were searches of the Arroyo Grande residences of Flores’ separated parents, Ruben and Susan Flores. A scan with ground-penetrating radar of Susan Flores’ backyard produced one anomalous reading under a concrete slab, the Smarts have been told, but the detectives apparently did not believe it merited a follow-up look.

An earring that seemed to resemble one Kristin had been pictured wearing turned up in a Flores driveway, but it was misplaced by a sheriff’s detective before it could be examined.

In the end, the black eye and bad body language and barking dogs, the radar anomalies and lost earring never added up, in the view of those who would make the decision, to a case that supported an arrest. On the one-year anniversary of Kristin’s disappearance, the sheriff of San Luis Obispo County, whose department had come aboard at Cal Poly’s request about a month into the investigation, made a rather staggering admission.

“We need Paul Flores to tell us what happened to Kristin Smart,” then-Sheriff Ed Williams told the San Luis Obispo Tribune, as the newspaper is now called. “The fact of the matter is we have very qualified detectives who have conducted well over a hundred interviews, and everything leads to Mr. Flores. There are no other suspects. So absent something from Mr. Flores, I don’t see us completing this case.”

Even a student with an 0.6 grade-point average could grasp the implications of the sheriff’s remarks.

Pleading the 5th

Flores invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before a grand jury. He followed the same course in a deposition conducted by the Smarts’ attorneys. He rejected a deal that had been put together in conversations between the district attorney and his lawyer.

The terms required Flores to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, reveal what happened to Kristin and lead authorities to her body. In exchange, he would receive a six-year sentence and the Smarts would agree not go after him in civil court.

The Smarts, in fact, have filed a wrongful-death suit, but it has been stalled by the refusal of law enforcement officials to turn over evidence gathered in an active case. In response to the lawsuit, Flores has denied “both generally and specifically each and every allegation” raised against him.

If silence has kept Flores free, as the Smarts maintain, it has been a troubled freedom. He has lost numerous entry-level jobs and was turned down when he tried to join the Navy. He has left Arroyo Grande and now lives in Lawndale, where he occupies a back house behind a back house in a neighborhood of small stucco homes and large, barking dogs.

The drinking does not seem to have stopped. Two weeks before last Christmas, Flores was stopped for driving in excess of 50 mph on residential streets. A test put his blood-alcohol level at 0.08%. It was his third drunk driving arrest since Kristin Smart disappeared.

And so in late May, while the Smarts were in Arroyo Grande preparing for a “fun run” in honor of their daughter, Flores was huddled with his parents in the cafeteria of a Torrance courthouse, waiting for a court appearance in his latest DUI case.

Flores, dressed in corduroy pants, a sports shirt and scuffed walking shoes, sat at the corner of a table with his back to the door, one shoulder wedged against a wall. His face was pale, his fingernails overgrown.

His mother sat close beside him, almost like a shield. Across the table his father, a stocky man with silver hair, kept his head on a swivel: More than once, a courtroom appearance by Flores has brought out advocates of the Smart family, or private investigators, or the media.

Ruben Flores locked on a reporter as he walked toward the table. The reporter sat down and in a rush tried to explain that he would like to hear what they had to say about Kristin Smart and all the accusations.

“No,” Paul Flores said emphatically, maintaining eye contact only for a moment before looking down at the table.

Ruben Flores said he had found a note that the reporter had left at his house: “We don’t want to talk. No, thank you.”

Susan Flores, her face flushed, dug through her black leather purse and pulled out a pile of small pieces of paper. Here, she said, peeling one sheet from the deck, “print this.” Typed in stacked and centered lines was the following:

“A long time ago we chose to

“Handle our legal matters in a

“Court of Law

“Not in the

“Media Court of Public Opinion.”

The Strongest Theory

Many theories have bubbled up over time in the case, and to spend a few weeks on the Central Coast is to hear them all: Kristin is buried somewhere in Arroyo Grande, right under everybody’s nose. She was hauled off in a Cal Poly food cart that was stolen the night she disappeared, entombed under a water pipeline under construction at the time. Paul Flores had help. Didn’t Scott Peterson attend Cal Poly about 10 years ago?

Then there is this version, laid out by someone from law enforcement who once worked the case and knows it well: It has been the strongest working theory all along.

Flores, this person said, speaking on condition of anonymity, must have taken Kristin to his room: “We know that she never got back to her dorm room. Her roommate was there. And his roommate was gone. He wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. He was more like a kid in the candy store.”

But something went terribly wrong. Perhaps there was a struggle, which would explain the black eye.

“It’s also a possibility that she regurgitated on her own vomit and died,” the source went on. “It could have happened when he was in the shower. In any case, he panics and decides to hide the body.”

This narrator discounts various theories that involve Kristin’s body being conveyed off campus or buried somewhere near the dorms by Flores. It was growing too close to dawn. Toting a 6-foot-1 body across campus undetected “would have been next to impossible.”

The large, rectangular window of Flores’ ground floor room, however, opens on a service driveway. The driveway runs between the dorm and a tree-covered rise, obscuring it from view.

At the driveway’s end, 30 paces from Flores’ room, sit two dumpsters. At that time of the year they would have been filled with the flotsam of freshmen preparing to decamp from the dorms for good.

“So he rolls her up in a blanket and carries her out.” He could have bumped his eye in the process, pulling his awkward load through the window, perhaps. He deposits Kristin in one of the dumpsters and “puts some stuff over her to hide her.”

The garbage truck arrives, as it almost always does on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. It rolls down the short driveway. The driver, still in his seat, grabs the dumpsters with the truck’s prongs and flips them over the top one by one, dropping their contents, unseen, into the bed.

“And then it’s off to the dump.... “

Several days after the disappearance, a dig for Kristin’s remains was conducted by searchers at the Cold Canyon Landfill, where Cal Poly trash is taken. Workers burrowed 18 feet down and began to find copies of the Mustang Daily and other school documents from the last week of May 1996.

The dig ended, however, without producing any sign of Kristin Denise Smart. There are those in law enforcement who insist the search was thorough. There are others who say it was cut short a day or two because of bureaucratic complications.

Whatever, it’s moot. Ten years and some 3 million cubic yards of refuse later, the area of landfill where the digging occurred is now buried within a sealed, 490-foot mountain of compressed garbage and soil. People in the landfill business say that to return now would be pointless.


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