SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (KRON) – Authorities on Tuesday announced they have arrested the “prime suspect” in the 25-year-old disappearance of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart.
Paul Flores, 44, who was the last person seen with Smart on the California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo before she vanished in 1996, was taken into custody in the Los Angeles area.
His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested as an accessory at his Arroyo Grande home, where sheriff’s investigators conducted their latest search for evidence.
San Luis Obispo jail records showed Paul Flores was booked on a murder charge.
Ruben Flores was booked on suspicion of accessory after a felony, according to jail records.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said search warrants were sealed so he could not disclose what evidence led to the arrests, but he said Smart’s remains were not found.
“We have not recovered Kristin,” he told a news conference. “We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action.”
Authorities said physical evidence recovered from searches at both homes is what led to the arrests of both men.
Authorities could not disclose what was found when the search warrants were served at both homes, but confirmed that forensic physical evidence was found believed to be linked to Smart.
In late 2016, authorities discovered additional evidence that confirmed Paul Flores was the suspect in Smart’s disappearance.
In 2019, authorities interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed; as a result, new evidence came to light through a popular podcast.
With that evidence, sheriff’s detectives were able to secure a court order authorizing the interception and monitoring of Paul Flores’ cell phone nad text messages.
“This is one of the many things that have been done over the last 10 years,” Sheriff Parkinson added.
In February of 2020, detectives served search warrants at the home of Paul Flores, as well as his sister, mother, and father all simultaneously last year.
Physical evidence recovered during those searches led to the service of additional search warrants at Paul Flores’ residence in April of last year.
During that search warrant, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder of Smart.
In March of this year, a search warrant served at the home of Paul Flores’ father, Ruben. Additional evidence related to the Smart investigation was discovered at that time, according to Sheriff Parkinson.
Paul Flores is being held on 0 bail – meaning he is unable to bail.
Ruben Flores’ bail is set at $250,000.
Authorities said they are still in the process of executing search warrants and it could take the rest of Tuesday into Wednesday to complete.
Because of due process and the sealed search warrants, authorities couldn’t discuss further details on the evidence found.
According to Sheriff Parkinson, over 41 search warrants have been served related to this case, and 37 items of evidence from the early days of this case has been submitted for modern DNA testing.
A total of 193 items of new physical evidence have also been recovered, and approximately 137 person-to-person interviews have been conducted.
500 additional police reports have been filed, officials said.
“It’s my hope that we’re able to take the first step toward justice for the Smart family. Peace for the community, some justice out there for all of us and most especially for Kristin,” Sheriff Parkinson said. “I have spoken to the Smart family numerous times, including this morning. I think they feel a bit of relief but as you can imagine, until we return Kristin to them, this is not over. We have committed to them that we will not stop until Kristin has bene recovered, no matter what the cost, no matter what the time.”
“We will find Kristin,” he said.
Smart, a 19-year-old from Stockton who was a freshman student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was last seen May 25, 1996 while returning to her dorm after an off-campus party.
Smart was legally declared dead in 2002, but her remains have yet to be found.
Paul Flores has remained mum through the years, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions before a grand jury and in a deposition for a lawsuit that was brought against him.
He was arrested in February on a weapons charge and released on bond.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.