Details of Disappearance
Kristin was a freshman architecture major at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, California in 1996. She departed from an off-campus party and headed for her dormitory at approximately 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. on May 25, 1996. She was apparently under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time; she passed out on the lawn and after someone roused her, she was having trouble walking.
Kristin was accompanied by a female acquaintance and another student from the university, Paul Ruben Flores, when she left the party. He was a food science major at Cal Poly in 1996. Kristin apparently met Paul at the party earlier in the evening.
Her friend separated from Smart and Paul at the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue on the college campus. Paul allegedly told Kristin's friend that he would see Smart to her home. She was last seen walking north on Grand Avenue with Paul, towards Muir Hall, her dormitory.
Kristin has never been heard from again. She was not carrying any identification, cash or personal belongings at the time she vanished. When questioned about Kristin's whereabouts by authorities, Paul claimed that he continued walking to his own dormitory and last saw Kristin on Grand Avenue shortly after her other friend departed.
Kristin's roommate contacted police later in the morning of May 25, worried because Kristin had not returned to her dormitory. The roommate had been at the room the night Kristin was last seen, and never saw her get back home. Her clothing, toiletries, cosmetics, medicine and identification were left undisturbed in her room; there is no evidence that she made it back there.
Paul was reportedly seen with a black eye later in the day on May 25. He told several different stories to law enforcement regarding how he received his injury. At one time he claimed he had hurt his eye playing basketball with a friend, but the friend told authorities Paul had had the bruise when he arrived at the game.
When confronted with the lie, Paul changed his story and told police he had hurt his eye while working on a truck at his father's home. He allegedly told another friend that he did not know how he got the black eye and that he "just woke up with it."
Authorities refused to take the missing persons report for four days, because Kristin disappeared on Memorial Day weekend and college students often take impromptu vacations at that time. Kristin's parents have criticized authorities for not getting involved in the case sooner, saying they probably lost valuable evidence because of it. Police admit the delay hampered the investigation.
Paul dropped out of Cal Poly shortly after Smart disappeared. He had been making very poor grades and was in danger of failing out of the university, and he had also gotten arrested for driving while intoxicated and lost his driver's license.
He removed his belongings from his dormitory room at Santa Lucia Hall prior to a search of the premises by law enforcement. Cadaver dogs utilized by authorities led them to Paul's mattress in his former room during the investigation, but no additional evidence was located at the time.
Investigators repeatedly questioned Paul regarding Kristin's case since 1996, but he has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer. They offered him a plea deal where he would plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reveal the location of Kristin's body in exchange for a six-year prison term, but he refused the offer.
The Smart family persisted in their efforts to get investigators to come up with evidence against Paul. A friend of the Smarts, Dennis Mahon, published a website which gave Paul's address and tracked him whenever he changed residence. The Flores family got a restraining order against him and he was jailed at least once for violating it.
In 2005, Paul's mother and her boyfriend sued Kristin's parents and Mahon, alleging harassment, severe emotional distress and lost income as a result of their behavior.
Kristin's family held a memorial service for her in May 2001, and again in June 2003. She was declared dead in May 2002. Her family attempted to pursue a civil suit against Paul for Kristin's wrongful death, but dropped the case in 1996 after Paul pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights during the proceedings.
Paul has been charged with drunk driving multiple times since Kristin disappeared, in addition to the charge from before she vanished. As of 2021, he has five convictions for drunk driving in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and one conviction for being drunk in public.
People who knew him while he was a student at Cal Poly, and afterward, stated Paul drank heavily and had a tendency to become loud and obnoxious when intoxicated. His nickname at Cal Poly was "Chester the Molester" due to his sexually aggressive behavior towards women. In 1998, he was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, but he wasn't prosecuted.
In 2003, suggestions were made that Scott Peterson might be linked to Smart. Scott Peterson's wife, Laci, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002, and her torso was found in the Pacific Ocean in April 2003. Scott was later convicted of murdering her. Both Laci and Scott had attended Cal Poly; they were seniors at the school when Kristin disappeared.
Police investigated possible ties between Scott and Kristin and announced that there was nothing to link him to Kristin's disappearance.
In April 2021, nearly twenty-five years after Kristin disappeared, authorities arrested Paul and his father, Ruben, in her case. Paul was charged with murder and Ruben was charged with being an accessory. Authorities believe Paul killed Kristin during a rape or rape attempt in his dormitory room on the night of her disappearance, and that Ruben helped his son hide her body after the killing. Photos of both Paul and Ruben are posted with this case summary.
Authorities believe Kristin's body was buried at Ruben's home in Arroyo Grande, California, but was moved "recently". When they dug at Ruben's residence, they found a patch of disturbed soil under the deck, consistent with a shallow grave.
A cadaver-sniffing dog "showed a subtle change in behavior" at that site. The soil had traces of blood in it, but investigators were unable to get DNA from it. There were also fibers of various colors in the soil, matching the colors of the clothing Kristin was last seen wearing.
A man who rented a room at Ruben's home for ten years said Ruben had spoken to him about Smart and called her a "dirty slut." The tenant said the access door leading under the house was always padlocked and in the decade he lived there, he never saw Ruben open the door. Authorities also stated that in about 2014, when there was a leak in Ruben's kitchen, he refused to let a plumber go under the deck to repair it.
A neighbor of Ruben's stated that in February 2020, she saw Ruben and his ex-wife, Paul's mother Susan Flores, and Susan's boyfriend, Mike McConville, trying to back an enclosed travel trailer up to the back of Ruben's house near the deck.
The next day the neighbor saw Susan and McConville at Ruben's house again, something that struck her as odd, since she knew they lived nearby and she had never seen them spend the night at Ruben's house before. The neighbor said she had never seen trailers at Ruben's house before or since, and never saw Susan or McConville spend the night there after that one instance.
When they searched Paul's home, police found rape-themed pornography, homemade videos showing Paul having sex with women who appeared to be drifting in and out of consciousness, and two prescription medications that could be used as "date rape" drugs.
More than two dozen women have made allegations of sexual misconduct against him, dating back to the late 1990s. Four of these women claim they were drugged and raped after meeting Paul at bars or at his home. Investigators believe he enjoys drugging and sexually assaulting women.
The Floreses, father and son, were tried in the autumn of 2022. In October 2022, Ruben was acquitted of all charges, but Paul was convicted. He faces 25 years to life in prison at sentencing.
Kristin is described as friendly and generous. She was a competitive swimmer and had traveled to many places, including Hawaii and South America, prior to her disappearance. She had originally enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but transferred to Cal Poly early in her freshman year.
Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.