Last week, I wrote this story about how the 25-year-old “disappearance” of Kristin Smart — a 19-year-old student who disappeared from the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the early morning hours of May 25, 1996 — was solved in large measure by a podcast called “Your Own Backyard,” which detailed the events of the night of her disappearance, and the decades of poor law enforcement efforts to charge fellow student Paul Flores in connection with her presumed murder. Flores was the last person to see her alive and told a series of fantastical stories about his actions that night and the following day.
It has long been clear that Flores’ family knew that Flores killed Smart, and they participated in a 25-year-long effort to keep that fact hidden. Rueben Flores, the father of Paul Flores, was also charged in connection with Smart’s murder as an accessory after the fact. It is alleged that the father and son hid Smart’s body — and likely moved her remains multiple times over the years — in order to prevent it from being discovered by law enforcement.
As long as her body was never found, and in some manner linked to Paul Flores, the police lacked any substantive evidence connecting Paul Flores to her disappearance, beyond the fact that he was the last person seen with her. The evidence suggesting Paul Flores was her killer was completely circumstantial, and he and his family were able to “get their stories straight” when they came under law enforcement scrutiny.
There were two significant developments this past week in two different court proceedings connected to Flores’ prosecution for Smart’s murder.
First, as part of proceedings over whether to grant bail to Paul Flores, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney told the Court that it has evidence of numerous rapes and sexual assaults committed by Paul Flores over the more than two decades since he moved from the California Central Coast down to San Pedro in the greater Los Angeles area. The prosecutor described Flores as a “serial rapist.” I strongly suspect we will see new charges filed against Flores in the weeks ahead — likely once all the DNA testing that is clearly underway now is completed and all the results are sent to the San Luis Obispo County DA’s office. It could also turn out to be the case that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office decides to keep those charges for a later prosecution in Los Angeles after the prosecution for Smart’s murder is over.
The “Your Own Backyard” podcast goes into extensive detail about Flores’ history going back to high school and covers what might be benignly described as his life-long “social awkwardness” in trying to interact with girls and young women. He earned the nickname in high school “Creepy Paul” so you can imagine the kind of stories recounted by people interviewed who knew him in high school.
The podcast also recounts a series of “aggressive” encounters by Flores with various female co-workers who crossed his path for nearly twenty years, including instances of forcing himself upon them and locking one inside a darkened apartment and demanding sex before finally agreeing to let her go when she threatened to scream.
In fact, based on the story told by one person who had attended the same party at a Cal Poly frat house as Smart and Flores on the night Smart disappeared, it was probably an incident of sexual “frustration” that led to the deadly encounter between Smart and Flores.
The individual described a somewhat intoxicated Smart — whom he did not know — approaching him and kissing him in an aggressive way before taking him by hand and pulling him inside a bathroom where she locked the door. But the individual said nothing happened between them inside the bathroom, and he got the impression that she was really just trying to get the attention of another male partygoer she was interested in by making him jealous. Smart was a very attractive 6’1″ blond who loved the water and spent a lot of time in the ocean.
The man said that not long after they came out of the bathroom, he was approached by Flores — whom he did not know — and Flores said to him “I want to do what you just did in the bathroom with her.” The individual thought Flores was acting weird, didn’t say anything to him, and just walked away. The individual tried to flirt with Smart again later in the party, but it was clear to him that she was interested in someone else who was there. He left the party not long after, and never saw Smart or Flores again.
The murder charge filed against Flores alleges that he murdered Smart after raping her or after attempting to rape her. It might turn out that Smart was the first of many rape victims of Paul Flores.
A second development is that Kristen Smart’s parents have filed a civil lawsuit against Rueben Flores for causing emotional distress by repeatedly relocating her remains so as to prevent law enforcement from ever finding them and returning them to the parents for burial.
To understand this claim better, it is important to know that there were two houses of interest during the investigation in the summer of 1996, and thereafter, with respect to being the possible location where Smart’s remains might have been hidden. There was the Flores family home on White Court in Arroyo Grande, California, and the house on Branch Street in Arroyo Grande.
The Branch Street home was a rental property, but the police did not realize that in the summer of 1996, Flores’ mother, Susan Flores, was living in the Branch Street home to escape a difficult marital situation with Paul Flores. The police efforts directed at finding evidence connecting Paul Flores to Smart’s disappearance all focused on the White Court home where Rueben Flores lived, but a search warrant at that property in 1996 turned up little of value.
But in the summer of 1996, while Susan Flores was spending most of her time living in the Branch Street house, extensive work was done in the backyard, covering nearly the entirety of the back yard with concrete that connected it to the concrete driveway along the side of the house. Later a garage was built onto the house, covering much of the area of the newly poured concrete.
But the police were not aware of the house, that Susan Flores was living there, or that Paul Flores sometimes spent time living there too. I would encourage anyone interested in knowing more about this to take the time to listen to the podcast, which goes into great detail about extremely curious facts relating to the Branch Street house, and the multiple missteps of law enforcement which led to an effective search of that property never took place after they became aware of its significance to the investigation.
The civil suit filed against Rueben Flores makes some factual claims that are not included in the podcast, and can only be based on information that made its way to the Smart family’s attorneys from witnesses or from law enforcement.
On February 5, 2020, after the podcast had aired its 7th episode, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office obtained a new search warrant for the White Court home where Rueben Flores still lives. Based on the warrant, they excavated a particular location on the property, ostensibly looking for Smart’s remains.
The lawsuit alleges that on February 9, 2020, Rueben Flores was assisted by two other individuals — not yet named — in removing Smart’s remains from a different location on the property. It could be that the two other people were Paul Flores and Susan Flores, but there wouldn’t seem to be any reason to not name them now. The lawsuit alleges that this removal took place at night under the cover of darkness, and was done out of fear that the police would return to the property again with another search warrant to continue their search. The lawsuit alleges that the remains were taken to another location in San Luis Obispo County where they would not be found. The lawsuit alleges that the Sheriff’s Office returned with another search warrant earlier this year, and documented the fact that another location had been recently excavated and dirt placed back into the hole.
As I noted in my earlier story, at the press conference announcing the arrest and charging of Paul Flores, the Sheriff stated that law enforcement had received warrants to monitor communications between members of the Flores family. When that monitoring began was not mentioned. But monitoring of communications would also allow tracking of the locations of cell phones.
I’m going to continue tracking the progress of the prosecution of Paul Flores and will post updates here periodically.