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Kristin Smart, the California college student who vanished nearly 25 years ago after leaving a college party, was killed during a rape or attempted rape by a fellow student, prosecutors allege.
Dan Dow, San Luis Obispo County district attorney, announced first-degree murder charges against Paul Flores, 44, at a press conference Wednesday.
Flores was the last known person to see Smart alive and had been walking her home the night she disappeared on May 25, 1996.
“It is alleged that Mr. Flores caused the death of Kristin Smart while in the commission of or attempted rape, that is first-degree murder under California law,” Dow said.
Smart’s body was never found but Dow said authorities were able to make the arrest Tuesday after “significant new information” came into the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office — finally giving authorities the evidence they needed to make the arrest of a man long at the center of the investigation.
“These charges mark a major milestone,” Dow said. “For more than two decades, three sheriffs and three district attorneys and countless investigators have worked to bring justice to Kristin Smart.”
Dow declined to provide details about the evidence authorities had gathered in the case, but did say that prosecutors believe they “have enough evidence to move forward and prosecute” the case after independently reviewing the evidence gathered by authorities.
Officials believe the crime was likely carried out in Flores’ dorm room.
“The last place where Kristin was seen was close to the dorms and near Mr. Flores’ dorms,” Dow said. “We certainly believe that Mr. Flores’ dorm was a crime scene.”
Flores' 80-year-old father Ruben Flores has been charged with accessory after the fact after prosecutors said he “helped to conceal Kristin’s body after the murder was committed,” authorities said.
While the location of her remains has remained a mystery for decades, Dow said that authorities now believe they may know the location where she is buried.
Even without a body, Dow said his office believes they have the evidence to prove Smart was murdered.
“They are complicated, they are difficult but we don’t make a decision to file unless we believe we can prove the case,” he said of similar cases without a body.
Investigators are now asking the public for help to locate other potential victims of Flores, who may have interacted with him in the years before or after Smart’s death.
“We have evidence that we do believe there are other people who are not yet identified that have had… some kind of criminal act perpetrated on them by Mr. Flores,” Dow said, adding that Flores was known to frequent bars in the San Pedro area and Los Angeles County from 2005 to the present.
In 2017, four women told the Daily Beast that Flores had sexually assaulted them—one of whom said she’d already spoken to investigators about her case.
The women’s accounts paint a disturbing portrayal of Flores, who allegedly roofied and raped one woman who was a 15-year-old high school sophomore at the time, two years before Smart disappeared, according to her account.
The woman, who met Flores after he offered to give her rides to and from their high school, said she went with him to one of his friend's homes to hang out, but the night took an unexpected turn after she was handed a drink.
“I drank this drink and I don’t know what it was but let me tell you something the next thing you know I was passed out,” recalled the woman, who was referred to in the article by the pseudonym “Jane.”
Jane said she remembered regaining consciousness and finding Flores on top of her, having sex with her, before she blacked out again. Then Flores and the other teen helped her home as she vomited and struggled to walk, knocking loudly on her door and leaving the sick teen on the doorstep before running away.
Jane reported the alleged assault to the Arroyo Grande police but Flores told authorities she had willingly gotten drunk and had consensual sex and he was never charged in connection to the incident.
Another woman recalled Flores following her at college parties, grabbing her crotch at a 1995 Halloween celebration and kicking down the bathroom door at another party and allegedly manhandling and threatening to rape her before she escaped the tiny bathroom.
Dow said they “intend to use evidence of other sexual crimes” in Flores’ prosecution and urged anyone else who might have come in contact with Flores to reach out to authorities.
“We would ask that anybody that may have had an experience with him that they have questions about to reach out and contact law enforcement,” he said.
Flores and his father were both expected to be arraigned Thursday.
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