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The key suspect in the 1996 cold case disappearance of Kristin Smart has been arrested on a murder charge in southern California, while his father was simultaneously arrested on an accessory charge, the San Luis Obispo County sheriff confirmed on Tuesday.
Paul Flores, 44, was taken into custody on Tuesday morning in San Pedro, California, records show. He was the last person to see Smart alive and for years has been eyed by detectives in the case; he has denied any involvement in Smart’s disappearance.
Paul Flores is being held without bail and is set to be arraigned on Thursday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference held at California Polytechnic State University.
His father, Ruben Flores, was also taken into custody at his home in Arroyo Grande this morning on an accessory charge. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's officials served another search warrant at the Arroyo Grande property this morning, Parkinson said. Online jail records indicate that the 80-year-old was taken in just before 10 a.m. Tuesday and is being held at the San Luis Obispo County jail. His bail is set at $250,000, jail records show.
On May 25, 1996, Kristin Smart, a freshman at California Polytechnic State University, left an off-campus fraternity party near the school, which is located in San Luis Obispo. Paul Flores allegedly offered to walk her home and was the last person to see the 19-year-old alive, according to witnesses. Smart was declared legally dead in 2002, though her body has never been found.
Parkinson said on Tuesday that 18 sites have been dug up as the search for her remains continues.
“We’re going to keep digging until we find her,” he said.
Paul Flores has never officially been charged in her disappearance and has always maintained his innocence. In February, he was arrested on a weapons charge related to a search warrant executed in the Smart case.
The Smart family has filed a number of civil suits against Flores in the years since the teenager’s mysterious disappearance, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
On Tuesday afternoon, Parkinson confirmed that those searches led to the discovery of physical evidence, which then led investigators to seek an additional search warrant for Paul Flores’s home, where evidence related to the murder was discovered, he said.
As a result of these searches, a judge signed two arrest warrants and two search warrants, which were executed today. Investigators were still executing the warrants on Tuesday afternoon; Parkinson said that the searches may continue into Wednesday, depending on what is found.
After the sheriff's press conference, the Smart family released a statement commending officers involved in the decades-long investigation and expressing the pain they felt after today's arrests.
"The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain," the family said in their lengthy statement.
Parkinson also mentioned that Chris Lambert’s podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” brought renewed interest to the investigation.
“He took a local story and expanded it into an international story," Parkinson told reporters. "Once that message got out, we started getting more information... there are a lot of people that are students here that are not from San Luis Obispo. When they graduate, a lot of them will leave, and so they’re dispersed all over the country. That message gets out to the nation, and those people that used to live here at the time might remember something.”
Parkinson said that the case has been handed over to the local district attorney’s office, which will announce charges soon.
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