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Paul Flores, Father Both Arrested In 1996 Disappearance Of Kristin Smart

SAN LUIS OBISPO (CBSLA) – Authorities have arrested a San Pedro man in connection with the 1996 San Luis Obispo disappearance of 19-year-old Kristin Smart.

FBI Searches San Pedro Home In Connection With 1996 Disappearance Of Kristin Smart
An undated photo of 19-year-old Kristin Smart, who disappeared in May of 1996 while a student at California Polytechnic State University. (CBS News)

Forty-four-year-old Paul Flores was taken into custody Tuesday in San Pedro on suspicion of murder, authorities said.

His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, was also booked Tuesday morning in San Luis Obispo on felony suspicion of accessory after the fact, according to San Luis Obispo County jail records.

CBSLA cameras caught footage of investigators searching Flores' San Pedro home Tuesday morning.

In May of 1996, Smart of Stockton disappeared while a freshman at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She was last seen leaving an off-campus party. Her body has never been found.

Flores, who has been the prime suspect in the case for decades, was a fellow student at Cal Poly at the time of her disappearance and is believed to be the last person to see her alive.

Over the last decade, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office has served 41 warrants and performed physical searches at more than a dozen locations in an attempt to solve the case. The numerous searches, however, have not yet led authorities to Smart's remains.

San Pedro Man Arrested In 1996 Disappearance Of Kristin Smart
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office investigators search a home in San Pedro, Calif., in connection with the disappearance of 19-year-old Kristin Smart. April 13, 2021. (CBSLA)

"We have not recovered Kristin," San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a news briefing Tuesday following Flores' arrest. "We will continue to focus on finding her remains, regardless of any court action. So we will continue the process of finding out where Kristin is."

In February of 2020, and again in April of 2020, detectives raided Flores' San Pedro home.

He was arrested in February on an unrelated weapons charge. He was released on bail at the time.

In mid-March, authorities served a search warrant at the San Luis Obispo County home of his father, Ruben, using cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar.

On Tuesday, a green forensic tent could be seen in the yard of Ruben's home, where Parkinson said physical evidence believed to be linked to Smart's disappearance was located. He said evidence was also found at Paul's home.

Parkinson, acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the case, confirmed that the most recent investigation uncovered forensic and physical evidence from at least two homes that linked the younger Flores to Smart.

He also credited the "Your Own Backyard" podcast by Chris Lambert for helping uncover new information.

"This day is long overdue, and I'm really glad it's come," Lambert told CBSLA.

Over the course of producing his eight-episode podcast, he not only became an expert on Smart's disappearance, but developed a friendship with her family.

"Today, I've checked in with them multiple times to make sure they are doing OK," Lambert said.

Lambert said the news brought up a mix of emotions for Smart's loved ones.

"A day like today comes and it's great news, because it's such a relief that they finally did it, but it's also very emotional," Lambert said. "It's confirmation once again for them that their daughter is gone, and she's not coming back."

Lambert said the podcast will not be finished until Smart's body is recovered.

Paul Flores was being held without bail. Ruben Flores was being held on $250,000 bail.

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