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Home and vintage cars searched in 1996 disappearance of California student Kristin Smart

Possible breakthrough in 25-year-old crime
Possible breakthrough in 25-year-old crime 02:02

Authorities served search warrants Wednesday  at locations in California and Washington state in the investigation of the disappearance of college student Kristin Smart in 1996. Smart, who attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, vanished while returning from a party  in the central coast city.

The 19-year-old from  Stockton, California, had been seen with another student, Paul Flores, but he was never arrested or charged in the case. Authorities, including members of the FBI, were seen Wednesday outside the home of Flores' mother in Arroyo Grande, south of San Luis Obispo, The Tribune reported.

Missing Student Cold Case
A member of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Dept. photographs a vehicle during an investigation outside of a home in connection with a cold case Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Investigators also searched a home and two vintage vehicles in San Pedro in Los Angeles County, where public records say Flores lives. Authorities took several electronic devices out of the green, one-story home as Frank Romero watched.

Romero said he introduced himself to Flores when he moved in. They've made small talk about the weather and Flores' two dogs, and Romero has seen him jogging in the neighborhood.

Missing Student Cold Case
Member of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Dept. remove items after a searching a home in connection with a cold case Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

"He's quiet, like shy," Romero said.

Last month, Kristin Smart's mother, Denise, told the Stockton Record she was contacted by the FBI and they told her to "be ready" for unexpected news about the case.

"You have to have probable cause to issue a search warrant, so I'm not sure what they're using," Dan Payne, a retired FBI agent who once worked on the case, told CBS Los Angeles.  

Kristin Smart CBS/The Early Show

Payne said that a break in the case could come as a result of improvements in DNA technology. "Collection techniques and the amount of specimen you need has improved greatly since this case happened," he said.

Interest in the disappearance has been revived at times, including when investigators conducted digs on the campus in 2016, and most recently due to a locally produced podcast focusing on the case.

On Jan. 29, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office issued a statement in response to public inquiries that summarized continuing work on the case since 2011, when Sheriff Ian Parkinson took over the department.

It included serving 18 search warrants, physical evidence searches at nine separate locations, a complete re-examination of every item of physical evidence seized by all agencies involved in this case and submission of 37 evidence items from the early days of the case for modern DNA testing.

The Sheriff's Office also said it had recovered 140 new items of evidence, conducted 91 person-to-person interviews and produced 364 supplemental written reports.

"Although it is generally not our practice to comment on items of evidence in active investigations, in this specific case we can confirm that the Sheriff's Office currently holds two trucks in evidence that belonged to Flores family members in 1996," that statement noted.

Warrants were served Wednesday at two locations in San Luis Obispo County and one each in Los Angeles County and Washington state.

The Sheriff's Office said it announced the search warrants because of the high-profile nature of the investigation and to avoid misinformation. No further details about the locations of the searches and what authorities were looking for were disclosed.

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