‘Prime Suspect’ Arrested in Student’s 1996 Disappearance

April 13, 2021 Updated: April 13, 2021

LOS ANGELES—The “prime suspect” in the 25-year-old disappearance of a California college student was taken into custody Tuesday and the San Luis Obispo sheriff planned to announce “major developments” in the case.

Paul Flores, 44, who was the last person seen with Kristin Smart before she vanished in 1996, was taken into custody in the Los Angeles area. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested as an accessory at his Arroyo Grande home, where sheriff’s investigators conducted another search.

San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office personnel
San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office personnel dig in an area in the backyard of the home of Ruben Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 16, 2021. (Daniel Dreifuss/AP Photo)
An investigator
An investigator uses ground-penetrating radar to search the backyard of the home of Ruben Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 16, 2021. (Daniel Dreifuss/AP Photo)

Defense attorney Robert Sanger confirmed that Paul Flores was arrested in the Smart case, though no details were immediately available on the charges he faces. His father was booked on suspicion of accessory after a felony, according to jail records.

Smart, 19, of Stockton, vanished in May 1996 while returning to a dorm at Cal Poly after a party. She was seen with Flores, who also was a student at the time.

Smart’s mother did not return a phone message left for comment but a family spokesman said they would issue a statement later in the day.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson scheduled a news conference at 2 p.m. at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where Smart was a student, to discuss “major developments in the investigation” into her disappearance.

Sanger said he would not comment on a pending case.

By Brian Melley