Long-Cold Kristin Smart Case Has New Evidence

     SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN) — Yellow police tape marked a hillside under Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s landmark “P” sign last week, as investigators searched for a student who disappeared here 20 years ago.
     While there was no announcement that Kristin Smart’s body had been found after the four-day search, the sheriff’s office said that “many items of interest and physical evidence” had been unearthed. Those items will be analyzed by forensic anthropologists, though the final results could take months.
     Smart’s disappearance on May 25, 1996, has haunted the university for two decades and has served as a cautionary tale for students ever since.
     The 19-year-old freshman from Stockton was last seen leaving a party to walk back to her dorm with fellow student Paul Flores. Smart was the first of three female college students who disappeared from San Luis Obispo between 1996 and 1999, prompting panic from locals and driving sales of door locks and self-defense classes.
     A quick-thinking parole agent broke the case against a convicted sex offender named Rex Krebs, who was sentenced to death for violently abducting and murdering Cal Poly student Rachel Newhouse and Cuesta College student Aundria Crawford, both 20, in 1998 and 1999. But when Smart disappeared, Krebs was serving a 10-year term for a previous rape case. So attention in the Smart case remained focused on Flores, who Sheriff Ian Parkinson told the media is still a “person of interest” in the case.
     While Flores has never been criminally charged, the Smart family filed a wrongful death suit against him in 1999, which was re-filed after Kristin Smart was declared legally dead in 2002.
     In court papers filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, attorneys for Flores have claimed that Smart’s own negligence contributed to her disappearance, and that the plaintiffs had “no facts in support of their contention defendant caused the death of their daughter.”
     As the criminal case stalled, the Smart family hoped the civil suit would help them acquire information about the cold case from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office resisted, saying releasing information would jeopardize their case.
     When Parkinson was elected sheriff in 2010, the Smart family agreed to back off their quest for more information, satisfied after Parkinson assured them that the Smart case would be a priority.
     Living up to his promise, Parkinson held a news conference last Tuesday, streamed live on local media, announcing that local and federal investigators were planning to scour a hillside near the “P,” a letter made of concrete visible from much of what Oprah Winfrey once labeled the Happiest City in America.
     “We’re not sure where this is going to take us,” Parkinson said, cautioning that “we must manage our expectations.”
     Because of the location’s high visibility, Parkinson said, they decided to reveal the search to the media. Investigators also focused on other areas, which were not disclosed, he said.
     The hillside was one of several areas searched by 400 volunteers in 1996. But investigators decided to search it again because a sheriff’s detective uncovered a lead after a 2-year review of the case, Parkinson said. Based on that lead, human remains detection dogs brought in from the FBI in January alerted investigators to specific areas of interest, leading to last week’s excavation.
     “We will not give up to find Kristin,” Parkinson said at the news conference.
     Investigators dug up three sites on the hillside, at times using heavy machinery. The excavation site was guarded 24 hours a day.
     Smart’s parents, Denise and Stan Smart, have seen numerous leads and searches come up empty through the past two decades. But in a statement released last week, they expressed appreciation for the continued search for their daughter.
     “Kristin has long deserved the attention, effort and respect that Sheriff Parkinson, his department, the FBI, the District Attorney and Cal Poly are giving to her recovery and our quest for justice,” they said.
     Classes for the fall term begin next week.

%d bloggers like this: