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A Cold Case, a Haunting Mystery

Ten years after Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart disappeared on her way from a party, there are few clues and no body. The only suspect won't talk.

June 18, 2006|Peter H. King | Times Staff Writer

In the fall quarter, Flores flunked English composition and math. He received a D in an introductory course in food sciences, his major. He did earn a unit of credit in a pass-fail course: bowling. Flores' grades would not improve much in the next two quarters, and at 0.6, his freshman GPA barely showed a pulse.

His troubles were not confined to academics. In December, a female student summoned San Luis Obispo police at 1 a.m.; she told dispatchers that Flores, apparently drunk, had climbed a trellis outside her apartment and was refusing to leave her balcony. He was gone by the time officers arrived.

Six weeks later, Flores was seen racing his pickup through a downtown intersection. A police cruiser followed him into a gas station. Flores' speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot, the officer reported.

He talked the officer into letting him go inside the station to pay for his gas. The policeman watched through a window as Flores purchased a pack of chewing gum and stuffed "a large quantity in his mouth." The gambit failed. Flores was ordered to spit out the gum and was given a breath test, which he flunked with a 0.13% blood-alcohol reading. He lost his license.

Those who knew Flores from the dorms or back in Arroyo Grande tended to describe him the same way to investigators or in legal depositions. He was, they said with remarkable uniformity, "annoying." He would hit on their girlfriends. He could be obnoxious when drunk.

At 5 foot 10 and 170 pounds, Flores was not physically imposing. His face did have a certain boyish charm. But he was not popular, and whenever he boasted about a sexual conquest, those who knew him would scoff, convinced that he was still a virgin.

In the days after Kristin's disappearance, before their son was named a suspect, Flores' parents told investigators that when he was in high school they had bought a pool table, hoping to attract other students to their house.

"Paul had no friends," they told a law enforcement source, who recounted the conversation. "And so they thought that" -- with the pool table -- "Paul at least would have somebody to talk to."

At Cal Poly, Flores kept a small refrigerator in his room on the ground floor of Santa Lucia Hall: "And on weekend nights," this source said, "he'd sit in his room and drink beer, get drunk and then go wander around the outskirts of campus, looking for parties."

His behavior at these parties earned him a nickname among a set of women in the dorms, Anderson would later tell investigators. She and her friends, she said, would refer to him jokingly as "Chester the Molester."

Flores had seemed "very quiet" at the Crandall Way party, one student who was there told investigators: " He did not talk to people at the party." He shot a lot of pool, others recalled. He was shooed away from one cluster of partygoers, a witness said, after hitting on a girl in front of her boyfriend.

Davis told investigators that, "at one point, he heard a loud noise in the hallway and saw Paul Flores on top of Kristin Smart. He didn't know if Flores had knocked Kristin Smart down on purpose or if it was an accident."

They got up, Davis said, "and went their separate ways."

After the party, Flores joined Davis, Anderson and Kristin as they set out for the dorms. As they entered the campus, Anderson told Davis, who lived in an opposite direction, that the three freshmen could make it the rest of the way on their own.

They turned up Perimeter Road, a wide, well-lighted boulevard that cuts through the campus proper. The college was especially quiet because of the three-day weekend. Anderson would not remember seeing anyone else on the walk.

In a deposition, Anderson testified that Kristin occasionally would stop. Flores, holding Kristin, would tell Anderson to "go ahead if you want." She thought this was "a little strange" and waited for them to catch up.

She recalled that Kristin, still in her running shorts and T-shirt, had begun to shiver in the late-night chill. She could not remember her saying a single word.

The trio reached the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue. Anderson's dorm was half a block south down Grand. Santa Lucia, Flores' hall, was about 75 yards up Perimeter Road. Just behind it, perhaps 40 steps up a path, was Muir Hall, where Kristin lived.

In her deposition, with Stan and Denise Smart present in the room, Anderson tried to explain her decision to leave Kristin in Flores' care for the final leg home:

"I said, 'Will you walk her to her room?' you know, 'Will you take her back to her room?' And he said, 'Yes.' And I said something about 'Yes?' and he said -- and I said, 'If you won't, I will do it. I will walk her to her room,' you know.... I didn't want to have to do it. But, you know, if he didn't want to do it I was -- I was going to do it."

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