His killer was found guilty. But where is Kristin Smart’s body?

On Tuesday, after 26 years of waiting, Kristin Smart’s loved ones watched Paul Flores guilty of the murder of the missing Cal Poly student. But although her killer now faces 25 years to life in prison, the bigger question remains: where is Kristin?

“This case will not be over until Kristin returns home, and we have been committed to this from the beginning,” San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters after Tuesday’s verdict. “We are not breathing. We don’t ignore that.

Smart disappeared Memorial Day weekend 1996 after attending a party. Witnesses said at his murder trial that Smart had been drinking and appeared to need help getting back to his dorm. Among those who stepped in to walk her home was Flores, who was also an undergraduate student at Cal Poly at the time. One by one, Smart’s friends went to their respective residences, leaving Flores alone with Smart.

With Flores refusing to speak, the question of what happened to Smart after he left his friends’ company remains unknown. Flores claimed that he said goodbye to Smart and last saw her heading to her residence. But evidence presented at trial suggests that Flores likely sexually assaulted and killed her in her dorm; four separate cadaver dogs were alerted to the “smell of death” on Flores’ mattress, prosecutors said.

Paul Flores, right, listens after a jury found him guilty of murdering Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in Monterey County Superior Court, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Salinas, Calif. . The jurors unanimously found Flores guilty of first degree murder. (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune via AP, Pool)Laura Dickinson/AP

Somehow he got rid of Smart’s body. In 2021, law enforcement must have felt close to finding her, execute a search warrant on the house of Ruben Flores, Paul’s father. Investigators dug up an area under the back deck of 710 White Court in Arroyo Grande, about a 20-minute drive from the Cal Poly campus. There, prosecutors say they found a human-sized disturbance — and blood — in the dirt.

“Excavations under her deck at 710 White Court have shown overwhelming evidence that a body was buried there and then recently moved,” prosecutor Christopher said. Peuvrelle said in April 2021.

Prosecutors could only speculate, however, that Smart was buried there. The traces of human blood were too deteriorated for DNA testing. Although prosecutors argued that Ruben Flores, now 81, knew where Smart’s body had been moved, on Tuesday Ruben was found not guilty of being an accomplice to murder after the fact. Smart’s family had a fight that Ruben Flores helped move the body four days after a search warrant was cleared for the White Court home in 2020. In a court filing, the Smarts said they believed Kristin’s body was still somewhere in San Luis Obispo County.

FILE: Deputies from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office searched the home of Ruben Flores, father of Paul Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 15, 2021.

FILE: Deputies from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office searched the home of Ruben Flores, father of Paul Flores, in Arroyo Grande, Calif., on March 15, 2021.

San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office/Document

For now, the secret of Smart’s burial site rests with Paul Flores, who has been largely uncooperative with law enforcement since his first interviews in 1996. Flores will be sentenced on December 9, but he could choose to appeal thereafter, triggering years. court appearances. While there’s a chance Flores thinks he can be freed on appeal, he’s unlikely to give up the location of Smart’s remains. Sometimes, however, prosecutors are able to make a deal with convicted murderers, negotiating a reduced sentence in exchange for information.

What is clear is that law enforcement and those close to Smart have no intention of abandoning the search.

“After 26 years, with today’s split verdict, we learned that our pursuit of justice for Kristin will continue,” Smart’s father, Stan Smart, said Tuesday. “It was an extremely long journey, with more downs than ups.”

“Without Kristin,” he added, “there is no joy or happiness in this verdict.”

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