Kristin Smart was either murdered or killed in the early hours of May 25, 1996, but her remains have never been found.
Kristin Smart was either murdered or killed in the early hours of May 25, 1996, but her remains have never been found.

Is woman’s body buried under this yard?

A month after 19-year-old Kristin Smart vanished, an utterly chilling series of events befell a young couple which convinced them the beautiful college student was buried under the concrete backyard of their newly rented house.

Now, almost 24 years after Smart was killed and her family is bracing for a breakthrough in the cold case, the suspicious discoveries made by that couple, Mary and Joe Lassiter, are in sharp focus.

And the pressure is on for police to finally dig up the backyard with the odd double layer of concrete to see if Kristin's remains are there.

In June 1996, when the Lassiters moved into the house at 529 East Branch Street, Arroyo Grande, California, they were oblivious to the connection of their new landlady to the missing teen.

The house, which lies about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, was owned by Susan Flores.

Before renting it to the Lassiters, Susan Flores had lived there with her son Paul, Paul's father Ruben living two minutes' drive away.

It was Paul who was the last person to see Kristin Smart alive, and after an alarming series of links with her came to light, he became local police's only suspect in Smart's murder or manslaughter.

What led Mary and Joe Lassiter to believe the body of Kristin, a 185cm tall, blonde college freshman with a dazzling smile, was lying under their yard?

Kristin Smart’s body may be under the concreted backyard of Paul Flores’ family home
Kristin Smart’s body may be under the concreted backyard of Paul Flores’ family home

After all, when Smart was last seen with Paul Flores, it was at California Polytechnic State University, 24km to the north in the city of San Luis Obispo.

But that is only a short drive away. And in the middle of the same night Kristin vanished, Ruben Flores received an urgent phone call.

He left his home "like a bat out of hell," Susan Flores allegedly told a co-worker. Paul Flores, now 49, remains the only suspect, but police failed to seize any phone records.

Then there were the uncanny links the Lassiters found on the day they moved in.

For a start, there was a fresh layer of concrete over the backyard, which had apparently been laid just days after Kristin went missing.

Then there was the blood spatter in the bathroom - a fine pattern of specks which Mary Lassiter, a nurse, and Joe, a hospital worker, recognised as dried blood.

Next was the lone earring with a blood-smeared print on its back which Mary found when she was looking for a spot to plant flowers amid those weird layers of backyard cement.

EERIE SOUND FROM UNDER CEMENT

But most the compelling and eerie discovery was the sound coming from under the concrete which had been happening since their first night in the house.

Every morning at precisely 4.20am, Joe and Mary would wake up to the sound of an alarm going off.

It sounded like a watch alarm. The headboard of their bed was flush against the rear wall of the house which backed immediately on to all that concrete.

The sound continued for weeks or up to a month, and by that time Mary and Joe were fully aware of the cloud of suspicion hanging over Paul Flores.

Paul Flores was known as ‘creepy Paul’ at school.
Paul Flores was known as ‘creepy Paul’ at school.

Ruben Flores had been desperate after they moved in to retrieve an old metal rubbish bin in one corner of the backyard.

When he finally took it away, it was after that Mary had found the blood-smeared earring in the spot where the bin had been.

The silver and turquoise earring was an exact match, she believed, to the silver and turquoise necklace Kristin had on in the missing persons billboard outside the office of her family's lawyer.

They didn't yet know about the strange utility cart loaded with a rubbish bin that Paul Flores was seen pushing across the Cal Poly campus in the early hours of May 25, 1996, the morning on which Kristin vanished.

CADAVER DOGS WENT STRAIGHT TO ROOM

They also didn't know about the four cadaver dogs which had indicated positive responses for the smell of decayed human flesh on Flores' campus dorm mattress.

When the sound of the watch alarm going off eventually stopped, Mary, convinced it belonged to the missing college girl, figured the battery had died.

What Mary didn't know then was that Kristin Smart had worked as a lifeguard while at college and had to rise early to work the 5am shifts before class.

Paul said he walked Kristin to her dorm at Muir Hall, but she never made it there.
Paul said he walked Kristin to her dorm at Muir Hall, but she never made it there.

With all these clues pointing to Paul Flores and the disposal of Kristin Smart's body, how come he has never been charged and her body has never been found?

With the advent of a cold case podcast on the case, Your Own Backyard by Chris Lambert, new leads have spurred the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office into defending itself.

DIG UP THE YARD

In recent weeks, that office released information saying it had taken two trucks which belonged to the Flores family in 1996 and searched nine separate locations.

It had recovered 140 new items of evidence, and was submitting 37 early evidence items to modern DNA tests.

Susan Flores, who evicted her tenants after they began discovering items at the house, says she has been wrongly targeted.
Susan Flores, who evicted her tenants after they began discovering items at the house, says she has been wrongly targeted.

But campaigners for the Smart family who say "just dig up the backyard" believe the investigation into Kristin's disappearance, initially handled by Cal Poly campus police, was botched from the start.

As Your Own Backyard and media outlets like The California Register and the San Luis Obispo Tribune have uncovered, Kristin Smart's mystery death should have been solved long ago.

And "creepy Paul" or "psycho Paul" as girls called him at school and college, has a lot to explain.

KRISTIN'S STORY
Kristin, the eldest of three children of Denise and Stan Smart, both teachers, grew up in Stockton, California, south of Sacramento.

She went to study architecture at Cal Poly, but switched to communications and vanished after attending a frat house party on the Memorial Day long weekend in May 1996.

Dressed in black bike shorts, a grey crop top and red Puma sneakers, the willowy Kristin, who had long straight hair and very long legs, was keen to party on the night of Friday, May 24, 1996.

When her college girlfriend didn't want to go out, Kristin, who was also known as "Roxy", determinedly went out with two other friends.

About 10pm they found a party at a "frat" house off campus and Kristin proceeded to flirt heavily with men and act strangely.

Ms Lassiter said when she saw the missing poster billboard of Kristin she knew the bloodied earring matched Kristin’s necklace.
Ms Lassiter said when she saw the missing poster billboard of Kristin she knew the bloodied earring matched Kristin’s necklace.

Stories vary about whether Kristin was drinking or not, but the two female friends quit the party, leaving Kristin there on her own.

Paul Flores was at the party, was hitting on several girls, and he was observed at one point to be lying on top of Kristin in a hallway of the house.

Before 2am, a college senior named Tim Davis spotted Kristin lying on the next door lawn; it was later speculated she may have been given a "date rape" drug.

A young acquaintance, Cheryl Anderson, agreed to help Davis get Kristin up and walk her back to her dormitory, Muir Hall.

Paul Flores approached the group and said he was also walking home, to Santa Lucia Hall, just two minutes' walk from Muir Hall.

Kristin Smart as a young girl.
Kristin Smart as a young girl.

When the four arrived back at Cal Poly, Davis left for his home and Anderson and Flores continued to walk a staggering Kristin toward the residence halls.

Anderson later testified Paul, who was several inches shorter than Kristin, was holding her up and telling Anderson to "go ahead if you want" which she didn't.

When Anderson reached her hall, Flores said he would walk Kristin to her door.

He tried to kiss Anderson, who rebuffed him.

That was the last anyone saw of Kristin, except Flores who later claimed he walked Kristin to her dorm and then went back to his dorm.

BLACK EYE AND SCRATCH MARKS

Hours later, he was spotted with the trash can loaded on to the utility cart.

Two car covers that went missing from campus that night have never been found.

That day, a Saturday, a friend he met to play basketball with noticed he had a black eye. Flores also had scratches on his arms and scraped knees.

He would later tell police he sustained the black eye playing basketball, then changed the story to say he got it working on his truck.

Kristin's dorm roommate returned from her weekend away on Sunday night and saw Kristin's bed hadn't been slept in and reported her missing.

Paul Flores refused to answer any question, pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Paul Flores refused to answer any question, pleading the Fifth Amendment.

Campus police did not do anything immediately and, when they did interview Paul Flores, failed to photograph his black eye or defensive scratches.

They also allowed cleaners into Kristin's and Paul's rooms.

When Kristin's parents tried to file a missing person's reported on the Tuesday, three days after she had vanished, the San Luis Obispo Police Department told them it was too soon.

A month after her disappearance campus police phoned the San Luis Obispo (SLO) District Attorney who began interviewing the last three people who had seen Kristin.

It would emerge that the previous December, Flores had been caught climbing over a female student's balcony and being a peeping Tom.

Two months before Kristin's disappearance, three female students filed a criminal complaint against Flores for making harassing phone calls to them.

ODOUR OF DECAYED FLESH

A roommate of Flores told police that when he had joked with Paul and asked him where Kristin was, Flores had replied "she's home with my mother".

The story would later be recounted as perhaps a chilling admission: It was reported that two days after Kristin disappeared, the Flores family poured concrete behind their East Branch Street house.

But the DA's office still didn't have enough to charge Flores over Kristin Smart.

In June 1996, it brought in four cadaver dogs to search for her body.

In separate operations each of the dogs hit on Paul's room, number 128, specifically on his mattress, telephone and a garbage can.

Sheriffs were confident that either a dead body was in room 128, or someone who had access to that room had touched a dead body.

PAUL FLORES' FACE WENT WHITE

The DA's office took Paul Flores in for a polygraph test and he "went white" and refused, but consented to an interview.

In the 90-minute taped recording of that, he admitted he had gone into the dorm's communal shower at around 5am, but claimed he had been sick.

At one point, he seemed as if he would finally confess, but one officer asked him a question which annoyed him and he stormed out of the room.

A young Kristin Smart with her mother Denise, who has now been told to expect a breakthrough in her daughter’s case.
A young Kristin Smart with her mother Denise, who has now been told to expect a breakthrough in her daughter’s case.

Seven weeks after Kristin's disappearance, police searched the Flores' Arroyo Grande home, but they did not use cadaver dogs and searched none of the family's cars.

A second search would be done four years after Kristin's disappearance, but restrictions on the warrant meant they could not dig up the yard.

Instead of excavating, they relied on ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology which was in its infancy.

Further mistakes by the police were in store.

BLOODIED EARRING GOES MISSING

The turquoise and silver ring with the bloody fingerprint smear found by Mary Lassiter and placed by her in a plastic bag was given to detectives who photographed it.

Police did not tell Kristin's family's lawyer about the discovery, and they had to drive down from Stockton to demand to see it.

According to Kristin's mother, Mary Lassiter's description matched Kristin's favourite pair of earrings which were not among her personal effects.

Police told the Smarts they had lost both the exhibit and the photograph; many have speculated incompetence by police was followed by a cover-up.

In November 1997, Kristin Smart's family filed a wrongful-death civil suit against Paul Flores which is still unresolved.

During a depositions hearing, Paul Flores refused to answer even whether he had attended a party the night Kristin disappeared.

He pleaded the Fifth Amendment - repeating "On the advice of my attorney, I refuse to answer that question," time after time.

DIG UP THE YARD

A man named Dennis Mahon emerged as a campaigner for justice for Kristin Smart's family and began websites and picketing of Susan Flores at the East Branch house urging police to "dig up the yard".

Susan had lodged an eviction notice on Mary and Joe Lassiter after just three months into their six-month lease back in 1996 when the Lassiters began sharing discoveries with police and media.

Susan Flores moved back into the house and has lived there ever since.

In 2002, Mahon alleged Susan physically attacked him on the footpath outside 529 East Branch Street and she was arrested and handcuffed, but let go.

Kristin Smart was declared legally dead on May 25, 2002.

OTHERS CLAIMED THEY HAD BEEN ATTACKED

In 2007 an FBI search at the address did not excavate the concrete and found nothing.

An article in the California Register in 2018 suggested the rear left corner of the property was the most likely spot to find Kristin's remains.

In 2018, The Daily Beast, reported on four women who said they had been sexually assaulted by Paul Flores.

According the California Register article, Flores reportedly had an alcohol problem and, when drunk, hit on girls even if their boyfriends were present. It also reported that Paul "had no friends" and would go on to drop out of college and work in menial jobs.

The Daily Beast article quoted one woman who said Paul Flores and another teen raped her when she was a 15-year-old high school student in 1994.

Three others reported being sexually assaulted by Flores after Kristin Smart's disappearance.

Kristin Smart (left) with her family in the early 1990s.
Kristin Smart (left) with her family in the early 1990s.

2020 BREAKTHROUGH

Now, with the podcast Your Own Backyard reviving interest in the case and spurring police to seize items from Flores family properties, the Justice For Kristin Smart movement is on high alert.

According to The Stockton Record, a retired FBI agent told Kristin's mother Denise to expect a development soon.

Denise Smart told the newspaper the ex-agent said: "Be ready. This is really going to be something you don't expect."

candace.sutton@news.com.au

Aerial of the house where the watch could be heard going off every morning at 4.20am.
Aerial of the house where the watch could be heard going off every morning at 4.20am.
Kristin Smart’s body may be buried in the Flores backyard.
Kristin Smart’s body may be buried in the Flores backyard.
At room number 128 at Santa Lucia Hall (above) occupied by Paul Flores, four separate cadaver dogs indicated the smell of decayed human remains.
At room number 128 at Santa Lucia Hall (above) occupied by Paul Flores, four separate cadaver dogs indicated the smell of decayed human remains.
Kristin Smart at a school graduation.
Kristin Smart at a school graduation.
The house where some believe Kristin Smart’s remains or her clothing is buried under thick layers of cement.
The house where some believe Kristin Smart’s remains or her clothing is buried under thick layers of cement.
Kristin (centre) with her siblings, was officially declared dead in 2002.
Kristin (centre) with her siblings, was officially declared dead in 2002.


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