LOS ANGELES - A break in a 24-year-old cold case has led to an arrest in the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart.
The 19-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student disappeared without a trace. But on Tuesday, deputies in San Luis Obispo County said 44-year-old Paul Flores was taken into custody in SoCal.
Flores was the last person to see Smart alive in 1996 before she vanished. Flores, Smart's former classmate, was initially considered a person of interest in the teen's disappearance but was later identified as the prime suspect.
Flores was booked into jail with a murder charge and his 80-year-old father, Ruben Flores, was also arrested on suspicion of accessory after a felony.
Paul Flores' aunt Karen Kinsley said she doesn't believe her nephew would have hurt his college classmate.
"He said he liked her and he doesn't know what happened to her," Kinsley said. "That's all I know."
When Smart disappeared after leaving a college party during Memorial Day Weekend of 1996, her friends told detectives that Paul Flores promised to walk Smart back to her dorm. But she never made it there and hasn't been seen since.
"Nobody can figure out where she is so that's why they just keep on looking and looking," Kinsley said.
'YOUR OWN BACKYARD'
As the day turned into years, the case remained unsolved. To make sure Smart wouldn't be forgotten, journalist Chris Lambert launched a podcast titled, Your Own Backyard.
"Part of the reason I first got involved in telling the story of Kristin Smart was that things had been too quiet," Lambert said in his podcast.
The podcast host took his listeners deep into the case, with photos, interviews with detectives and people who knew both Smart and Flores. The podcast also revealed evidence considered crucial in Smart's disappearance and Lambert highlighted behavior such as how Paul Flores' father carried himself during a deposition.
The podcast's popularity grew and investigators gave credit where credit is due.
"What Chris did with the podcast was truly put it out nationally to bring in new information," said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. "It did produce information that I believe was valuable."