Woman Disappeared 20 Years Ago: Dogs Possibly Detect Buried Body, Dig To Commence

It’s been two decades since the night that Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristen Denise Smart vanished after an off-campus party in 1996. The disappearance of the young woman on that warm May night sparked a massive manhunt that involved the use of helicopters, horses, army volunteers, and ground radar devices. Smart was never found and was declared dead.

Although the case went cold, new life was sparked on Tuesday when FBI and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department announced they were set to excavate three sites on the college campus, which all lay on a hillside near the dormitories. The dig is focused on the giant “P” on the hillside sign, which spells out Cal Poly. Officials selected this area due to the human decomposition dogs that were active on this site.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson spoke about the disappearance.

“The campus was the last place Kristin was seen. Due to its high visibility, we really decided it was best to go ahead and disclose why we are here…. We will not give up to find Kristin.”

In addition to two additional sites, investigators and a specialized FBI team will be focused on the dig of this particular site for a total of four days. Information about the other sites will not be disclosed. Although this dig sparks new hope that Kristin Smart’s remains will be found, it is not clear as to whether this dig will be the break in the case authorities need.

A sheriff’s spokesman, Tony Cipolla, stated that the decision to dig at the site was made following a tip that led them to the area.

“The canines and other information led us to choose the three locations,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller added.

The lead FBI investigator on the case, Sean Ragan, spoke of the dogs’ abilities in picking up the scent of a decomposing human body.

“…the dogs, two Springer spaniels and a German shepard mix, keyed in on the three areas after being brought to the site from the FBI’s Quantico facility. The dogs trained at Civil War battlegrounds and can find the scent of human decomposition.”

The investigators will dig three feet down in all locations, and the team will be made up of 25 FBI agents, 15 sheriff’s detectives, and Department of Fish and Wildlife agents.

The last man Smart was seen with on the night of her disappearance, Paul Flores, mains a person of interest. However, detectives have not yet been able to talk with the suspect. Smart’s own family had sued Flores in civil court, yet the man was not charged criminally in relation to the disappearance. When responding to the Smart family’s suit, Flores denied “both generally and specifically each and every allegation,” raised against him, as the Los Angeles Times notes. In 2002, the young woman was declared dead after six years missing.

Although the community and Smart’s family still push for answers, Parkinson reminds that certain expectations need to be managed and procedure followed to properly solve the case and find out what truly took place. It remains nearly impossible to do so without a crime scene or a body.

The Los Angeles Times recounts the course of events the night of Kristin’s disappearance, according to those who interacted with Smart that evening.

“On May 25, 1996, the day she vanished, she wore a short-cropped T-shirt, running shorts and red athletic shoes. Sometime after 5:30 p.m. on May 24, Smart left a message on her mother’s telephone, reporting, happily, that she would be allowed to make up a biology test that somehow had been lost earlier in the year. About 8:30 p.m, Smart and three companions were on their way from the dorms, a staggered row of brick and concrete buildings set against a steep incline known as Poly Hill. They grabbed a ride in a truck to the unofficial fraternity house near the campus. Her friends did not want to go to the party, so they dropped her off a couple of blocks away. It was around 10 p.m. None of the women had been drinking.”

[Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images]

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