A group of community advocates seeking justice for missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart is floating the idea of buying an Arroyo Grande home next to the property of Susan Flores.
Flores is the mother of Paul Flores, the last person seen with Smart when the 19-year-old woman went missing after a party in San Luis Obispo in 1996.
Members of the Find Kristin Smart Facebook group started discussing the idea when the home on the 500 block of East Branch Street was listed for sale online. The group had more than 30,000 members as of Monday.
“Ok serious proposal,” group member Pascoe Bowen wrote on Aug. 5. “What if we bought the house for sale next door to (Susan Flores) and turned it into the Kristin Smart memorial museum, and research center for missing people? The house is selling for $700,000, we have over 29,000 members in this group. If we each donated $25, we could make that happen.”
As of Monday, the home in the Village of Arroyo Grande was listed for sale for $739,900 on real estate website Zillow, a 6% price increase since the property was initially listed on Aug. 4.
Located on a 5,000-square-foot property, the 2,000-square-foot home has three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Bowen said in a phone interview that he first “just kind of threw (the idea of buying the home) out there to see what people think” and received an outpouring of responses.
“So many people said ‘Yeah, good idea. Let’s do it,’ ” Bowen said. “The comment got around 1,000 likes and several hundred comments after a day. … I would love to see this happen. I do recognize it’s a bit of a crazy idea, but sometimes crazy ideas work.”
Arroyo Grande property could be used as Kristin Smart museum
If purchased by the group, Bowen said the Arroyo Grande home could be potentially used as Kristin Smart museum, an office space for a missing persons foundation or a vacation rental to generate money to help charitable causes.
Those might include the Kristin Smart scholarship fund, established by the nonprofit organization Justice for Kristin.
Bowen said a real estate agent has already reached out to help, offering to donate his sales commission if the group raises the money for the home. Bowen did not name the agent.
Another volunteer planned to work with Arroyo Grande’s Planning Department to better understand for which use the property could be zoned, Bowen said.
Sandee Hunt-Burns, an administrator of the Find Kristin Smart Facebook group, said the idea would need to go through logistical, legal, and financial assessments before it could come to fruition.
“We also are reaching out to the Smart family to see if this is something they are okay with,” Hunt-Burns said. “The family hasn’t given a comment on it. Until we know their feelings, we wouldn’t move forward.”
John Segale, a Smart family spokesman, wrote in an email Friday that “the family has no comment.”
The Smart family has an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit pending alleging Paul Flores murdered Kristin. The Flores family filed a civil suit against the Smarts for emotional distress in 2017.
Bowen said purchasing the home would allow investigators to come near the Flores property.
Hunt-Burns said the justice advocates consider themselves “warriors for Kristin” and the collective effort would help bring attention to her disappearance and keep the spotlight on the cold case.
“We want to make it clear this is not to harass or antagonize the Flores family or jeopardize the case in any way,” Hunt-Burns said.
Person of interest in Cal Poly student’s disappearance
Smart was a Cal Poly freshman when she was last seen on May 25, 1996, walking home from a party with Paul Flores toward the San Luis Obispo university’s dorms.
Flores has continued to be a person of interest throughout the 23-year investigation but has never been charged for a crime related to the case.
Another student called Cal Poly police to report Smart missing two days later, but report wasn’t started at that time.
Flores was first interviewed on May 28, 1996, three days after Smart was last seen. He told a campus officer that he and Smart separated near the Santa Lucia Hall dormitory, and that he hadn’t seen her since.
On May 30, 1996, campus investigators Ray Barrett and Mike Kennedy interviewed Flores at their office and the first of several searches for the missing student was conducted on campus.
On June 29 to 30, 1996, dogs trained to search for human remains were brought in to search for clues. Four dogs independently reacted to Flores’ dorm room at Santa Lucia Hall. Dogs also reacted to his stripped mattress.
Numerous searches and inquiries have been conducted, including a search for buried evidence in June 2000 at Flores’ mother’s Arroyo Grande home using ground-penetrating radar to get electromagnetic pictures of where objects might be buried. No remains or other evidence was found.
So far in 2020, five search warrants have been served in the investigation into Smart’s disappearance
In April, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant at Flores’ Los Angeles County home.
In February, the Sheriff’s Office served search warrants at four locations — two in San Luis Obispo County, one in Los Angeles County and one in the state of Washington.
One of those warrants was served at the home of Flores’ mother in Arroyo Grande. Another was served in the Los Angeles neighborhood where Flores has lived since 2010, according to public records.
And in January, the Sheriff’s Office announced it had taken two trucks into evidence that belonged to members of Flores’ family in 1996.
A podcast about Smart’s disappearance, “Your Own Backyard,” has renewed interest in the Smart case since it launched in September 2019.
“Your Own Backyard” producer Chris Lambert, who lives in Orcutt, has interviewed Smarts’ parents, investigators and multiple women who said they have felt personally threatened by Flores..
Asked why Smart’s story has resonated so much with people, Hunt-Burns said the missing woman represents a tale of horror that calls for a community response.
“It’s very easy to see Kristin in our daughters, sisters and cousins,” Hunt-Burns said. “The earlier investigations failed her and this darkness has lurked for 24 years.”
“The Facebook group has been vital to keeping the spotlight on this case,” she added. “It’s so important for keeping the word out there …”