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New ‘Item of Interest’ Found in Kristin Smart Search at Cal Poly

Excavation of 3 sites on San Luis Obispo campus wraps up; investigators release few details about finds

Investigators on Friday found another “item of interest” while excavating a third location, hidden in the trees, on a hillside at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in the search for Kristin Smart, who vanished in 1996. Click to view larger
Investigators on Friday found another “item of interest” while excavating a third location, hidden in the trees, on a hillside at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in the search for Kristin Smart, who vanished in 1996. (Laura Dickinson / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

Investigators on Friday found another “item of interest” while excavating a Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo hillside in their search for clues to the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart.

FBI personnel and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office deputies dug up the third and final campus location marked for excavation during an operation that began Tuesday and was expected to wrap up Friday evening.

All three sites were situated on the steep, golden hill that’s home to the Cal Poly “P,” the landmark concrete letter overlooking the state university campus. 

Smart, 19, was last seen early on May 25, 1996, when she walked back toward her dorm room with Paul Flores, a fellow student, after attending an off-campus party.

Smart and Flores were said to have been walking near the intersection of Perimeter Road and Grand Avenue toward Muir Hall, where she lived.

Flores remains a “person of interest” in the 20-year-old case. Smart, who was a freshman at the time of her disappearance, was declared legally dead in 2002.

Preparations for the excavation began Tuesday. Earth movers and other heavy equipment could be seen on Wednesday and Thursday digging ravines while investigators used shovels and hand tools to sift through the dirt. Investigators dug about three feet into the hillside and excavated areas 90 feet in radius at all sites. 

Friday’s search was confined to a third site higher up the hill, in a small wooded area. Investigators periodically emerged from the cluster of trees, but most of the operation was hidden from view.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said investigators on Friday had uncovered another “item of interest,” at the third site. Several other finds were also discovered at the first site, excavated Wednesday, and the second site, where investigators dug Thursday. 

“I can’t really elaborate on what the items were,” Cipolla said. “I can tell you that they are being analyzed by forensic anthropologists to determine if they are related to either humans or animals.”

Cipolla said it may take “days or weeks or even months” to figure out whether the finds are significant. Some items will be sent to FBI labs in Quantico, Virginia, for further analysis, he said.

Law enforcement have uncovered “many items of interest and physical evidence” during the course of the two-decade-long investigation, Cipolla said. 

Asked whether any earlier finds had led detectives closer to solving the question of Smart’s disappearance, Cipolla didn’t answer directly, saying only that investigators “can’t quantify or qualify one item over another,” especially because the significance of the most recent finds has yet to be determined.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said on Tuesday that investigators had identified several other undisclosed areas of interest in San Luis Obispo County. Cipolla said Friday it’s unclear whether those sites will be excavated, but the search wouldn’t take place immediately after the Cal Poly dig. 

Although investigators have remained optimistic about the campus search, they’ve also been trying to manage expectations, he said. The hillside operation was expected to wrap up Friday evening.

“Even if we don’t find Kristin’s remains here, it is beneficial,” Cipolla said. “We can cross another location off our list.”

Plans for a sunset memorial for Smart at Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach on Friday evening was posted on a “Sunset with Kristin” Facebook page.

[Click here to read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune]

Lindsey Holden is a reporter with the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact her at 805.781.7939 or [email protected]

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