Investigators May Have Found a Break in the 20-Year-Old Case of Missing Cal Poly Student Kristin Smart


Two decades have passed since a warm May night when Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Denise Smart vanished after an off-campus party.

Her disappearance sparked a massive manhunt, with searchers using helicopters, horses and an army of volunteers, and even ground-penetrating radar. She was never found and was presumed dead.

The cold case took a new twist Tuesday when the FBI and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department announced they were excavating at three sites on a hillside near the dormitories. The search is centered on the giant “P” in a hillside sign that spells Cal Poly. Officials said they picked the locations based on the activities of human decomposition dogs.

“The campus was the last place Kristin was seen,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said near the dig. “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.”

Sheriff’s investigators along with a specialized FBI team will spend four days digging up three sites. Parkinson said it was one of several locations to be examined but declined to discuss other places at this time.

Smart’s disappearance captivated San Luis Obispo. But it remains unclear whether this week’s dig will prove the break in the case that for years eluded authorities.

Officials were vague about what new information they might now have. Tony Cipolla, a sheriff’s spokesman, said only that a tip led them to the area.

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

FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan said 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, officials said.

Investigators will dig about 3 feet down in the locations. The team consists of 25 FBI agents, 15 sheriff’s detectives and California Department of Fish & Wildlife agents.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Richard Winton