DARLENE Flynn, who held the Guinness record for owning the most shoes in the world, was found battered to death in her swimming pool – and her young ex-boyfriend was arrested for murder.

“She was a wonderful, wonderful woman,” said her close friend Lenore Rice. “If you were depressed or in a bad mood, Darlene would take your mind off it and take you to her place – which was happy.

“She had a smile that would light up a room. All her friends are devas­tated.”

Darlene, 58, was featured in The ENQUIRER’s Feb. 8, 2010, issue as the “Queen of Sole.” She had then collected 12,500 shoes and shoe-related items – which had grown to an incredible 15,000, worth more than $500,000 at the time of her death.

“I just love shoes, and it kind of got out of control,” Dar­lene told us then.

Every inch of her house in Me­nifee, Calif., was crammed with shoes. She started the collection following a divorce in 2001. By 2006, she had 7,765 items and made the “Guinness World Records” book.

Among her more famous items were Dorothy’s ruby shoes from “The Wizard of Oz,” an array of Betty Boop footwear and Barbie heels by the bundle.

She had wooden shoes, cloth shoes, antique shoes, a shoe made from the volcanic ash of Mount St. Helens and about a hundred pairs of her own size 8 shoes that she actually wore.

She also had shoe ornaments, shoe pillows, shoe spoons, shoe purses, shoe pins, shoe pictures and even shoes for her dogs Shoesy-Q and Bootsy Shoebert.

But it apparently all came to an end due to her heel of an ex-beau. On July 22, officers from the Menifee Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance at Darlene’s home after receiving reports of a man and woman yelling.

Authorities say they arrived to see a shirtless Justin Smith, 29, Darlene’s former boyfriend, fleeing from the home. Cops soon found Darlene’s body with blunt force trauma injuries in the backyard swimming pool and arrested Smith.

“I remember vividly the night Darlene met Justin,” said her friend Lenore. “He was a tall, good-looking cowboy-type who asked her to dance again and again.

“Three days later she called me and said, ‘My cowboy’s still here!’

“He was living with his parents at the time, working any job he could find – construction one day, clean­ing stables another day, any kind of manual work. They had a volatile relationship, but the romance was over at the time of her death.

“The one thing that Darlene liked as much as her shoes was to dance. It breaks my heart to know that I won’t see my dear friend the ‘Shoe Lady’ dancing ever again.”