Police investigating the disappearance of Kristin Smart arrested Paul Flores after interviewing new witnesses found through the popular eight-part podcast Your Own Backyard

By Christine Pelisek
April 14, 2021 03:59 PM
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Kristin Smart
| Credit: Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty

Authorities in California are crediting a true-crime podcast for helping them solve the Kristin Smart case. 

At a Tuesday press conference announcing the arrest of Paul Flores and his father Ruben in connection with the death of Smart, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said investigators interviewed new witnesses thanks to the popular eight-part series Your Own Backyard.

"In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with," he said.

The witnesses enabled authorities to secure a search warrant authorizing the interception and monitoring of Flores' cell phone, said Parkinson, who added that the search warrant led to evidence that built the case against Flores.

For his part, the podcaster, Chris Lambert, said he "was one piece of the formula."

"The podcast was one part of the whole formula," Lambert told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. "Even with what I found, I can't go arrest somebody. I needed [the sheriff's office] to do their job. I was willing to do what I could to assist in that. You can get varying levels of agreement about whether what I did directly led to an arrest. My personal opinion was that I was one piece of the formula."

Paul Flores
Paul Flores
| Credit: San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Back in 1996, with classes finished before the long Memorial Day weekend, Smart, a 19-year-old California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo student, called her parents on Friday, May 24, and left a message telling them that she and some friends were heading to a party at 8 p.m. that night. While she told her parents to call her before she left, she never spoke to them.

Smart ended up attending an off-campus party, where she became intoxicated and passed out on a neighbor's lawn, according to witnesses.

ruben Flores
Ruben Flores
| Credit: San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Paul Flores, Smart's former university classmate, was the last known person to see her alive after volunteering to walk her home in her inebriated state from the party, police have said.

No one ever saw Smart again. Police questioned Flores but over the years he was never charged and remained mum about the case, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when he was deposed in a 2005 wrongful death civil suit brought against him by Smart's parents, which they subsequently dropped.

Flores, now 44, was arrested simultaneously along with his 80-year-old father Tuesday. Flores faces a murder charge. His father, Ruben, is facing a charge of accessory to murder. 

Kristin Smart
Kristin Smart

Smart's remains have never been found. 

Lambert believes her remains are  "local."

"It's part of the reason I got involved in this," he told the Tribune. "It's part of the reason I called it 'Your Own Backyard,' because of the frustration at the beginning was, 'Why are not enough people talking about this? Why is the community not pushing for something to get done? And if her body is here and local, I or anyone could potentially find it with a shovel and sleuthing skills."

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About the case, Lambert said he feels good about the direction it is heading. 

"I feel good about the case at this point," Lambert told the Tribune. "But I've felt good about it for a long time. It was just a matter of the way the machinery works. You just have to wait a while for things to get done — the District Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Office and who's going to do which part. I've been waiting for a long, long time to come to some sort of resolution."

An attorney representing Flores, Sarah Sanger could not be reached for comment. Nor could Ruben Flores' attorney, Harold Mesick.