A podcast focusing on the 1996 disappearance of college freshman Kristin Smart has helped California police make arrests in the 25-year-old cold case. Law enforcement officials credit the Your Own Backyard podcast with bringing “valuable” evidence forward that led to murder charges against the long-time suspect in Smart’s disappearance.
Sheriff Parkinson added that Lambert helped draw worldwide attention to the case, and brought forward valuable witnesses.
The podcast located overlooked or reluctant witnesses who hadn’t spoken with police. Some witnesses also opened up to Lambert, who encouraged them to contact investigators with relevant information. Soon after that, deputies began reaching out to Lambert to connect them with other people he interviewed.
“What Chris did with the podcast was put it out nationally to bring in new information,” Parkinson said. “It did produce some information that I believe was valuable.”
Lambert, who is 33, was just eight years old when Smart disappeared a short drive from his home in the small town of Orcutt, California, about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
He was ultimately inspired to create the podcast and start investigating the case after driving past a billboard featuring a photo of Smart many times.
“I thought I’d give it a shot and see if I could get a few people talking,” Lambert said. “All I have to do is get over my shyness and start calling these people out of the blue and start asking really personal questions.”
Now, prosecutors say that longtime suspect Paul Flores, now 44, has been charged with murder alleging that he killed Smart while trying to rape her in his dorm room at California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo.
Flores had reportedly been walking an intoxicated Smart home from a party, and was the last person who was seen with her.
His father, Ruben Flores, was also charged as an accessory after authorities said he helped hide the body, which has never been located.
A former colleague of Paul Flores’ mother, Susan Flores, told Lambert that Flores came into work after Memorial Day weekend 1996 — after Smart went missing — saying she didn’t sleep well because her husband had gotten a phone call in the middle of the night, and left in his car.
“The speculation has been all along that Paul called his dad in the middle of the night and his dad came up and helped him get rid of Kristin’s body,” Lambert told AP.
Moreover, a tenant who lived for a year at Susan Flores’ home told Lambert she heard a watch alarm every morning at 4:20 a.m. Smart had worked as a lifeguard at 5 a.m. at a local pool, so it’s possible she set her watch alarm to wake up at that time.
“That seems to be the moment in the podcast series that most people have been just completely shaken,” Lambert said. “This may be the piece of evidence that points to the fact that Kristin was buried in that backyard or that her belongings were buried in that backyard.”
Lambert’s podcast garnered 7.5 million downloads on Thursday, and has climbed to the number 2 podcast on iTunes.
The report adds that all of the attention isn’t leading to a lot of money for Lambert, who takes no advertising for his self-produced podcast, relying on donations.