Podcaster Helps Investigators Arrest Prime Suspect In The Kristin Smart Case
“I thought I’d give it a shot and see if I could get a few people talking,” Chris Lambert says.
Suspects Ruben Flores (left) and Paul Flores (right) who were arrested for the murder of Kristin Smart; provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office [via AP Images]
The mystery of what happened to Kristin Smart when she went missing 25 years ago could finally be solved, and officials say a podcaster is partially to thank.
Authorities have announced the arrests of Paul Flores, the 44-year-old man authorities recently declared to be a “prime suspect” in the disappearance of the college student, and his father, Ruben Flores.
“It is alleged that [Paul] Flores caused the death of Kristin Smart while in the commission of or attempted rape,” Dan Dow, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney, said at an April 14 news conference, according to reporting by The New York Times.
Smart was finishing her freshman year at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo when she seemed to vanish into thin air. Paul Flores has always denied he had anything to do with Smart’s disappearance after they left an off-campus party together around 2 a.m. on May 25, 1996.
However, according to Dow, “the last place where Kristin was seen was close to the dorms and near Mr. Flores’s dorm” and authorities “certainly believe that Mr. Flores’s dorm room was a crime scene.”
The cold case, which has long frustrated investigators, recently began to show signs of heating up.
Dow said that the allegation against Paul Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, 80, “is that he helped to conceal Kristin’s body after the murder was committed.”
Ruben Flores’ defense lawyer has said his client is innocent, the Associated Press reported.
“These charges mark a major milestone,” Dow noted of what he called “the very first move to bring justice to Kristin Smart, her family and the entire community of San Luis Obispo County.”
After the Flores’ arrests, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson credited a first-time podcaster named Chris Lambert for helping to potentially have cracked the case by finding key witnesses who had never spoken with investigators.
Lambert, a 33-year-old recording engineer and singer-songwriter, grew up in the area where Smart disappeared. A billboard that’s been in place for over two decades featuring her image and notice of a $75,000 reward inspired him to try to do something to help.
“I thought I’d give it a shot and see if I could get a few people talking,” Lambert told the AP of creating his eight-part podcast series “Your Own Backyard.”
Lambert recalled two key findings he discovered during his podcast investigation.
The first was speaking with a person who had worked with Paul Flores’ mother, Susan Flores, who said that around the time of Smart’s disappearance, Susan Flores came to work and complained about not sleeping well. She said it was because her husband, Ruben Flores, had gotten up and left their home after receiving a call.
“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 said, according to the AP.
The second claim Lambert dug up was from a former tenant in Susan Flores’ home who heard an alarm sound at 4:20 a.m. daily — possibly a wakeup alarm Smart set since she used to report to her job as a lifeguard at the Cal Poly pool at 5 a.m.
“That seems to be the moment in the podcast series that most people have been just completely shaken,” he 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.”
In February 2020, a San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said detectives collected “some items of interest” after serving four search warrants in California and Washington State, The New York Times reported.
And in March, investigators searched the property around Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande, Calif., home using cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar.
“What I can tell you is that significant new information has come in to the Sheriff’s Office that we’ve reviewed over the last two years, and some very important information just a month ago,” said Sheriff Parkinson.
He added, “We’ve got physical evidence, we have witness statements — things that, in our view, in the totality, have brought us to the point where we believe we can go forward and prosecute [Paul] Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart.”
Smart’s remains have never been found.