(KTXL) – The true-crime podcast Your Own Backyard is being credited by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office in helping solve the case of Kristin Smart’s disappearance.
Podcast founder Chris Lambert took a personal interest in finding out what happened to Smart, the Stockton native and California Polytechnic State University student who vanished in 1996 after attending an off-campus party not far from where Lambert grew up.
Driving past the missing-persons billboard featuring Smart’s face became part of his daily routine.
In his podcast Lambert features interviews with people not yet on detectives’ radar, bringing renewed attention to the decades-old investigation.
“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,” said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
The witness led investigators back to Paul Flores, the prime person of interest in her disappearance.
Smart was last seen with Flores, and her family has always had their suspicions.
“I believe took her life,” said Smart’s mother, Denise Smart, in a 2018 interview with FOX40.
But had Flores escaped criminal charges in the case until now.
“New evidence, new witnesses, sheriff’s detectives secured a court order authorizing the interception and monitoring of Paul Flores’ cell phone and text messages,” Parkinson said.
Parkinson credits the podcast for sparking new leads and, in turn, new search warrants that helped crack the case.
“During the search warrant, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart,” he explained.
The sheriff described the discovery as forensic and physical evidence linked to Smart, adding that since he assumed office in 2011 his team has served more than 41 search warrants on the Smart case, conducted physical searches at 16 different locations, submitted 37 items of early evidence for modern DNA testing, recovered 193 new pieces of physical evidence, conducted 137 personal interviews and completed 500 additional police reports.
And as the case now heads to the courtroom, thanks to the help of community members like Lambert, search crews are not resting just yet.
Not until Smart’s remains are found and brought home to her family.
“Until we return Kristin to them, this is not over,” Parkinson said.
Flores is being held in jail without bail.
The Smart family released a statement through their spokesperson that reads in part:
For over twenty-four years, we have waited for this bittersweet day. It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family; we pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home.”