Investigators reportedly searching Arroyo Grande hills for Kristin Smart’s remains

11

A true-crime podcaster may have helped narrow the search for Kristin Smart’s remains.

Chris Lambert, creator of the 10-episode “Your Own Backyard” podcast about Smart’s 1996 disappearance from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said in a Facebook post this week that he received dozens of tips after appealing to listeners for information during the show’s final episode.

Several of the tips pointed to a specific area in rural Arroyo Grande, he said, where it is believed her body may be found.

“After passing the information on to law enforcement, investigators are following up … and searching for Kristin Smart’s body,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the San Luis Obispo district attorney’s office — the lead agency on the case — said a protective order prohibited him from discussing details of the investigation, but confirmed that officials would “continue to follow up on all leads.”

“It’s very difficult in a small community like this, in relation to a case as significant as the Kristin Smart case, to do anything without people inferring that it’s in relation to that case,” said Assistant Dist. Atty. Eric Dobroth.

When asked about Lambert’s post, however, he said, “Chris has a very good grasp on what’s going on.”

Lambert could not be reached for comment. A representative said the podcaster was not giving interviews at this time.

Smart was 19 at the time of her disappearance over Memorial Day weekend in 1996.

After attending a party at a fraternity house, she was found passed out on a nearby lawn about 2 a.m., witnesses said. A fellow student named Paul Flores offered to help her back to her dorm room. She was never seen again.

For years, authorities identified Flores as the prime suspect in the case. In April, he was arrested and charged with her murder.

At the time of the arrest, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson credited Lambert’s podcast for giving the case renewed attention that compelled a key witness to come forward.

Flores’ father, Ruben Flores, was charged with accessory after the fact and was accused of concealing Smart’s body after her death. Investigators believe that Smart’s body had been hidden beneath the deck of his Arroyo Grande home and was only recently moved.

Earlier this week, neighbors told KTLA’s Gene Kang that detectives have been searching the quiet Arroyo Grande community for weeks and were now focused around Huasna Road.

Although officials could not confirm the location of any current searches, the Huasna Road area has been tied to the case before.

Investigators searched a portion of the area in 1996, not long after Smart’s disappearance. In 1999, a woman’s shoe was found in rural Huasna, according to Lambert.

In 2004, authorities received a tip that Smart was buried in the Huasna area, and in 2019 detectives interviewed a witness who recalled Paul Flores saying decades earlier that he had “buried her either under or next to the skate ramp out at my place in Huasna,” according to court documents unveiled this month.

In his Facebook post, Lambert thanked the community for their vigilance.

“Thank you for keeping an eye on your own backyard,” he wrote. “Thank you for using your voice to help a family who suffered for so long without answers.”

In the weeks since the arrests, damning reports have emerged about prosecutors’ case against Paul Flores, including an alleged history of predatory and at times violent behavior.

Earlier this month, a judge declined to add two rape charges to the case against him, citing lack of evidence.

Paul and Ruben Flores have pleaded not guilty and have consistently denied any role in Smart’s disappearance or any knowledge of her whereabouts.

A preliminary hearing is set to begin Aug. 2.

Times staff writers Matthew Ormseth and Richard Winton contributed to this report.