The unsolved disappearance of Kristin Smart motivated a Central Coast native to revisit the past through a podcast called Your Own Backyard.
One night in 1996, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student from Stockton didn't make it back to her friend's apartment. Smart was gone.
- Photo Courtesy Of Chris Lambert
- COLLECTION OF INFORMATION Central Coast native Chris Lambert began working on his documentary-style podcast after feeling unsatisfied with the lack of information on Kristin Smart's still-open missing persons case.
That's about as much as Chris Lambert, host and producer of Your Own Backyard remembers—he was 8 years old at the time.
One of the only reminders of the missing female is a billboard that still stands in the Village of Arroyo Grande: Kristin's photo with the headline "Missing Cal Poly Student: Kristen D. Smart, $75,000 reward," and information on who to call with tips.
Last year, Lambert started researching the unsolved case but found there was a lack of information aside from a few news stories. At that point, he said, he started questioning why it's taking so long for law enforcement or anyone to get answers.
"It's been 23 years, so at a certain point, you have to wonder, are you just not doing your jobs? Is this more complicated than the public understands?" Lambert said. "I want to tell it faithfully. So if they really are trying their best, I want to be honest about that."
In an effort to get a comprehensive understanding of who Kristin was before she vanished, the events leading up to her disappearance, and who Paul Flores—the last person to see her—is, Lambert's conducting interviews with Kristin's parents, friends, an LA Times journalist, and other individuals who knew either Kristin or Flores.
Before the project was produced, Lambert said he was nervous that he would anger many people: the Smart family, the Flores family, and local law enforcement.
To get the project off the ground, the blessing Lambert needed came from Kristin's mother Denise Smart. Lambert said he visited a commemorative plaque in Shell Beach on what would have been Kristin's 42nd birthday, hoping to meet people celebrating her life.
"When I got up there, there wasn't anyone. It started to rain and I was getting ready to go home when a car pulled up. It ended up being Kristin's mom who had driven all the way from Stockton to celebrate Kristin's birthday in private with a friend," he said.
Denise told New Times that the family is thrilled the podcast is giving Kristin a voice. Kristin is missed every day, she said.
"Every day, it's on our hearts and our minds, and it doesn't go away," Denise said.
She said the fact that there aren't any answers to the disappearance of her daughter makes the loss difficult.
"Living with the knowledge that so many people, in and out of the law enforcement community, have let Kristin and our family down, and continue to do so to this day," Denise said, "we continue to be the victims of San Luis Obispo, from the witnesses to campus staff and incompetent law enforcement, since May of 1996.
"Current law enforcement continues to work diligently, but their job would have been significantly expedited if not for the failure of so many before them," she continued. "Yet no one has taken any responsibility for the past failures of so many who did not do their job with integrity, compassion, and professionalism."
Lambert hasn't reached out to the Flores Family or the SLO County Sheriff's Office yet.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Tony Cipolla confirmed that the department hasn't heard from Lambert and said that because the case is still an open and active investigation, the detective on the case cannot be interviewed for the podcast.
"The Sheriff's Office is always willing to listen to any new information which may be beneficial in solving the case," Cipolla said.
The first episode of Your Own Backyard was released for free on Sept. 30 via Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and the second episode came out on Oct. 7. Lambert said he anticipates releasing a new episode every Monday. Δ