Since the unprecedented popularity of Serial attempted to cast doubt on the guilt of Adnan Syed, convicted in 1999 of murdering his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee, scores of other true crime podcasts have hoped to tap into the popularity of armchair detecting by delving into unsolved murders, of which there are unfortunately many in the U.S.
And one of these podcasts seems to have succeeded in helping solve one of those murders is Your Own Backyard, which looked into the unsolved 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart. After 2019 interviews with new witnesses were released, San Luis Obisbo police had enough evidence to monitor the cell phone of Smart’s former classmate Paul Flores, which led to Flores’s arrest for the Smart’s murder, along with the arrest of Fores’s father, Ruben, as an accessory to murder.
Smart was 19 when she disappeared following a Memorial Day party to celebrate the end of classes at California Polytechnic State University, where she was attending college. According to witnesses, Smart was drunk and passed out on a neighbor’s lawn. Flores was known to police as the last person to see Smart alive, maintaining that he volunteered to walk Smart home.
According to People: “No one ever saw Smart again. Police questioned Flores but over the years he was never charged and remained mum about the case, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when he was deposed in a 2005 wrongful death civil suit brought against him by Smart’s parents, which they subsequently dropped.”
Through Smart’s body was never recovered, podcast host Chris Lambert, says he believes it is “local” and hopes his work will soon help bring the family closure:
“It’s part of the reason I got involved in this,” he told the Tribune. “It’s part of the reason I called it ‘Your Own Backyard,’ because of the frustration at the beginning was, ‘Why are not enough people talking about this? Why is the community not pushing for something to get done? And if her body is here and local, I or anyone could potentially find it with a shovel and sleuthing skills.”
This isn’t the first time a true-crime podcast has brought new attention to an old murder, resulting in an arrest. My favorite is 2017's Up and Vanished, in which Payne Lindsey haphazardly wandered around rural Georgia asking small-town residents, including at one point, his own grandma, what they knew about the 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead until someone unexpectedly confessed. While I’m sure Marple-ing around old crime scenes with a tape recorder has myriad drawbacks and liabilities, not to mention the fact that sitting around with murder leaking into our ears all day can’t be good for American culture, damn, it sure is great when they catch one.