As true crime continues to climb the cultural ladder into mainstream culture, there has been a wave of true crime documentaries, television shows, and podcasts that revive interest in cold cases. A recent example has been the true crime podcast Your Own Backyard, hosted by Chris Lambert, which focuses on the disappearance of Kristin Smart—a Cal Poly freshman who went missing after a friend’s birthday party in spring of 1996. The podcast has listeners questioning the involvement of one of Kristin Smart’s friends, Paul Flores, who escorted her back to her dormitory after the party and was allegedly the last person to see her.
Paul Flores was instead labeled a “person of interest,” by authorities in 1997 and has remained so for over 20 years. The sheriff at the time, Ed Williams, told the media that there were “no other suspects” in Kristin’s disappearance. Law enforcement was only able to interview Flores once when Kristin was first reported missing and since then he had remained uncooperative in the investigation. During that interview, Flores gave conflicting accounts of how he had received a black eye that investigators observed, first stating that he got the shiner playing baseball and then later said he got it while working on his truck moments before he shut the interview down.
Flores was subsequently sued by Kristin Smart’s family in 1996, stating that Flores was the man responsible for their daughter’s disappearance and murder. Cal Poly was subsequently added to the lawsuit, with the family citing that the university did not do enough to keep their daughter safe while living on their campus. In a 1997 deposition, he repeatedly cited his right against self-incrimination, according to periodical archives. The lawsuit remains unresolved, as documents that could prove any of the family’s allegations still remain sealed in interested of preserving the criminal investigation. The family’s attorney, Jim Murphy, said in 2016, “In civil law, it’s what’s reasonable based on a preponderance of the evidence, not within a reasonable doubt as in criminal cases. Here, I believe there’s enough circumstantial evidence to prove to a civil jury that Flores is responsible for Kristin’s death.”
The popularity of Your Own Backyard has coincided with a recent break in the cold case, with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office announcing that they have issued warrants to retrieve potential evidence from Flores’s mother’s home, including two vehicles and electronic devices, with authorities commenting only that these were “items of interest.”
Kristin Smart was legally presumed dead in 2002, but the community still holds out hope that law enforcement will find answers in her disappearance. A new billboard has been erected in Murphy’s front yard, urging anyone with information about her disappearance to contact the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s office at 805-781-4500.