Orcutt Native, Chris Lambert, launched a podcast a little over a year ago, investigating the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart.
That first episode of “Your Own Backyard” aired on Sept. 30, 2019.
“My expectations at the very beginning of putting the podcast out were that maybe a small local following would pay attention,” Lambert said.
Fifteen months and eight episodes later, Lambert says the podcast has been downloaded more than 5.5 million times around the globe, though he’s stopped checking that figure.
“It blew up beyond what I'd ever expected,” Lambert explained.
Back in May of 2018, Lambert began researching the 1996 disappearance of Smart, who was a freshman at the time. According to witnesses, the 19-year-old was last seen with Paul Flores after leaving an off-campus party.
While Flores has never been named a suspect, he remains a person-of-interest in the case.
Two search warrants were served at his San Pedro home this year along with search warrants at the Arroyo Grande homes of his mother and father and at his sister's in Washington state.
“I became aware that at the beginning of this year that there was a lot of attention being paid to what I was saying in those podcasts and that potentially helped facilitate a search warrant to find out what they were talking about specifically,” Lambert said.
He dedicates seven days a week to the podcast. In fact, in May of 2019, he quit his full-time job at a recording studio.
“I spend a lot of time on Google Earth,” Lambert said. “I spend a lot of time looking up real estate records trying to make connections between locations that I'm interested in and it's pretty much what I’m doing all the time.”
But to help pay the bills, he works side jobs designing websites, engineering other podcasts, or writing articles for local publications.
Lambert says he talks with Smart’s parents daily.
“We formed a pretty close personal relationship,” Lambert said.
He also checks in with law enforcement every couple of weeks and before an episode is released.
He says after episode 7 aired in January of this year, he received a flurry of attention after he revealed the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office had two vehicles in evidence, which belonged to family members of Flores in 1996.
“There were all kinds of people offering to buy the rights for my podcast, make a movie of the podcast. I met with producers, people wanted to put it on Netflix, and all of it felt kind of wrong to me,” Lambert told KSBY.
But with the encouragement of the Smart family, Lambert was recently on CBS’s "48 Hours," drawing yet more attention to the case.
“I’m trying to be patient and I just think the best next episode would be that Kristin is found,” he said.
Though there’s no denying the podcast has generated lots of chatter about the Smart case, Lambert adds that he hopes his efforts have helped.
“It feels hard to measure. I really don't know where the case would be if I had not put the podcast out when I did,” Lambert said.
KSBY News reached out to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office about the podcast and were told, “The Sheriff's Office is always willing to listen to any new information which may be beneficial in solving this case. We are encouraged by the podcast that may generate new leads, tips, or witnesses which could ultimately bring justice for Kristin and closure for the Smart family.”