Shy podcaster helped police crack California cold case

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Chris Lambert, a musician and recording engineer, poses Thursday, April 15, 2021, in front of Muir Hall dormitory at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Lambert started a podcast to document the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart, who was a college student at Cal Poly and lived in Muir Hall when she disappeared. On Tuesday, April 13, 2021, the San Luis Obispo County sheriff announced arrests in the 25-year-old case, crediting Lambert with helping bring in witnesses that propelled the case forward. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

LOS ANGELES – Chris Lambert would like to get back to making music but he can’t seem to stop chasing a ghost that has haunted him for nearly 25 years.

A billboard on the side of the road on California's Central Coast led him on a detour three years ago from his career as a singer-songwriter and recording engineer. He created a podcast about the 1996 disappearance of college freshman Kristin Smart and it’s taken over his life.

“I can’t step away from it for more than a few days,” Lambert said. “I just get sucked right back in because I want to be resolving things.”

It was an unlikely turn for someone who refers to himself as a shy, “random boy with a beard” and it has produced results he never imagined.

On Tuesday, as San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced arrests, he credited Lambert with helping draw worldwide attention to the case and bringing forward several key witnesses.

The longtime suspect, Paul Flores, and Smart were fellow freshmen at the California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo. Now 44, Flores was charged with murder in the killing of the 19-year-old while trying to rape her in his dorm room, prosecutors said.

His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was charged as an accessory after authorities said he helped hide the body, which has never been located.

Paul Flores' lawyer has declined to comment on the criminal charge. A lawyer for Ruben Flores said his client is innocent.