On Oct. 18, forestry and natural resources senior Reuben Brand and Cuesta College junior Brooke Glassco found the hidden $1,000 from the Dig Up the Yard treasure hunt hidden in the roots of a tree outside of the Veteran’s Memorial Building on Grand Ave.
The Dig Up the Yard hunt was created by Dennis Mahon, a long time family friend of Denise Smart, Kristin Smart’s mother, and her family. Clues to where the money was were posted online at diguptheyard.com every three to four days. Each clue was accompanied by information on Kristin Smart’s case to get a new generation of people interested in the case. Mahon named this challenge “Dig Up the Yard” because while it was suspected that Kristin Smart was buried in suspect Paul Flores’ mother’s yard, the location was never dug up.
In 1997, Flores was questioned during the deposition — at the Veteran’s Memorial Building — about events regarding Smart’s disappearance. Flores refused to answer any questions, and plead the 5th amendment 27 times.
Mahon said he chose Veteran’s Memorial Building as the location for the hidden money because he wanted the location to be close to Cal Poly and connected to the case. Brand heard about the hunt from a classmate. He and Glassco, his girlfriend, started to look more into the case.
“We’ve only been here for about a year and a half, two years and we’ve seen signs and heard about [Kristin]. We ended up getting kind of super obsessed with all the details and that’s kind of what started it,” Glassco said.
Brand added that marketing the hunt toward college students was a good idea.
“$1,000 is a lot for a college student, but then it really exposes them to the whole case, something in their life that they’re living in,” he said.
Mahon said the money was intended to be an incentive to inspire people to remember the case.
“What people like more than anything else is money,” Mahon said. “Years and years and years and decades have gone by, that backyard is still not dug up and I’m a nobody, what can a nobody do? You got to keep people talking about this case.”
While it only took about two weeks for someone to find Mahon’s hidden money, it has been more than 21 years since anyone has seen Kristin Smart.
Background on Kristin’s Case
Kristin Smart was a freshman at Cal Poly who was last seen on May 25, 1996 at approximately 2:30 a.m.
“135 Crandall Way. That’s the party where Kristin was. She walked up that street, behind the rec center up through Perimeter Avenue, made a right, and [that’s] where she was last seen. Those are the last steps she took,” Mahon said.
Smart’s case has been an ongoing investigation since the time of her disappearance. In the year 2000, a search warrant was issued to FBI Special Agent Jack Shafer.
The warrant stated 14 reasons why there was reasonable cause to believe that Kristin Smart’s body was buried in the backyard of Paul Flores’ mother’s home at 529 East Branch Street, Arroyo Grande.
On June 20, 2000 San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department began to search the property for Kristin’s remains or any other evidence related to her disappearance. Nothing was found on the property and officials left, but one fact remains: they never dug up the yard.
“The way search warrants are written, they don’t specifically say ‘go dig up a body,’” Mahon said. ”The big issue is we’re powerless. I can’t make the sheriff do what that search warrant mandates him to do.”
Despite developments in the case in 2016, Kristin’s case still remains a mystery today.
“No one knew all of the facts the way people do now,” Glassco said. “This is all of the facts, why isn’t this being handled the way it would be if it had happened today?”
Glassco and Brand said Mahon’s hunt is helping spark conversation about the case and educating people about it, simply through the use of social media.
“It’s crazy that this happened 20 years ago. I just wonder what would happen if this happened now. Everyone would have been outraged of course, but I think there’s such a different way to get it out there and for people to be aware of it,” Glassco said.
Cal Poly’s response
When Kristin went missing, her family never received a call from Cal Poly. After losing her daughter more than two decades ago Denise Smart was surprised to receive a phone call from President Armstrong about one month ago.
“That was pretty shocking, since it’s been 21 years and no one from the campus has ever called us. At least you want your child to be remembered and recognized and acknowledged and the campus has pretty much refused to do that other than the journalism department,” Smart said.
Smart expressed how much it meant to her family that, for the first time, someone from Cal Poly had reached out and acknowledged their loss.
After hearing about the celebration of life for Brett Tyler, who passed away in Poly Canyon Village, Smart commented on the University’s involvement with the student.
“When somebody dies and they’re a student and they’ve been part of your college family …that’s the right thing to do, so it’s been good to see that. It’s never happened for Kristin. Which is pretty crazy, it was on their campus,” Smart said.
Brand commented on this too, expressing his concern with the school’s involvement with the case.
“I hope that’s not Cal Poly’s mentality, is that they wanted to hide it, because I feel like if they did a thorough investigation and busted the guy then it it’s like, ‘Hey we don’t allow this at our school, this happened but we shut it down,’” Brand said. “It was kind of disturbing to read how they sent a cleaning crew in the room before they finished the investigation. Any logical person’s got to think, there’s a reason for that. I don’t know why, but somebody does.”
Although the family announced a scholarship in Kristin’s name last year on the anniversary of her disappearance, there have been few donations.
The Kristin Smart Scholarship was made for Kristin because her life was stolen from her. Mahon said the way the Smart family wants to memorialize their child is to find a young female student with the same goals that Kristin had, and give her a scholarship so she can pursue theose dreams.
“This scholarship means so much to our family. For 21 years we’re focusing on Kristin’s circumstances of being abducted and taken away, so everything is about loss and it never had a chance to stop and really celebrate her,” Smart said.
But after everything that has happened with the case, Smart said her family’s expectations regarding Cal Poly are low and that she does not know what to ask of them anymore.
“Nobody’s offered to put ten cents into the scholarship fund and they don’t want to advertise it because it’s discriminatory,” Smart said.
Cal Poly claimed the scholarship is discriminatory because it is open only to female students, according to Smart.
“The reason it is for a woman is because other than one substitute FBI agent, there has never been a woman on Kristin’s case. And I’m sorry to say, but women have a different perspective. I’m not saying men are all wrong, but I do think you need more than one perspective,” Smart said.
Smart hopes that positive feedback will find a way to recognize their loss publicly, by people sharing the scholarship through one of the newsletters to students, family and alumni.
“Many are still shocked at the lack of respect Kristin and our family have received. But baby steps are steps. Hopefully, they lead to more,” Smart added.
Smart said Kristin is not the only person who lost her life to sexual abuse and people need to do something about it.
“Everyone needs to be accountable for themselves and when these things come up, people just have to speak up. You just can’t keep this stuff silent anymore,” Smart said.
The Kristin Smart Scholarship is currently taking donations. Information will be available starting Feb. 1, 2018 and the first scholarship has a goal to be set in May 2018.
“It doesn’t get easier because it is fortunately an ongoing investigation, but it also means there’s never any rest and there’s never any closure and it’s always framed in pretty much bad news, because we haven’t had any good news. The scholarship helps us focus on something that will be good,” Smart said.
Mahon has been involved with Kristin’s case since November 1997 and has been called “the strongest advocate for the Smart family.”
Mahon said this was his sixth hunt for the Dig Up the Yard Challenge. He hopes to get more people involved with each and every hunt with the goal of never giving up on Kristin.
“The more you get to know the family, the more emotionally involved you get,” Mahon said. “Next thing you know, we’re 20 years later and the big question that I always have trouble with is, when do you quit looking?”