Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Paula Welden and the Bennington Triangle


If you've listened to 'Beyond The Edge' Radio, then you've probably heard us discuss paranormal 'hotspots'...areas where a myriad of supernatural and unexplained phenomenon regularly occurs. The Bermuda Triangle, the Bridgewater Triangle, the Four Corners, southwestern Pennsylvania, etc. are just a few of these remarkable locations. The Bennington Triangle is another one of these mysterious 'hotspots'...full of strange and bizarre activity:

"I'm going to hike on the Long Trail."

These words were the last that anyone heard from Paula Welden, the now-legendary Bennington College student who disappeared mysteriously 68 years ago. Her story is without a doubt Bennington's most infamous unsolved mystery, and one that continues to appear in New England authors' histories of the occult and unexplained.

Dec. 1, 1946, began like any other day in Bennington for Paula Welden, an 18-year-old sophomore at the college. She worked two shifts at the school's dining hall, came back to her room and conversed for a while with her roommate, Elizabeth Johnson. Then, she told Johnson, "I'm all through with studies, I'm taking a long walk," and headed out around 2:45 p.m., according to Johnson's recollections. She was wearing a distinctive red coat with a fur collar, jeans and lightweight sneakers.

Given that it was a cold, though snowless day, and the temperatures were predicted to be subfreezing by nightfall, she seemed either underdressed for a walk in the woods or was only planning to be out for a short while. That is only one of the unsolved mysteries surrounding Welden's appearance and behavior that fateful November day.

Shortly thereafter, a blond, slight, red coat-clad young woman was seen by Danny Fager, the owner of a gas station that at the time was across the street from the college gates. Fager said the girl ran up the side of a gravel pit near the college entrance, then ran down it again. Then she went out of view. Later, search parties would call in a bulldozer to sift through the gravel pit on the off-chance that she had been buried alive. No evidence was found.

Just before 3 p.m., Louis Knapp of Woodford picked up a girl hitchhiking on Route 67A just outside the college entrance. His description of her matched Welden. When climbing into his truck, the girl nearly slipped, and Knapp warned her, "Be careful." No further words were spoken between them until Knapp let her off near his driveway, which was on Route 9 near the Long Trail, where the girl had told him she wanted to go. After thanking Knapp for the ride, Welden headed for the trail.

The next sighting of the girl was roughly 45 minutes later in Bickford Hollow, where several residents reported seeing her headed to the trail. One was Ernie Whitman, a watchman for the Banner, who warned her about heading up into the mountains dressed so lightly and at such a late hour. She continued on anyway, into the woods, and out of sight forever.

Night fell, and there was no sign of Welden anywhere. Johnson, her roommate, was reportedly very nervous, but chose not to inform college authorities until the next morning, when college President Lewis Webster Jones was notified of Welden's disappearance. He in turn called Welden's parents to see if she had gone home for the weekend. Welden's mother reportedly collapsed from shock and was confined to her bed, while her father, W. Archibald, headed straight for Bennington from their Stamford, Conn., home to commence a search for their missing daughter.

Welden's father arrived in Bennington and immediately organized a large group of volunteers from all corners of the community, including local residents and members of both Bennington College and Williams College. Classes at Bennington were suspended so that all students could participate in the search. By the evening of Dec. 2, however, the college students had reportedly become frustrated with what they saw as an incompetent search, and they shared their criticism with Welden's father and President Jones.

Welden, an engineer who was well-known in his home state, used his influence to call in State Police from New York and Connecticut. At the time, Vermont did not have its own state police force, and the search for Paula Welden was unfortunately disorganized and lacking in resources.

Vermont did have a state investigator by the name of Almo Franzoni, and within days of Paula's disappearance, he was put on the case. He, along with representatives from the New York and Connecticut police departments, took over the search. Those who had been volunteering to comb the Glastenbury wilderness for Paula switched their efforts to raising money for a reward. Collectively, they raised $5,000.

Their efforts would be to no avail, however, as the days went by and there was still no trace of Paula. There were a number of tantalizing and unquestionably strange leads that kept investigators looking, such as the claim by a waitress in Fall River, Mass., that she had served dinner to an agitated young woman at a table who matched Paula's description. This lead struck her father as so promising that he disappeared for 36 hours in order to follow it, without telling anyone of his whereabouts until he returned to Bennington. This led some to point to Welden as the prime suspect in his daughter's disappearance, a theory made even more compelling by the facts surrounding the week before Paula's disappearance.

Apparently, Paula was expected to go home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving, but she called her parents and told them that she would be staying in Bennington. Apparently, according to Johnson, she and her father had had a falling-out not long before her disappearance, and Johnson retracted her original statement that Paula was "not distraught" to say that, in fact, she had been quite depressed.

Many speculated that Paula's depression was centered around a faraway boyfriend, and her father at one point posited a theory that his daughter had a boy from her hometown who "wanted to call on her," and could have been a suspect. Mr. Welden could never provide any evidence to substantiate his claim, however, though he claimed that a clairvoyant from Pownal insinuated a man's involvement in Paula's disappearance.

On Dec. 16, Paula's father packed up his daughter's belongings and returned to Connecticut, but not before lambasting Vermont for its lack of a professional police force. He deplored the alleged irresponsibility of those heading up the search, especially the fact that there had been no records kept of the first 10 days of the investigation. This was not overlooked by the small army of reporters from across New England who had descended on Bennington to cover the story, and the negative press the state received in the weeks following Paula's disappearance helped lead to the creation of the Vermont State Police in a legislative session in July 1947.

As soon as Welden left, the out-of-state reporters also bid Vermont adieu, although the Banner continued to cover the story as front-page news until late December. Volunteer search parties would continue to make expeditions on the Long Trail, but by early January harsh weather conditions and lack of hope ended their efforts. Any evidence of Paula Welden, if it ever existed, was buried under snow and the passage of time.

Or was it?


In 1955, a lumberjack who had been in Bickford Hollow near the Long Trail where Paula had disappeared said he had followed a girl fitting Paula's description into the woods. More importantly, he told a friend that he knew where Paula's body was buried. After interest in Paula's case had been revived and the man had been extensively questioned by then-village attorney Reuben Levin, the man admitted that he'd been joking and had no knowledge of Paula or her whereabouts.

The case remained unsolved and was nearly declared cold until, 13 years later, an unidentified skeleton was found in Adams. Investigators excitedly awaited the results of an analysis on the bones, only to find that they were too old to have possibly been Paula's. Closure once again proved elusive for the Weldens and investigators of the case.

After the Adams skeleton, no significant leads were ever uncovered, leading people to formulate their own theories as to what became of the girl. Speculations have been widely varied, from the more practical — she ran off with a boyfriend, she died of exposure in the wilderness — to the paranormal. The most intriguing of theories in the latter category is one that is raised by New England author and occult researcher Joseph Citro. He coined the term "The Bennington Triangle" to describe an area of southwestern Vermont within which five people disappeared between 1945 and 1950, including Paula. He links these disappearances to a special energy that inhabits the Glastenbury wilderness area that attracts visitors from outer space, who most likely snatched up Paula and the subsequent missing persons.

For his part, current Director of the Vermont State Police, James W. Baker, has no particular theory on Paula's disappearance, saying that "since I wasn't directly involved, I can't speculate on the case." However, one thing he can say definitively is that the Vermont State Police came into existence because of Paula, and since their inception in 1947 they have been responsible, by statute, for all wilderness search and rescue missions.

Noting that states like Maine and New Hampshire have wildlife agencies do wilderness rescues, Baker said that Vermont State Police's mandated responsibility to coordinate wilderness search and rescue efforts comes directly out of the Paula Welden case.

He also said that just two weeks ago he was talking with the head of the State Police Search and Rescue Committee and she had expressed interest in researching the case, to put, as Baker put it, "a new set of eyes on the case."

So is the case of Paula Welden cold? Technically, yes, says Baker, but it still remains open, should any leads come up. Whether or not any new information emerges, it is unlikely that anyone familiar with Bennington history will be able to head up the Long Trail and not think of Paula Welden's ill-fated journey 60 years ago. - benningtonbanner.com

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: December 1, 1946 from Bennington, Vermont

  • Classification: Endangered Missing

  • Date of Birth: October 19, 1928

  • Age: 18 years old

  • Height and Weight: 5'5, 122 pounds

  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Welden has a grayish-colored scar on her left knee, a small scar under her left eyebrow, and a vaccination scar on her right thigh. She has a cleft chin and an upturned nose.

  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: A red parka with a fur-trimmed hood, blue jeans, size 6 1/2 or 7 white Top-Sider sneakers with heavy soles, and a small gold ladies' Elgin wristwatch with a narrow black band. The watch has the repairer's marking "13050 HD" scatched on the inside of the back case


  • Details of Disappearance

    Welden was a sophomore at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont at the time of her disappearance. She was last seen on December 1, 1946. She worked the breakfast and lunch shifts at the dining hall, came back to her dormitory room in Dewey Hall and spoke to her roommate for awhile before saying she was going for to go to take a study break and go for a hike. She didn't say where she was headed. Welden left campus shortly after 2:30 p.m. She was probably carrying little or no money at the time, and she left behind an uncashed check her parents had sent her for her living expenses. She was also under-dressed for the cold weather.

    A passing motorist picked up Welden, who was hitchhiking, near the Bennington campus at 2:45 p.m. She told him she was going to hike on the Long Trail off Route 9, near Glastenbury Mountain. The driver dropped her off on Route 9 three miles from the trail. Several others saw her at that day walking on the trail. The last confirmed sighting of Welden was at 4:00 p.m., when she spoke to a man on the trail and asked her how far it extended. He told her it went all the way to Canada. The sun set at about 5:00 p.m. and it began snowing a few hours after that, accumulating three inches.

    Welden has never been heard from again. Her roommate became concerned the next morning when she realized she'd never returned home the previous night. Later that morning, she notified the school authorities of Welden's disappearance. At the time, Bennington students were required to sign themselves out if they planned to stay out past 11:00 p.m., then check in with the school security officer upon their return; Welden had done neither of those things. When she failed to attend her classes the following Monday, Bennington College officials notified her family and the police.

    An extensive search of the Long Trail and its environs turned up no sign of Welden and no significant clues. The search was hampered by the fact that Vermont had no state police at the time. Eventually, officials from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York stepped in to help. Investigators initially believed Welden had gotten lost in the mountains and died of exposure, but as time passed without their finding any sign of her they began to consider other theories.

    Authorities looked into Welden's background to see if she might have left of her own accord. She was a good student, majoring in art, but she had lately become less interested in the subject. She found herself drawn to music and botany instead and may have been thinking of changing her major. Although there were reports that she was somewhat depressed at the time of her disappearance, her family and friends said she only had normal problems for a girl her age and was not unhappy enough to commit suicide or run away from home. She had never had a steady boyfriend. She left all her belongings behind, and her family stated she was not the type of person to leave without warning. There is also no hard evidence of foul play in Welden's disappearance, although many believe she was murdered and buried somewhere in near the Long Trail.

    Welden lived with her parents and three younger sisters in Stamford, Connecticut when she was not in school. She enjoyed painting in oils and watercolors, pencil and charcoal sketching, and playing the guitar, and she was physically active and an experienced hiker and camper. In part because of her father's lobbying after her disappearance, in July 1947 Vermont passed a law creating a state police force. Welden's disappearance remains unsolved; there has been no sign of her since 1946. - charleyproject.org

    Click for video - Bennington Triangle / Glastenbury, VT - Documentary (Part 1 of 2) or cut / paste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdyysF0VC20

    Click for video - Bennington Triangle / Glastenbury, VT - Documentary (Part 2 of 2) or cut / paste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBPMp8H3x3w

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    The Bennington Triangle

    The Appalachian Mountain Club calls it the "Triangle of Doom". But, while the happenings in the Bennington Triangle remain a series of unsolved mysteries, can they be classified as paranormal phenomena?

    Nestled between the Taconics and the Green Mountains, its rich history and scenic beauty make Bennington a favorite spot for hunters, hikers, and historians.

    One of the earliest chartered towns in Colonial America, Bennington is also the site of Vermont's first church, aptly named the "Old First Church", its cemetery the final resting place of poet Robert Frost. Bennington is also the place where Ethan Allen formed the Green Mountain Boys, a group of three hundred woodsmen that were instrumental in helping the American Colonies win the American Revolutionary war1.

    Bennington was a quiet town, quite near mysterious Glastenbury Mountain. Native Americans shunned the mountain, believing that the four winds "met" at the top of it and they used the mountain only as a burial ground. European settlers told tales of strange lights over Glastenbury Mountain. Unsourced odors and tales of Bigfoot-type sightings permeated the mountain woodlands.

    Yet, the real mountain mystery began in 1945 and lasted for five years.

    Seventy-four year old, Middie Rivers was familiar with the area wilderness. An experienced hunting and fishing guide, on November 12, 1945, he escorted a party of four hunters into the mountain woodlands. Leading the way back to their campsite, Middie disappeared from view and vanished leaving only one clue. After an extensive search, investigators found a single bullet beside a streambed but no trace of Middie was ever found.

    Rivers's disappearance was the first in a series of missing persons over the next five years. A year later, on December 1, 1946 Paula Weldon, a sophomore at Bennington College vanished while hiking along Glastenbury Mountain's "Long Trail". A couple behind her reported they had seen her turn a corner, but when they reached the corner, Weldon was gone. Although the ensuing manhunt brought in the FBI and even used a clairvoyant, as in the case of Middie Rivers, no trace of Paula Weldon was ever found.

    Exactly three years later, on December 1, 1949, James E. Tetford, a resident of Bennington Soldier's Home disappeared from a commercial bus. Although he was seen boarding the bus and at the stop before Bennington, when the bus reached its destination, Tetford was gone. Although his luggage was found in the luggage rack and a bus timetable lay open on his seat James E. Tetford was never again seen.

    On Columbus Day 1950, eight-year-old Paul Jepson disappeared from the family farm. No trace of the child or his bright red coat was ever found, although hundreds of volunteers combed the mountainside in search of him.

    Not quite three weeks later, 53-year-old Frieda Langer slipped into a mountain stream while hiking with her cousin. Promising her cousin that she'd catch up with him after changing into dry clothes, Frieda disappeared on the walk back to camp. Hers was the only body found, but not until the next spring. On May 12, 1951, Frieda Langer's decomposed body emerged near the Somerset Reservoir, although the area had been thoroughly searched at the time of her disappearance. Oddly enough, the one "solved" disappearance was the final disappearance on Glastenbury Mountain.

    Because four of the five disappearances remain unsolved, rumors and theories are plentiful. Indian legend tells of a "rock that swallows" those who step on it. Some folks believe that the Bigfoot-like "Bennington Monster" is responsible for the mishaps. Of course, others cite alien abductions as a possible cause and some speculators talk about a gateway to some new dimension. Were these five autumn disappearances the work of a serial killer or just a string of coincidental misadventures? For now, mysterious Glastenbury Mountain hides the secrets behind the Bennington Triangle. - geocaching.com

    Missing People in The Bennington Triangle:

    1945 - Middie Rivers was serving as a mountain guide in the area on November 12, 1945. When he was guiding his group back to their camp, he got ahead of the bunch and was never seen again. The event happened near the Long Trail Road, an area that 75-year-old Middie was presumably familiar with. Police and volunteers searched for the man, but no clue to his fate was ever found.

    1946 - Paula Welden a college student went hiking on the Long Trail one day, she was never see again and no trace of her has ever been found.

    1949 - Three Hunters went missing in the area around 1949, but there is little evidence to back up the claims.

    1949 - James E. Teford got on a bus in St. Albans, by the time the bus reached Bennington, he was gone and never to be seen again. There is no evidence that supports that he actually went missing in the Bennington Triangle area.

    1950 - On October 12, Paul Jepson an eight year old went missing. His scent was followed by dogs, but it was lost on a highway.

    1950 - Frieda Lander disappeared on October 28, 1950 when she was hiking with her cousin. Frieda had seperated with her cousin to head back to camp to change after getting her clothes wet, but she never returned to the camp. A massive search was mounted by police, volunteers, firemen and military sought the woman, but nothing turned up until the following May. Her body was found in a field that had been searched extensively in the previous months.

    Sources:
    benningtonbanner.com
    charleyproject.org
    benningtontriangle.com
    geocaching.com
    vermonter.com


    Mysterious Disappearances: They Never Came Back

    Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries

    Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors


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