Paula Jean Welden’s mysterious disappearance still haunts the town of Bennington

Paula Jean Welden was an American college student who disappeared in December 1946, while walking on Vermont's Long Trail hiking route. Her mysterious disappearance led to the creation of the Vermont State Police. However, Paula Welden has never been found since, and the case has left behind only a few bizarre theories.

Bennington, a small town in Vermont is truly an odd place for a series of unexplained disappearances to take place. But who haven’t heard of the notorious past of the town? Between 1945 and 1950, five people were vanished from the area. An eight-year-old youngster was among the victims, as was a hunter who was 74 years old.

Bennington Railroad Station in 1907. © Image Credit: History InsideOut
Bennington Railroad Station in 1907. © Image Credit: History InsideOut

One particular instance, arguably the most well-known of the disappearances, was the actual reason for the establishment of the Vermont State Police in 1947. Paula Jean Welden ― an ordinary college student who vanished into thin air on the December 1st of 1946, leaving behind the mystery that would leave the community in shock and haunt the tranquil town forever.

The unexplained disappearance of Paula Jean Welden

Paula Jean Welden
Paula Jean Welden: She was born on October 19, 1928 to well-known engineer, architect, and designer William Walden. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (B&W Edited by MRU)

18-year-old Paula Jean Welden was a sophomore at Bennington College in those days of her disappearance. She was multi-talented and was interested in things ranging from hiking to playing the guitar. On December 1, 1946, she told her roommate, Elizabeth Parker, that she was going for a long hike. Everyone thought that it was Paula’s way of rejuvenating herself because she was going through a depressive episode that her friends took note of. Little did they know, it would be the last time they ever saw Paula back on campus. Paula never returned.

The search begins

Worries began to grow when Paula did not return back for her classes the subsequent Monday. Paula’s family was notified, and a search began. The first area they checked was Everett Cave, as it had been a place that Paula expressed she wanted to hike to. However, when a small team led by a guide reached the Cave, Paula was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was zero evidence of any sort that Paula had ever been on that track.

After that, a large portion of the search was concentrated on Vermont’s Long Trail ― a 270-mile trail that runs from the state’s southern border to the Canadian border ― where witnesses claimed to have seen her in red. It is reported that Paula decided to start the hike any time after 4 p.m. By that time, though, darkness began to descend, and the weather was becoming worse. It was a recipe for disaster.

The real-life “Red Riding Hood”

Paula Welden has been dubbed the real-life Little Red Riding Hood because of the way she was dressed before she left for the hike. She was wearing a Red Parka Jacket with fur, jeans, and sneakers. It made little sense for someone to dress this lightly when going for a hike in the winters when snow was imminent.

Paula Jean Welden's mysterious disappearance still haunts the town of Bennington 1
© Image Credit: (Editorial/Commercial Use Stock Photo, ID:116060227)

Many speculated that Paula underestimated the change in weather as it was only 10 degrees Celsius when she left. However, soon after, the weather turned harsh, going as low as minus 12 degrees Celsius. The extreme weather was the first thing that might have contributed to her disappearance, but as we will see, it is certainly not the only theory put forward.

A number of strange leads

The trail yielded no clues, however, and soon, what the Bennington Banner refers to as “tantalizing and unquestionably strange leads” began to materialize. These include claims by a Massachusetts waitress that she’d served an agitated young woman matching Paula’s description.

Upon learning of this particular lead, Paula’s father disappeared for thenext 36 hours, supposedly in pursuit of the lead, but it was nevertheless a strange move that led to him becoming a prime suspect in Paula’s disappearance. Soon stories began surfacing that Paula’s home life was not nearly as idyllic as her parents had told the police.

Apparently, Paula had not returned home for Thanksgiving the week prior, and she may have been distraught about a disagreement with her father. For his part, Paula’s father posited a theory that Paula was distraught about a boy she liked and that perhaps the boy should have been a suspect in the case.

Paula Welden’s disappearance gradually became cold

Over the next decade, a local Bennington man twice bragged to friends that he knew where Paula’s body was buried. He was unable to lead the police to any body, however. In the end, with no strong evidence of a crime, no body, and no forensic clues, the case of Paula Jean Welden grew colder with time, and the theories grew stranger, including those linked to the paranormal and supernatural.

New England author and occult researcher Joseph Citro came up with the “Bennington Triangle” theory ― infamously similar to the Bermuda Triangle ― which explained the disappearance as linked to a special “energy” that attracts outer space visitors, who would have taken Paula with them back to their world. Apart from this, there are many other strange theories such as ‘time warp’, ‘existence of the parallel universe’, etc. that support the idea of the Bennington Triangle. For decades, dozens of people have gone missing inexplicably in this area. None of them has ever returned!

After learning about the strange case of Paula Welden, learn about these 16 creepiest unsolved disappearances: They just vanished! After that, read about these 12 mysterious places on Earth where people disappear without a trace.