Hey, Readers. Welcome to the first Mystery Monday post of 2023. I have a lot of topics already lined up for the year. Instead of having one Mystery Monday each month and another Legends and Lore post, I’m combining the two and making it a weekly feature. Now for this week’s story.
In the United States, 423 national parks and sites encompass 85,000,000 acres. Around 300 million people visit these sites each year. Of those visitors, there are an average of 330 deaths per year. More than half are accidental—drownings, falls, and car accidents. Some deaths are purposeful suicides.
Still, there are a number of unexplained disappearances and many of those often go unsolved. Such is the case of Paul Jean Welden who disappeared while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail hiking route in 1946.
Paula was an eighteen-year-old sophomore at Bennington College in North Bennington, Vermont. On the afternoon of December 1, 1946, she set out to hike the Long Trail. She wore adequate clothing for daytime temperatures but not for the anticipated nighttime drop. She took no extra clothing or money. It appeared she didn’t anticipate being gone for more than a few hours.
Welden hitched a ride from State Route 67A near the college to a point on State Route 9 near the Furnace Bridge between downtown Bennington and Woodford Hollow. From this point, Welden either hitchhiked or walked to the start of the trail in Woodford Hollow.
A group of hikers passed her as they ascended the trail. She asked them a few questions, then continued walking in a northerly direction. She was still on the trail in the late afternoon as darkness approached. It’s presumed she continued her walk along the Bolles Brook Valley, although the last confirmed sighting was at a place called Fay Fuller Camp.
When she didn’t return to campus, her roommate notified school officials, and a search began. Classes were suspended so that fellow students could help. Paula’s father enlisted the aid of the Connecticut State Police. (At that time there wasn’t a state police force in Vermont.) Despite an extensive search, Paula was never located. She was later declared dead in absentia.
There are several theories as to what happened. Authorities believe she ran away to begin a new life. Some believe she was depressed and committed suicide, while others speculate she was kidnapped or murdered. There was one person of interest, a lumberjack named Fred Gadette, but with insufficient evidence, no corpse, and no forensic evidence, authorities closed this avenue of the investigation.
The area where Paula disappeared came to be known as the Bennington Triangle, a reference to unexplained disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. In addition to Paula, there were at least four other mysterious disappearances in this area between 1945 and 1950. There are rumors Long Trail is home to a sasquatch-like animal known as the Bennington Monster. Some believe this creature is responsible for Paula’s disappearance.
If there is anything good that came from this event, it’s the creation of the Vermont State Police. They are now responsible for all wilderness search and rescue missions in the state.
This year, I’ll feature more unexplained disappearances in national parks. One of the most mysterious was the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde in the Grand Canyon. In 1928, the Hydes attempted to raft the Colorado River. Their story was one of my first Mystery Monday posts.