One afternoon in December 1946, a college sophomore named Paula Jean Welden went for a walk on Vermont’s Long Trail. She was never seen again. And while Welden’s case was perplexing on its own, her disappearance wasn’t the only one to occur on that particular piece of land.
A student at Bennington College, Welden was 18 when she mysteriously vanished from the trail. According to the Bennington Banner, the young woman was wearing a “red coat with a fur collar, jeans, and lightweight sneakers” — i.e, she was dressed too light for that time of year. A hitchhiker claimed she had dropped her off near the Trail and Ernie Whitman, a watchman, said he’d warned her about the cold weather. Disregarding the advice, she decided to continue her journey on the 270-mile path.
From massive search parties to generous rewards, the teen — or her remains — were never found. Years later her disappearance became a sort of legend. Some speculated that she was the victim of extraterrestrials. The New York Daily News reports that some believed this region was home to “large, hairy human-like creatures and rumors of man-eating rocks, ghosts and aliens” which swallowed people whole. While Welden’s case led to plenty of speculation, additional unexplained mysteries on the Trail further fueled these theories.
Long Trail Disappearances
A year before Welden went missing, a 74-year-old mountain guide took a different route on the trail and was never seen again.
Understaffing and lack of resources severely botched Welden’s investigation, which led to the creation of the state police in 1947, according to the New England Historical Society. Three years after Welden’s vanishing, however, a 68-year-old walked off after a bus ride and was also never seen alive again.
According to New York Daily News, a new rash of disappearances occurred after Welden’s. Sitting in a pickup truck, 8-year-old Paul Jepson vanished in 1950 while his mother tended to the hogs. Like Welden, search parties and even psychics were able to turn up nothing.The only body that was ever found belonged to Freida Langer, a 53-year-old who hit the Trail during a hunting party. Unfortunately, her remains were too decomposed to provide authorities with any clues.
While swirling extraterrestrial theories may seem appealing, two incidents which occurred years before Welden’s suggest this may be the work of a serial killer.
The first is Katherine Hull. Last seen in Lebanon Springs, N.Y. (40 miles from Bennington), the 22-year-old stenographer’s skull was recovered seven years later. Like Welden, Hull had hitchhiked prior to her disappearance.
In 1952, 10-year-old Connie Smith disappeared from a Lakeville, C.T. summer camp. Reportedly 70 miles away from where Welden vanished, Smith, like the others, also hitched a ride prior to her disappearance. Her body was also never recovered.
We may never know what really happened to all the people who have gone missing from Long Trail, but one thing is certain — the Internet will definitely keep trying to figure it out.
The Charley Project
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