On the afternoon of December 1, 1946, Bennington College (VT) sophomore Paula Welden came back to her dorm room after working at the dining hall, told her roommate she was going out for a brief hike as a “study break,” and then left campus, headed up a trail near Glastenbury Mountain. It was strange that Paula would choose to go for a hike on this day. She was under-dressed for the weather and it was very cold–in fact it began snowing later in the evening. She was seen by a couple of people including a man she hitchhiked with to get to the trail, but was last seen at 4:00 PM. She has never been seen again.
Missing persons investigations were slow and cumbersome in the 1940s, especially in Vermont, which had no state police at the time. Originally investigators assumed Paula got caught in the cold weather and died of exposure, but not finding any trace of her, they were forced to confront other theories. Here’s an excerpt from the Charley Project case file:
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.
Something good did come out of Paula’s case: Vermont created a State Police bureau in 1947, partially due to the lobbying efforts of her father.
I’m fascinated by these very old cases. I’m convinced that there’s more to this story than a “lost in the woods” ending. Why did Paula suddenly decide to go hiking in December? It seems like there’s more here, but due to the passage of time we will likely never know.