Disappeared: Paula Welden, missing 67 years.

welden

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.

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17 Comments on Disappeared: Paula Welden, missing 67 years.

  1. It sounds like she went up there with specific intent, maybe to meet someone at a prearranged time and place.

  2. It sounds like she walked away from her life.

  3. My take on Paula’s case. As you can seen in the report there is no information available that she intended to do anything more then take a walk and those who knew her felt it was not out of the ordinary for her to decide to hike alone. One former professor was reported as saying Paula had a “Lone Wolf” type of personality.

    However sightings that day do present the strong possibility of foul play. One man questioned some six years later did admit to following Paula in his pickup truck that day. But Attorney Rubin Levin who led the questioning, was a temporary states attorney, an his term expired without any charges being filed.

  4. Sandy Bausch // June 16, 2013 at 10:37 am //

    Check out Michael C. Dooling’s book “Clueless in New England” the story of three young women who disappeared forever while walking and hitch hiking near New England’s western boarder. The story of Paula Weldon, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull.

    • Hi Sandy,

      I have not read Michael C. Dooling’s book, “Clueless in New England: the unsolved disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull,” just newspaper summaries. So there may be more established facts in the book then I am aware of, but based on news reports it sounds to me more like a interesting story where facts are mixed with rumors and supported by wild speculation.

      If I wanted to just speculate about Paula’s fate then I could include passages from Clay Perry’s caving book “New England’s Buried Treasure.” Perry tells accounts of caving in Vermont and other New England states as well as fanciful tales of weird creatures and ghost stories associated with various caves. It’s a very entertaining book and one of the first caving books I read, but its not even close to being a truthful well documented source. Still Paula’s remains, Connie’s also for that matter, could be hidden in a limestone or marble cave. While a hundred miles or more apart, both locations have a limestone base and known caves, so why not?

      The point I am trying to make is I think the three cases are interesting but nothing concrete connects them. The three women don’t fit a general profile. They don’t have a common location and they vanished many years apart.

      If those three are connected why not Lynne K. Schulze, 18, missing since December 10, 1971 from Middlebury, Vermont.

      If your suspected unknown serial killer abducted and killed three females from different locations in three separate decades, why not the beginning of a fifth?

      In a Litchfield County Times interview Mr. Dooling, speaking about Connie Smith, said, “In the 50s when girls disappeared, [it was] assumed they got lost, ran away, had amnesia, were roaming around a distant city, joined a convent or something like that.” Actually the Connecticut State Police quickly surmised she was abducted and the common culprits back then were described as so-called gypsies.

      Sorry it sounds like “Clueless in New England” is clueless.

  5. Apparently in 1955, a lumberjack who had been in Bickford Hollow told a friend he had followed a woman who looked like Paula into the woods, and that he knew where Paula’s body was. After being questioned, he claimed that he had been joking. A truck with NY tags had been seen coming down the trail around the time that Paula would have been on it, as had a maroon hatchback with a blonde woman passenger.

    Also interesting is that Paula’s roommate, Elizabeth Johnson, stated that Paula and her had previously walked the trail, became lost and spent a night in the woods :http://tkrice.tripod.com/welden.html. It was in the fifties when Paula left, which would explain the lack of warmer clothing, but it became extremely cold, windy and started to snow later that evening. Did Paula find herself in the same situation?

    • Interesting B,

      While I have not seen a newspaper report that said, “Elizabeth Johnson, stated that Paula and her had previously walked the trail, became lost and spent a night in the woods. “ I have no reason to believe the researcher did not find one and it prompts several questions.

      If Paula and Elizabeth had hiked the trail before why would she be asking for directions and information about the trail just as she started hiking on it? Is it possible that on their previous trip they hiked a section of the trail headed south from route 9, not north as Paula did that day? Or is it possible it was a different trail system altogether?

      The biggest question is if Paula had previously gotten lost and had to spend the night in the woods what would her most likely actions have been as dusk set in on December 1st?

      To me you do one of two things. Turn around and head out, possibly excepting a ride from the wrong person, or stay put and wait for daylight as apparently Paula and Elizabeth had done when they got lost.

      If she did the latter, stayed put and died of hypothermia, she should have been found.

      If she did the former, and I think that’s far more likely given the fact it was reported that she had met a number of people along the trail who she would have felt would help her out – well Paula’s remains could be anywhere.

      It doesn’t take much for a person to lose their guard. A car with her home state Connecticut’s blue and white license tags on it could do the trick. So could a young man in a pick up truck who said he was a local hunter and would be going by her school on his way home.

  6. silviapettem // June 20, 2013 at 8:51 am //

    To Peter and all: I’m a big fan of Michael Dooling’s and have read his well-researched book, “Clueless in New England.” I recommend it to anyone interested in Paula’s case.

  7. I would like to clarify a few things about my book Clueless in New England. It is not simply based on newspaper accounts, which don’t always have all, or the best, information on cold cases. Although I have cited many news accounts, I also examined the state police files in the Paula Welden and Connie Smith cases, all carefully footnoted in the book. Police files weren’t available in the Katherine Hull case, so I examined several area newspapers to obtain, as best I could, a balanced account of the events. I used no internet sources whatsoever; I found considerable misinformation online and I used primary source materials whenever available. Rumors and wild speculation not included.
    The three cases have several similarities. The three young women disappeared after having been seen hitchhiking on roads near the New York border. The roads on which they were last seen connect to Route 22 in New York State, they all disappeared in small towns and all were from out of town and unfamiliar with the area where they were last seen. All were walking alone when they went missing and they disappeared like no one wanted them found.
    Regarding Paula having visited the Long Trail before, according to Elizabeth Johnson’s lengthy statement to the Connecticut State Police, she and Paula Welden had hiked many trails but not the Long Trail. Paula appeared to be on a scouting expedition to find out how to access it for a future hike.
    When Paula disappeared, a week passed with the woods being searched for a college student who had gotten lost. Bennington College closed for a week and the entire student body searched the woods for her. It was only after the Connecticut State Police became involved 10 days after she disappeared (at the request of Vermont’s governor) that other options were seriously considered. During the next few days investigators interviewed everyone who had been near or had seen Paula. This included a man who was suspicious. He was again interviewed in 1952 and there were inconsistencies in his story from that of 1946. But there was no physical evidence, no witnesses, and no body. Hence, no charges.
    The initial assumption of the Connecticut State Police in the Connie Smith case was that she was lost. They searched woods, roads, culverts and quarries on foot, by car, horse and airplane. They theorized she might have attempted to hitchhike back home to Wyoming or that she might have suffered amnesia from a fall the night before. Four days after Connie disappeared, New York State Police interviewed gypsies in Amenia based on a report from a woman who saw a girl who looked similar to Connie traveling with them. Police found no evidence to support that sighting. At this point, the investigation was still looking for a lost or hitchhiking girl or was responding to “sightings.” There was a gradual realization this case might have been the result of a criminal act.
    The Katherine Hull case was similar to the others and occurred in Lebanon Springs, New York about 35 miles south of Welden’s Bennington and about 35 miles north of Smith’s Lakeville. When she disappeared, the entire effort revolved around the belief she might have been lost in the woods, possibly hitchhiking back home to Syracuse, perhaps having amnesia or joining a convent. There was no criminal investigation to speak of. The Hull case is also the only one of the three in which remains were found. When Katherine’s skeleton was found outside Pittsfield, Massachusetts seven years later, the state police concluded she must have died of exposure. This could not have been determined from the remains; they simply wanted to get the case off their books because they didn’t have a chance of solving it.
    The three cases have interesting similarities and I hypothesized they could have been the work of a serial killer. For a researcher to ignore those similarities among the cases and to summarily discount the possibility of a serial crime would be remiss.

    • Michael, thanks for joining the discussion! I have not read your book but your comments make me want to do just that.

      • Sean, et al: Please do read “Clueless in New England.” Michael Dooling is a well-respected and thorough researcher… I know, as I interviewed him for my recent book, Cold Case Research: Resources for Unidentified, Missing, and Cold Homicide Cases. Thanks, Silvia Pettem

    • Thanks Michael,

      Connie’s case is a fascinating and tragic one.

      A bit of background. My mom’s brother Raymond Becker, his wife, and their six children, lived on Under Mountain Road just off Route 44 in Salisbury. Lakeville is a southern subsection of Salisbury. The small village had a few shops and a gas station back in 1952. My late uncle was part of the first search effort. I was four when Connie vanished and when my older cousins first told me about her a few years later I felt it was more akin to a boy scout campfire horror story, then real life.

      Connie was from Sundance, Wyoming. However most of the kids at Camp Sloane were from New York City or Westchester County, New York.

      In the days before she vanished some kids went home and new kids arrived. I believe that one or more of the new kids took a dislike to the girl who according to her original CSP flyer “loves all animals, especially horses; likes to swim and is a fair swimmer; likes to color with crayons and read funny books; makes friends very easily with youngsters; can handle a baton but is not very good at it; and has a vivid imagination, especially about her animals friends. Some of her creations are about a rattlesnake pet and her horse “Toni” (a white mare) that can twirl a baton. Hand written on the CSP poster: ‘she likes to play dress up.’”

      I think this period news account is a fabrication. “During the early morning giggling and romping, Connie had got a bloody nose when a tent-mate climbing down from the bunk above her accidentally kicked her in the face.” Instead I think there was a schoolgirl confrontation.

      Two very different worlds collided, and Connie, who had been happy up to a few days earlier, now felt she was a outcast.

      That’s why when Connie asked directions at Mrs. William Walsh’s house she was crying. I believe she was heading for a public pay phone at the gas station in the tiny hamlet of
      Lakeville and was planning to call her mother and ask for her to pick her up.

      From period news reports “Near Belgo Road, Connie tried to hitchhike a ride from Mr. and Mrs. John Brun, heading for their Lakeville business establishment. They became no. 7 and 8 to regret because they passed her by as she stood on the right (South Side) of the road. Through the rear view mirror Brun could see her walking along towards Lakeville.”

      “At 8:45 Mrs. Frank E. Barnett, a housewife, was driving from Millerton, NY on Route 44 and just before turning into Belgo Road said she saw the little girl walking east on the north side of Route 44”

      Its at this point, on the north side of Route 44, picking wild daises, after being observed hitchhiking, that Connie Smith vanishes.

      Who took her? No one knows. Back then if a child was taken the automatic assumption was kidnapping for ransom. Especially if the child’s parents were wealthy. Today were know different.

      I think someone picked Connie up and…, she was probably dead before the state police learned she was missing.

      Just the other day I got a e-mail asking if I knew of any milk deliveries that day.

      Litchfield County was dotted with dozens of dairy farms back in the ’50’s, so the general answer is yes, on any given day trucks would be collecting milk all over the county. And yes route 44 would be used to go south to places like Conn’s Dairy in my home town of New Milford. Now were Conn’s milk truck drivers collecting milk from the Salisbury area? I have no idea.

      I feel sure there were other dairy’s in places like Torrington, Ct. and across the boarder in Great Barrington and Pittsfield, Mass. Route 44 would have been uses at one point or another to get to all those locations for tucks collecting milk in the Salisbury area or by intersecting with it if the trucks were coming up Route 41 from Sharon.

      Did a milk truck driver take her? Well its as good a theory as any other.

      As I said I need to read your book. I know the book summery points to geography profiles. And again sorry, I know about geography profiling and if anything the three cases suggest the cases are separate, different, individual, events.

      Unless you want to qualify that by saying three white women of different ages, different backgrounds, who went missing in different locations on the east coast within a three decades period, are inevitably connected.

      That’s akin to suggesting a single unknown Smiley Faces predator has been killing young men in the mid-west for decades, simply because smiley face drawings were located close to a number of crime scenes.

      You might as well say “Kilroy did them” the more resent young men, and your older female victims as well.

      .

  8. Are you collecting photos from this case? I have some photos of the Bennington College campus, a Boston American photographer, the student body, helicopters,taken by my mother who was a student there. Just found them in her old albums…not many, but interesting.

  9. while going through some old papers found in a house that I was renting I came across a paper that explained how she was murdered and why and exact details where she is buried, it also states that she was pregnant at the time!

  10. I would be interested in reading/seeing the information that you have. You can contact me through http://www.silviapettem.com Thank you.

  11. This case is still open. If you have a paper of this nature, please contact the Vermont State Police with your finding. I would love the chance to read it as well. I can be contacted at michaelcdooling@gmail.com. Thanks.

  12. What I am having a problem understanding is why she went for a walk in that wilderness area when it was very close to being dark at that time of year. You don’t go hiking at night, especially as underdressed as she was.

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