The Biggest Theories About Paula Jean Welden's Disappearance: What Really Happened?

On December 1, 1946, Paula Jean Welden decided to take a break from studying and go for a hike on the "Long Trail" in Vermont's Glastenbury Mountains. Prior to leaving, the 18-year-old college student confirmed her plans with her roommate, and she was seen by several witnesses walking along the Long Trail. However, as reported by The Morbid Library, she seemingly vanished at some point along the way and was never seen again.

Born in 1928, Welden was the eldest of four children. As reported by The Charley Project, she and her family lived in Stamford, Connecticut. However, during the school year, she lived on campus at Bennington College.

The Morbid Library reports "she was a typical young woman," with an interest in botany and the arts. The Charley Project reports she specifically enjoyed oil and watercolor painting as well as sketching in charcoal and pencils. She also enjoyed playing the guitar and spending time outdoors camping and hiking.  

According to The Morbid Library, Weldon was "a responsible student," who worked in the Bennington College dining hall and dedicated much of her free time to her studies. On the day of her disappearance, Welden had worked two shifts in the dining hall and spent a majority of the afternoon studying. According to her roommate, she eventually said she needed a break and wanted to go hiking for the remainder of the afternoon.

Paula Jean Welden vanished on December 1, 1946

According to witness reports, Paula Jean Welden left her Dewey Hall dorm room at approximately 2:30 p.m. She was wearing a red parka, jeans, white sneakers, and a wristwatch with a black band. As reported by The Charley Project, she was not dressed appropriately for the cold weather. She also left with little or no money.

A witness said he found Welden hitchhiking near the Bennington campus, and agreed to give her a ride at 2:45 p.m. The man said Weldon wanted a ride to Glastonbury Mountain, where she planned to hike the Long Trail. The Charley Project reports the man dropped Weldon off approximately three miles from Route 9, where she planned to enter the trail.

It is believed that Weldon eventually made it to her destination, as several witnesses reported seeing her walking along the trail later that same day. One witness, in particular, spoke with Welden at approximately 4 p.m. According to The Charley Project, the teen stopped to ask the man about the total length of the trail before continuing along her way. The encounter was the last reported sighting of Welden before she vanished.

The sun set approximately one hour after the man spoke with Weldon. Within hours, it began snowing and the accumulation was reported to be around three inches. Welden's roommate became concerned when she did not return from her hike, but she was not reported missing until the following Monday. 

No trace of Paula Jean Welden was ever found

When she failed to attend her scheduled classes, the university called Paula Jean Welden's parents to see if they had heard from her or if she had returned home. She was reported missing after her parents confirmed they did not know anything about her whereabouts.

As reported by The Morbid Library, all Bennington College students were required to sign out if they planned to leave campus and return after 11 p.m. They were also required to check back in upon their return. However, there was no record of Welden checking in or out on December 1, 1946.

In addition to Welden's family and friends, the Connecticut and New York State Police departments began searching the Long Trail and surrounding region. Initially, authorities assumed Welden simply got lost or injured along the trail and ultimately died of exposure. However, despite conducting an extensive search, no trace of Welden was ever found on or around the trail.

In the hours after her disappearance was publicly announced, a waitress in Fall River, Massachusetts, contacted authorities to report seeing a young woman matching Welden's description in the diner where she worked. The Morbid Library reports the waitress described the young woman as appearing "disturbed." However, there are few details available about the encounter or the young woman's specific state of mind.

It has been suggested that Paula Welden was depressed

Another theory suggests Paula Welden was depressed and may have either run away or committed suicide. According to some accounts, Welden was considering changing her major from art to botany but was struggling with the decision. As reported by The Morbid Library, she was feeling somewhat depressed in the days or weeks prior to her disappearance. However, they did not believe she was severely depressed.

Welden's parents disagreed with the theory that she may have run away or committed suicide. Instead, they suspected her boyfriend may have been involved. The Morbid Library reports Welden's father, in particular, did not approve of the relationship. According to reports, the only other thing linking the boyfriend to Welden's disappearance was a report from a psychic.

Although authorities did not consider the boyfriend to be a likely suspect, her father was insistent that they continue following that lead. The Morbid Library reports the dispute ultimately led to a breakdown in the relationship between Welden's father and the authorities investigating her disappearance.

One of the most compelling persons of interest in Welden's disappearance was a man named Fred Gadette, who worked as a lumberjack and lived near the trail where Welden vanished. In 1955, Gadette went to authorities and confessed to having information about the teen's disappearance and knowing where her remains were buried. However, he later recanted the confession and claimed he was simply seeking attention. Gadette also reportedly bragged to others about attacking and killing Welden.

Some people suspect Paula Welden's father was involved

As reported by Bennington Banner, another theory suggests Paula Jean Welden's father was actually involved in her disappearance. In the week prior to Welden's disappearance, she had planned to return to her family's home in Connecticut to celebrate Thanksgiving. However, Welden's roommate said she decided to stay on campus instead. The roommate also said Welden and her father had a disagreement prior to her disappearance.

Welden's father also drew suspicion when he apparently vanished for 36 hours amid the search for his daughter. Bennington Banner reports Welden's father disappeared immediately after hearing his daughter was possibly seen by the waitress in Massachusetts. However, he did not tell anyone he was leaving or where he was going.

In the weeks and months following his daughter's disappearance, Welden's father was unabashedly vocal in his criticism of law enforcement and his belief that they were not investigating the disappearance to their full ability. He also criticized the state of Vermont for not having its own police force.

Other theories have even suggested that Welden's disappearance may have been related to rumored paranormal activity in the area known as "The Bennington Triangle." 

The term, "Bennington Triangle," was introduced by author Joseph A. Citri in 1992. According to Citri, the triangle, which according to Legends of America, extends in the region surrounding Glastenbury Mountain, and includes the cities of Bennington, Shaftesbury, Woodford, and several ghost towns, has an unusual, and potentially dangerous, energy.

Is there a connection to the Bennington Triangle?

According to legend, the region has been a hotbed of unexplained experiences, sightings, and a number of disappearances. As reported by Legends of America, sightings of "a Bigfoot-like" creature have been reported in the region since the early 1800s, and the mysterious disappearances have been reported as far back as 1945.

Paula Jean Welden was the second of several people to go missing in what would later be referred to as the Bennington Triangle. Legends of America reports there are no known ties between any of the people who vanished from the region, and theories about the disappearances have ranged from paranormal activity to a serial killer. Others have suggested unusual wind patterns may account for people getting lost on and around the mountain — never to be found due to the expansive and dense forest.

Welden's case ultimately went cold, and she was eventually declared dead. However, no sign of the teen or her belongings were ever found. She is described as a Caucasian female with blonde hair and blue eyes. The Charley Project reports she had three distinguishing scars, including one on her left knee, left eyebrow, and a vaccine scar on her right thigh.

Welden's disappearance brought national attention to Vermont's lack of a state police force. It even encouraged the formation of Vermont's state police department in July 1947.