On Sunday, December 1, 1946, Paula Jean Welden told her roommate she was going for a walk and left her dorm on the Bennington College campus. It was about 2:45 in the afternoon. She was dressed in a red parka, blue jeans and white sneakers. Not long after, a gas station attendant spotted Paula, or someone who resembled her, just outside the college’s gates. Around 3 p.m., a man picked up a hitchhiker who matched Paula’s description on Route 67A. He dropped her off on Route 9 near the entrance to the Long Trail. Several people reportedly saw Paula on or near the trail in the next hour. She never returned to her dorm, and has not been seen or heard from again.
Searches for Paula began the day after she went missing. Paula’s father, who traveled to Bennington from his home in Connecticut as soon as he learned her daughter was missing, organized volunteers to search. Classes were suspended so students could help, and police from New York and Connecticut traveled to Vermont to assist. Rewards up to $5000 were offered for information. No trace of Paula was found.
Paula’s father returned home on December 16, though searches continued until January. Sightings of Paula were reported throughout New England, but none could be substantiated. A year after Paula disappeared, Detective Almo Franzoni told the Bridgeport Telegram, “I don’t think we ever had a good clue,” though he believes Paula had died not long after she was last seen.
Paula was reportedly depressed in the days before she disappeared, so suicide was considered a possibility. There was also speculation that she had a boyfriend, whom she may have run off with or who could be responsible for her disappearance. No suspects were ever named. Other theories have been proposed in the decades since Paula disappeared, from her being the victim of an unknown serial killer to the paranormal. Despite years of speculation, there is little evidence to support any of the theories, and no new clues have been uncovered.
At the time of her disappearance, Paula was five feet five inches tall and weighed 122 pounds. She had strawberry blond hair and blue eyes. She was 18 years old, and would be 91 today.
Anyone with information about Paula’s disappearance should contact the Vermont State Police: (802) 722-4600.
Sources and additional information: