Born on 19 October 1928 to industrial engineer, architect, and designer William Archibald Welden, and his wife Jean Douglas, Paula Jean Welden was a sophomore at Bennington College in North Bennington, Vermont. She was 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing around 36 kg (123 lbs), pretty and smart, enjoyed swimming, skating, biking, hiking, playing the guitar, and square dancing, a country dance comprising of four couples facing one another in a square.
She had a scar mark on the left knee, a vaccination mark on the right thigh, and also a small scar under the left eyebrow. Paula Jean Welden was reported to be a responsible student, majoring in the arts, but she was not happy about it, and according to many of her peers, she was interested in Botany. Her college dormitory was Dewey House, one of the older dormitories near the college grounds, and she worked two shifts, the breakfast and lunch shifts at the dining hall.
On Sunday, the 1st-day of December 1946, after finishing her job at the Commons at Bennington College, Paula Jean Welden, 18, returned to her room in the Dewey House, spoke to her roommate for a while, before she changed her clothes, and told her roommate she was going to take a break and going for a long hike.
Although she did not mention where she was heading to, her roommate remembered Paula saying she was somewhat depressed in the days before, even did not visit her home over Thanksgiving. When she left the room, she was wearing a red parka jacket with fur-trimmed hood, blue jeans, white sneakers, and a small, golden Elgin ladies wristwatch with a black band. She carried no money, even left behind an uncashed cheque from her parents, suggesting her early return from a short hike. Unfortunately, she never came back.
Paula was seen by Danny Fager from the service station across from the college entrance, walking down the drive at around 2.30 pm, while Louis Knapp picked her up at about 2.45 pm and dropped her off about three miles from the Long Trail, near the Glastenbury Mountain. It was reported that she told Louis Knapp that she intended to hike the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the United States running the length of Vermont.
Despite the prevailing rule that students are required to sign themselves out if they are going to be off-campus later than 11.00 pm and are also required to check-in upon their return with the Bennington security office, there was no record that Paula had signed out or checked in with the security office on that particular date. Late at night on that day, Paula’s roommate thought that probably she was in the library to study for the preparation of the coming examination. But she became concerned in the next morning, when she discovered that Paula had never returned to their room the previous night, and later in the morning, she notified the matter to the school authorities. However, her disappearance was not looked into until Paula failed to attend her classes on Monday, when the college President phoned her parents to inquire whether Paula had gone home for a visit. As the reply sounded an alarm, Mary Garrett, the director of admission of the college, called the State Attorney to report the matter, and Paul’s father, William Archibald Welden, also arrived that day. On the same day, in the afternoon, Henry Steele of Fairdale Farms, working as a guide, headed to the Everett Cave on Mount Anthony, along with some students of the college as Paula had once expressed her intention to one of her friends to visit the cave. But they found no trace of the missing girl around the cave area. That evening her story was covered by the media, authorities in New York and Massachusetts were alerted, and her photographs were circulated.
Early in the morning of the 5th of December, more than 150 people from the Bennington and Williams College, along with several locals, started a thorough search in an area of seven square miles between Bald and Glastenbury Mountains, led by Sheriff Clyde Peck. Apart from that, five aircraft and 120 men from the State Guard were also deployed. But the search party found nothing. As the search of the Long Trail also yielded nothing, the authorities believed Paula was not there. Finally, the search operation stopped on 15 December, and a reward of US$ 500 was announced for any information in the matter. However, when the snow melted in May the following year, Paula’s father arranged another two-day search, but found no trace of her daughter. By that time, he became disgusted and criticized the lack of modern, sophisticated types of equipments and methods in handling the case, which served as the catalyst for the founding of the Vermont State Police seven months later.
It was suggested that probably Paula got lost as she went off track and succumbed to hypothermia as it began snowing after the sunset, and she was not properly dressed for the weather. It is possible that she found some hidey-hole to shield her from the elements, which went against the possibility of finding her remains. It was also suggested that probably she was raped, murdered, and buried somewhere along the trail by some miscreant for obvious reasons. However, no evidence was found that a crime had actually been committed, neither her body, nor any of her possessions were ever discovered, and no forensic clues were identified. The mysterious disappearance of Paula Jean Welden remains unsolved, and the case remains open to this day.
Strangely, between 1945 and 1950, at least four other unexplained vanishings were reported to have taken place in the same general area where Paula Welden disappeared. Due to the weird similarity and the strangeness of the events, the wilderness area northeast of Bennington was dubbed the Bennington Triangle by the Vermont broadcaster and folklorist Joseph A. Citro, referring to unexplained disappearances in the infamous Bermuda Triangle.