In 1946, College Student Paula Jean Welden Went For A Walk And Was Never Seen Again

18-year-old college sophomore Paula Jean Welden told her roommate she was going on a hike when she seemingly vanished in December 1946. It's believed that Welden disappeared somewhere along a hiking trail near Bennington College in southern Vermont, and her case remains unsolved to this day.

There are multiple theories about what happened to Paula, including getting lost in the woods during her hike, being murdered by a serial killer, running off with a boyfriend, and even a supernatural explanation. What is known is that Paula had recently fought with her father and had seemed depressed, according to her college roommate. 

Although Paula Jean Welden disappeared over 75 years ago, her case still remains open. Below, we explore the facts and theories surrounding her infamous vanishing.

  • Welden Was Just 18 Years Old When She Went Missing On A Hike In December 1946

    Welden Was Just 18 Years Old When She Went Missing On A Hike In December 1946
    Photo: The Charley Project / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    On December 1, 1946, Paula Jean Welden had just finished a double shift working in the dining hall of Bennington College. She reportedly returned to her dorm room, where she was seen by her roommate, Elizabeth Johnson, around 2:45 pm. According to Johnson, Welden said, “I'm all through with studies; I'm taking a long walk.” That would be the last time Johnson ever saw her. 

    Welden didn't tell Johnson where exactly she was going to hike, but it's believed she then headed towards the Long Trail, a 273-mile trail stretching the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada. The trail was only a short distance from the college.

  • Welden Took Nothing With Her Before Leaving, Indicating She Didn’t Plan On Being Gone More Than A Few Hours

    While it's unclear exactly how long Welden planned to walk, she wore only a red parka with a fur-lined hood, denim jeans, and Top-Siders, which wouldn't have stood up to the cold December weather for long. Welden left all of her other personal belongings in her dorm room, with the exception of a gold Elgin wristwatch with a black band. She even left behind an uncashed check that her parents had sent her.

    It's also been noted that Bennington students were required to “sign out” of the school if they planned to be out late and to check in with a security guard after they returned. There is no record of Welden signing the logbook or speaking to anyone in campus security. 

  • Multiple People Saw And Interacted With Welden In The Area Where She Vanished

    After leaving her dorm room, gas station owner Dan Fager saw Welden walking near a gravel pit close to the main entrance of Bennington College around 2:45 pm. 

    Fifteen minutes later, truck driver Louis Knapp reported he had picked up a young woman hitchhiking along Route 67A near the college. He then dropped her off along Route 9 where she headed towards the Long Trail.

    An hour later at approximately 4 pm, several people saw Welden in an area known as Bickford Hollow. One of the witnesses, Ernie Whitman, later told authorities he had called out to Welden, saying the weather was too cold for the light coat she was wearing. However, Welden seemingly paid no attention to Whitman and began her hike on the Long Trail. It would turn out to be the last credible sighting of the young college student.

  • The Ensuing Weeks-Long Search Included Hundreds Of Volunteers, Neighboring Law Enforcement, The National Guard, And A Reward

    The Ensuing Weeks-Long Search Included Hundreds Of Volunteers, Neighboring Law Enforcement, The National Guard, And A Reward
    Photo: The Charley Project / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Although Elizabeth Johnson was worried about Welden, she waited until the following day to report her roommate missing. The president of Bennington College then called Welden's parents, and allegedly her mother fainted after hearing the news. Welden's father, W. Archibald Welden, came to Bennington, where search parties were being put together. 

    Police, students, local residents, and even the Boy Scouts searched for Welden. A bulldozer was brought in to dig up the gravel pit where she had been seen by Dan Fager. Despite all efforts, no trace of Welden was found along the Long Trail or the surrounding area. Mr. Welden raised $5,000 for a reward, but no one attempted to claim it. Investigators believed Welden likely got lost along the trail and died from exposure, but they had no physical evidence to back up their theory.

  • Strange Leads Began To Surface From As Far Away As Other States

    As news of Welden's disappearance began to spread in the papers, people started to report sightings of her across the East Coast. The first credible tip was from a waitress in Fall River, MA, who had served a young woman matching Welden's description. The waitress noted that the young woman seemed upset at the time, but it was unclear what exactly she was upset about. However, the woman turned out not to be Welden after all.

    Shortly after the Fall River sighting, a train conductor said he had seen a woman who looked like Welden aboard a train in South Carolina. This lead also went nowhere. 

  • One Of The Last People To Possibly See Welden Alive Gave Multiple Conflicting Statements To Police

    A local lumberjack named Fred Gadette became a person of interest as police looked into the theory of foul play in Welden's disappearance. Gadette lived in a cabin along the Long Trail and is said to have given differing accounts of what he was doing the day Welden disappeared.

    In 1955, Gadette made the shocking revelation that he had seen Welden on the Long Trail the day she disappeared. In fact, he knew where to find her body. After intense questioning, however, Gadette admitted he had made up the entire story, apparently just looking for some attention.