Paula Jean Welden

Welden, circa 1946

  • Missing Since 12/01/1946
  • Missing From Bennington, Vermont
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 10/19/1928 (95)
  • Age 18 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'5, 122 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A red parka with a fur-trimmed hood, blue jeans, size 6 1/2 or 7 white Top-Sider sneakers with heavy soles, and a small gold ladies' Elgin wristwatch with a narrow black band. The watch has the repairer's marking "13050 HD" scatched on the inside of the back case.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Welden has a grayish-colored scar on her left knee, a small scar under her left eyebrow, and a vaccination scar on her right thigh. She has a cleft chin and an upturned nose.

Details of Disappearance

Welden was a sophomore at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont at the time of her disappearance. She was last seen on December 1, 1946. She worked the breakfast and lunch shifts at the dining hall, came back to her dormitory room in Dewey Hall and spoke to her roommate for awhile before saying she was going for to go to take a study break and go for a hike. She didn't say where she was headed.

Welden left campus shortly after 2:30 p.m. She was probably carrying little or no money at the time, and she left behind an uncashed check her parents had sent her for living expenses. She was also under-dressed for the cold weather.

Welden was hitchhiking near the Bennington campus when a passing motorist picked her up at 2:45 p.m. She told him she was going to hike on the Long Trail off Route 9, near Glastenbury Mountain. The driver dropped her off on Route 9, about three miles from her destination. Several others saw her at that day walking on the trail.

The last confirmed sighting of Welden was at 4:00 p.m., when she spoke to a man on the trail and asked her how far it extended. He told her it went all the way to Canada. The sun set at about 5:00 p.m. and it began snowing a few hours after that, accumulating three inches.

Welden has never been heard from again. Her roommate became concerned the next morning when she realized she'd never returned home the previous night. Later that morning, she notified the school authorities of Welden's disappearance.

At the time, Bennington students were required to sign themselves out if they planned to stay out past 11:00 p.m., then check in with the school security officer upon their return; Welden had done neither of those things. When she failed to attend her classes the following Monday, Bennington College officials notified her family and the police.

An extensive search of the Long Trail and its environs turned up no sign of Welden and no significant clues. The search was hampered by the fact that Vermont had no state police at the time. Eventually, officials from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York stepped in to help.

Investigators initially believed Welden had gotten lost in the mountains and died of exposure, but as time passed without their finding any sign of her, they began to consider other theories.

Authorities looked into Welden's background to see if she might have left of her own accord. She had never had a steady boyfriend and 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 left all her belongings behind, and her family stated she was not the type of person to leave without warning.

There is no hard evidence of foul play in Welden's disappearance, but many people believe she was murdered and buried somewhere in near the Long Trail.

Welden lived with her parents and three younger sisters in Stamford, Connecticut when she was not in school. She enjoyed painting in oils and watercolors, pencil and charcoal sketching, and playing the guitar, and she was physically active and an experienced hiker and camper. In part because of her father's lobbying, in July 1947 Vermont passed a law creating a state police force.

Welden's disappearance remains unsolved; there has been no indication of her whereabouts since 1946.

Updated 6 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated December 17, 2013; picture added.