November 12, 1945: The First Disappearance in the Bennington Triangle


WHAT HAPPENED?


The Bennington Triangle, or, rather, an area of southwestern Vermont, was dubbed such by a New England author after a variety of people went missing in the area between 1945 and 1950. The mystery was further publicized in books and other cultural references.


The actual area of the "triangle" is not 100% clear, but it is centered on Glastenbury Mountain, and includes some, or all, of the towns immediately surrounding it. Glastenbury was once a thriving logging town, but is now essentially a ghost town.


According to the books written by Joseph Citro, beyond the disappearances, the area is known for some other strange happenings, even before the first disappearance.

THE DISAPPEARANCES


The first disappearance in the Bennington Triangle was that of Middie Rivers, a 74-year-old man, on November 12, 1945. Middie was out hunting in the mountains, and guiding a group of 4 hunters up the tricky mountain. On the way back, Middie got ahead of the group. But they never caught up, and he was never seen again.


Despite an extensive search into the disappearance, the only evidence ever recovered was a single rifle cartridge in a stream. The official speculation is that Middle had leaned over and the cartridge fell out of his pocket into the water, completely unrelated to her disappearance. Middie was an experienced hunter and fisherman, and was extremely familiar with the local area.


Just over a year later, Paula Jean Welden, an 18-year-old, disappeared on December 1, 1946. She was a sophomore at the local Bennington College, and set out for a hike in the scenic mountains. Many people saw her leave, including Ernest Whitman, a newspaper employee who provided her directions. On the trail itself, an elderly couple was only about 100 yards behind her and remembered seeing her.


According to the couple, she reached a corner in the trail and turned. But when they reached the same corner, Paula was nowhere to be found. When she didn't return to campus, an extensive search was conducted, and a $5,000 reward was offered from the FBI. Hundreds of volunteers, family members, students, firefighters, and National Guard troops searched, and air searches were coordinated, as well. It was originally theorized that she had simply gotten lost in the woods. But after weeks of searching turned up nothing, other possibilities had to be considered.


Some believed that Paula had decided to run away and start a new life, or was running off to meet a secret lover. Others believe that she may have suffered amnesia after an injury. Darker theories suggest that she may have been depressed and went into the woods to commit suicide, or that she was kidnapped or murdered while on her hike.


On the murder theory front, one person of interest was a lumberjack named Fred Gadette, who lived along the road and was one of the last people to see Paula alive. He had just gotten into an argument with his girlfriend when Paula went back, and his actions after that changed in different interviews with police. He told at least 2 people he knew where Paula was buried, but later claimed it was just talk. This avenue of investigation ended when no evidence turned up, though many believe he could have been involved.


Exactly 3 years after Paula disappeared, on December 1, 1949, James E. Tedford went missing. In 1940, he was living in Franklin, Vermont with his younger wife, Pearl. When he returned to Vermont after military service, he found Pearl had vanished; no trace of her could be found, and their home was left abandoned. No one had any idea where his wife was. Lonely and heartbroken, he moved into the Bennington Soldiers' Home.


On the fateful day, Ted was heading back to Bennington after visiting family in St. Albans, Vermont. The trip was about 8 hours long, but was lengthened due to the heavy snow. 14 other passengers saw James on the bus, and they all claimed he was sleeping in his seat. In fact, witnesses saw him still in his seat when the bus reached its second to last stop before Bennington. So when the bus arrived in Bennington and James was gone, his luggage still in the overhead rack, it made no sense. Somewhere between the last stop and Bennington, a grown man vanished.


While I can't claim I know what happened to Middie or Paula, there is at least an explanation. They got lost, or injured while hiking in rough terrain and died. Or, in Paula's case, she stumbled upon a murderer. Regardless of likelihood, they make sense. What the hell happened to James Tedford? I mean, reasonably, he had to have gotten off the bus at an earlier stop, but why did he leave all of his belongings behind? And did it have anything to do with his wife vanishing, as well? This one makes no sense! None!


The 4th disappearance was a child, an 8-year-old boy named Paul Jephson. On October 12, 1950, he was driving with his mother in her truck. His mother went to feed some pigs, and Paul stayed behind in the car, unattended. His mother was gone for about 1 hour. But when she returned, her young son was nowhere to be found.


Search parties formed looking for the child, but nothing was ever found. He had been wearing a bright red jacket that should have made him more visible and memorable, but no witnesses ever came forward seeing him, and nothing physical was ever found. According to one story, bloodhounds were able to track the child to the local highway where some believe Paula had disappeared years before.


The last of the mysterious disappearances was that of Freida Langer, a 53-year-old woman, on October 28, 1950. It was only 16 days after Paul went missing when Freida and her cousin left their family campsite to go on a hike by themselves. During the hike, Freida slipped and fell into a stream. She got out and asked her cousin to wait for her, as she planned to go back to the campsite, change clothes, and then meet back up with him. But she never came back.


Getting concerned, her cousin went back to the campsite only to find that she had never made it back. In fact, no one had seen her since she left earlier for the hike. This discovery triggered 2 weeks of searching, but no trace was found. However, on May 12, 1951, her body was found. Strangely enough, the area had been extensively searched 7 months earlier. No cause of death could be determined given the decomposition.


She is the only one of the "Bennington Triangle" 5 whose body was ever found.

THEORIES


So, have these people all just gone missing? Or is something more sinister at play?


One Reddit user who claims to have lived in Bennington all of their life and has hiked all over the area warns that the land is not to be taken lightly. The trails cut all over, and it isn't an easy terrain. Meaning, it is possible that the 3 hikers could have just slipped, fallen, or become victim to another misstep while traversing difficult terrain. Still, it doesn't explain the other bus and truck disappearances that aren't related to the wilderness at all.


One user doubts that the cases are connected at all. "I'm not sure that the number of disappearances in that area, over that span of time, is statistically unusual. Without sitting down and doing further analysis, I'd attribute the phenomena to people trying to make a narrative out of a handful of otherwise unconnected events." Which, like, yeah you're probably right. But isn't it fun to guess?


However, that doesn't mean some of these cases aren't deeply confusing. Even if there is a different theory, and a different reasoning for all of them, it is a little weird that 5 people disappeared in a fairly small area, all mysteriously and all unsolved. Right?


I mean, let's do a little math, okay? So, in 2019 (so not apples to apples here), 54 people went missing, which was 8.7 per every 100,000 people. The population of Bennington, Vermont in 1950 was 12,411. So, if 8.7 people disappear for every 100,000 people, about 1.07 people would go missing per year for every 12,411 people per year. Meaning, it probably was a little bit abnormal. If we round down, that really means that about 1 person should go missing in Bennington every year (and again, these numbers are not 1945-1950 numbers). That would track, provided no one else went missing in the entire city that year, and keep in mind, missing persons numbers may have been a lot less back in the day.


But! Here is the piece de resistance: In 2012, 661,000 people went missing. But very quickly, about 659,000 of those were cancelled, as in, the person came back, were found dead, or it was a total misunderstanding. Meaning, about .3% of missing persons cases, on average, remain unsolved by the end of the year. But in this case, of the 5 disappearances, 4/5, or 80%, remain unsolved. And the 20% that was "solved", meaning, the body was found, wasn't "solved" in that we know what happened. So while the actual number of disappearances tracks with the numbers, the amount of unsolved disappearances is what makes the Bennington Triangle a mystery.


I think I can guess what happened to almost everyone. Middie, though an experienced hiker, hunter, and fisherman, was 74-years-old. He could have fallen, or gotten lost and succumbed to the elements. Despite extensive searches finding no evidence, people go missing in tricky terrain often and aren't found.


Paula, I'm tied between murder and an accident. She probably fell or something, though if a couple was following her so closely, I would imagine they could have tracked police to where she was, or would have heard her scream. I do think it is very possible the lumberjack killed her. She was a pretty 18-year-old girl hiking alone.


Paul, while it breaks my heart, could have been kidnapped, or could have wandered off and died. He was left alone in a car for over an hour. Someone could have come by and taken him. But, he also could have gotten bored and started to walk and wander around, only to fall victim to the elements, even if he wasn't hiking in the mountains. The area may have still been rough for an 8-year-old. Or, a combination of both: he began walking around toward the highway, and someone kidnapped him. Or he wandered into the street, someone hit him, and disposed of his body as to not get caught. A lot of things could have happened to little Paul, but a non-human force doesn't seem to be it.


I'm just going to throw this out here, I think Freida was murdered by her cousin. Do I have any evidence? No. Sorry, cousin. But, I'm very thrown off by her body turning up in an area that had been searched extensively. To me, that reads like a murder and not an accident. How'd he do it? I don't know. Why did he do it? I don't know. But if she was going to ask for her cousin to wait for her anyway, why didn't he just walk back with her to the campsite? And how does a body turn up 7 months later in an area that was searched? I bet he waited until she was decomposed enough that he couldn't be pinned for it, and then let her family get the closure of finding her body. I have no evidence for this. Feelings over facts, or whatever.


But for James Tedford, I don't have a damn clue. Not a one. I would imagine someone just misremembered seeing him, but 14 witnesses is a pretty solid amount of witnesses. And, something weird definitely happened because he didn't take his luggage and stuff. This one makes no sense and no theory works and I genuinely think he evaporated.


But who knows! Maybe some mysterious force or really not picky serial killer was making rounds in Bennington between 1945-1950. Either way, the Bennington Triangle is a pretty weird, but lesser known, phenomenon and I have been fascinated to learn about it!

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bennington_Triangle

https://www.reddit.com/r/UnsolvedMysteries/comments/aotgw6/the_bennington_triangle_of_vermont_serial_killer/?sort=top

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_Jean_Welden

https://coolinterestingstuff.com/the-strange-mystery-of-james-edward-tedford

https://medium.com/of-misdeeds-and-mysteries/the-mystery-behind-the-bennington-triangle-c49dfae69e86

https://www.walb.com/2019/02/21/which-states-have-most-missing-persons-cases/#:~:text=ALBANY%2C%20GA%20(WALB)%20%2D,young%20children%20to%20older%20individuals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_U.S._Census_totals_for_Bennington_County,_Vermont#1940

https://www.npr.org/2013/05/07/182000622/majority-of-missing-persons-cases-are-resolved


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