April 12, 2015

The Bennington Triangle: Strange Disappearances

I think most people have heard of the Bermuda Triangle. Many people in New England also know about the Bridgewater Triangle, an area in Southeastern Massachusetts famous for paranormal activity.

Maybe paranormal triangles come in threes, because folklore guru Joseph Citro claims there's also one in his home state of Vermont. Centered on Glastenbury Mountain in Bennington County, the Bennington Triangle shares some traits with its Massachusetts cousin. Bigfoot like creatures have been seen there frequently, strange lights are seen in the area, and it has some murky connections to old Native American lore.

However, the Bennington Triangle is most famous for a series of strange disappearances that happened there in the 1940s and 1950s. Hairy humanoids and weird orbs are creepy, but I'm downright terrified by people vanishing.

It's not unusual for hikers, usually from out of town, to get lost in the New England woods, but most often they are rescued by the Park Service. The Bennington disappearances were mostly local folks, though, which makes them much stranger, and they all disappeared without a trace. Well, almost.

The first person to disappear was local hunting guide named Middie Rivers. Seventy-one year old Rivers was a Vermont native and knew Glastenbury Mountain well. On November 12, 1945 he was leading a group of hunters home from a trip up the mountain. Rivers went ahead of the four men, who assumed they would catch up with him. They never did, and didn't find him even when they emerged from the trail. They reported him missing, and despite search parties combing the woods neither Middie Rivers or his body were ever found.

The next person vanished on December 1, 1946. A Bennington College student named Paula Welden set out for a hike alone. She never returned, and once again search parties tracked through the woods trying to find the college sophomore, and once again they found nothing.

Three years later, on December 1, 1949, a Bennington man named Jim Tedford was taking the bus home from seeing family in St. Albans. Although many people saw him get on the bus, he did not get off. Somehow, somewhere along the route he apparently vanished from the vehicle. His bags were still on the bus when it arrived in Bennington.

On October 12, 1950, an eight-year old boy named Paul Jepson disappeared from his family's truck while his mother fed the pigs. Again, neither the boy or his body were ever found. He was followed by Freida Langer, who slipped in a stream while hiking with her cousin on October 28, 1950. She told him to wait while she ran back to their campsite to change clothes. He waited, and waited, and waited... In a familiar ritual, hundreds of people searched the woods in vain for the missing girl.

The final person to disappear was a teenage girl named Frances Christman. In the fall of 1950, shortly after Freida Langer vanished, Christman told her family she was going to visit a friend who lived less than a mile away. She never arrived at her friend's house, and was never seen again.

I said almost all the victims vanished without a trace. There was one exception. Freida Langer's body was found in open ground near a reservoir in May of 1951. That spot had been searched many times the previous autumn, so it seems likely her body had been placed there some time later. Langer's body was too decomposed for a coroner to determine the cause of her death.

Who or what was behind all these disappearances? I've seen a few paranormal theories floating around on the web: UFO abduction, Bigfoot kidnapping, portals into another dimension. Naturally, there's no proof of any of those things, but they're all fun to think about.

More fun than the alternative, which is that these people were murdered and their bodies carefully disposed of. Could these people have been killed by a local serial killer? Many people think serial killers always murder one specific type of person, and this has been reinforced by various Hollywood movies. The six people who disappeared (one of whom was clearly killed) were of various ages and sexes, so therefore according to this line of thought a serial killer couldn't be responsible.

Unfortunately, it's not true that every serial killer goes for just one type of person. That makes a great plot point, but some serial killers just go for whoever is convenient. This FBI report also notes that most serial killers don't travel much and generally commit their crimes in a limited geographic area. It's interesting that all the disappearances happened not only in a small area, but also during the autumn months.

OK, I'm going to stop writing about serial killers because it creeps me out, but here's one thing against the serial killer theory: how did Jim Tedford vanish from a moving bus? I don't think anyone could make that happen.

In the end we're just left with a lot of questions, some spooky disappearances, and one gruesome murder. Be careful when you're out walking in the woods.


Anonymous said...

Paula Jean Welden was almost certainly murdered.

There was a strong suspect at the time, a man who was initially interviewed as a witness until he raised red flags by telling police he remembered seeing Paula around the same time he left the house following a blow-out argument with his live-in girlfriend. This same man later got drunk at a bar and bragged that he knew where Paula's body was buried.

Unfortunately, this once-promising lead was lost to time and the Welden disappearance has since gone the same way as so many other missing women, tagged well after the fact as romantic runaways, living happily under an assumed name somewhere. Perhaps it's wishful thinking or some collective denial that the kind of monstrous instinct that leads men to do terrible things to women who walk through the world alone is as common as it really is.

One needn't look to far from Glastonbury to find other, more contemporary examples. There's Lynne Kathryn Schulze, dismissed as a hippie drop-out when she disappeared across the street from Robert Durst's health food store in Middlebury, VT in 1971. And in more recent memory, there's Maura Murray, vanished after wrecking her car catty-corner from a reputed rapist's home in Haverhill, NH and Brianna Maitland, who left work 100 miles and a month later in Montgomery, VT and never made it home.

The list is dreary and seemingly endless but as the old saying goes, no body, no crime.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It sounds like you've done a lot of research into this topic. Just the brief skim I did left me feeling very uneasy. Do you have any sources to recommend for people who want to learn more?

Anonymous said...

Thank YOU for the blog, Peter! Been reading and commenting for quite some time now and you always manage to find stories that strike a nerve.

As far as further reading goes, you mention Joseph Citro's "Passing Strange" as a primary source for the Bennington disappearances. The only other book I can think of offhand where Paula Welden's case can be found is Michael Dooling's "Clueless in New England." I'd also recommend Philip Ginsberg's "Shadow of Death" about the unsolved Connecticut River Valley serial murders. It's not without its flaws but the author does a good job bulleting a number of unsolved murders from that region so it's a valuable reference.

I've also got an account over at Websleuths and the message boards there have a ton of great info and some of the threads are quite lively.

There are also a number of blogs for some of the more recent cases I've mentioned. An old one for Brianna Maitland is below:


However, I'd take any of the internet discussion regarding the Murray case with a Gibraltar-sized grain of salt; for whatever reason, that one seems to attract a rather unsettling share of creeps, tinfoil-hatters, and agenda-driven writers. (I'll refrain here from naming names.) And whatever you do, steer clear of Topix. That place is an absolute rabbit hole.

Hope this helps!

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for those sources. I'll need to follow up on them - when I am feeling a little braver! CLUELESS IN NEW ENGLAND looks interesting.

Anonymous said...

Fair warning - reading "Passing Strange" at night while camping alone in Vermont is not recommended... On the other hand, in the daylight the book is a great read!

Peter Muise said...

"Passing Strange"is one of my favorite folklore books!

Anonymous said...

Actually, paranormal triangles come in bunches. There's between six and eleven of them, depending on who you ask. For example, the Devil's Sea near China is said to phenomenologically identical to the one in Bermuda, to the point that some paranormal-type-people believe the two may be inherently linked in some way (but alas, there are no recorded cases of something disappearing in one and reappearing in t'other).

Peter Muise said...

Hi Brokeneye,

Thanks for the comment. A dimensional gateway from Bermuda to China would make international travel a lot more convenient!