Ghost Story | The Long Trail of Death
FeatureAuthor: Steven Shaw
A Long Trail of Death: 5 years, 5 deaths, 1 trail.
“I’m going to hike on the Long Trail” were the last words anyone ever heard Paula Jean Welden speak. Weldon is one of at least five and maybe as many as ten who’ve vanished in what has become known as the “Bennington Triangle. Unlike most haunted trails and ghost stories you may read, the following are true stories. These people lived, breathed and ultimately vanished.
Vermont’s Long Trail is not only the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, it’s also the scariest. The trail runs the entire length of the state and was constructed by the Green Mountain Club from 1910 to 1930 (to this day the club is still responsible for the trail). In fact, the Long Trail is so ingrained in Vermont’s blood the Green Mountain Club is recognized by the state legislature as the "the founder, sponsor, defender, and protector” of the trail. It’s a shame more could not have been done to protect and defend the people who lost their lives in the Bennington Triangle.
The story begins on a crisp autumn day in 1945. 74-year old Middie Rivers was doing what he loved and knew best; hunting in the southern Vermont Mountains. Rivers was guiding several hunters when they decided to head back to camp for the night. At some point, Middie got ahead of his party. While the others arrived safely, Middie was never seen or heard from again. Middie was no stranger to the Long Trail, it’s said that he knew the trail better than you or I know our own living rooms. If he had a heart attack or something of that nature his body would have been on or near the trail. If he was attacked by a bear or even another person surely there would have been some signs of a struggle or his hunting companions certainly would have heard screaming. Over the course of the next few weeks, hundreds of hours were spent scouring the wilderness for any sign of Middie, but it was hundreds of hours spent searching for a ghost. No sign of the experienced 74-year old woodsman was ever found, making him the first in a string of disturbing disappearances along the Long Trail.
About one year later an attractive 18-year old blond Bennington College sophomore named Paula Welden had become disenchanted with her study of art. Her passion now lay in the field of Botany. Her newfound interests led her to the nearby Long Trail to quench her thirst for knowledge and exploration. On a cool Sunday afternoon in December of 1946 Paula had just finished working the lunch shift at the campus dining hall. Paula knew of the trail, but hadn’t yet had a chance to hike it. That was going to change that day, she asked some other students to join her on the adventure, but they were busy with their studies and declined. Undaunted, she ventured out by herself. After changing into some warmer clothing she headed off on her hike, hitching a ride to near the trailhead. She hopped out and started walking into the woods. In late afternoon she spoke with a few hikers heading out after a hike on the trail. She asked them a few questions, then carried on up the path as darkness descended. That night, when Paula did not return home her roommate was unfazed, assuming Paula was in the library studying. Upon waking the following morning with Paula gone, she notified the college. Soon a massive search effort began. Sheriff deputies, her family, students, college professors and even the National Guard and FBI combed every inch of the mountainside searching for the pretty young woman. A $5,000 reward (equivalent to more than $65,000 today) yielded no results on her whereabouts. Paula Weldon was seemingly swallowed by the wilderness.
Three years to the day after Paula Weldon disappeared…. James E. Tedford pulled a disappearing act of his own. He was last seen on a bus heading to Bennington. Passengers reported seeing him sleeping peacefully. But, when the bus arrived at its destination, Tedford was gone. All of his belongings were left on the bus.
In the fall of 1950 eight-year old Paul Jepson took a trip to a farm where his mother worked near the Long Trail. His mother left her son to play near a pig sty while she tended to other animals. Having done this countless times before, the mother thought little of leaving her son unattended. When she went to check up on him an hour later he was gone. Jepson was wearing a bright red jacket which should have made him easy to spot for the people who spent countless hours searching for him. Bloodhounds tracked his scent to the area where Paula Weldon disappeared four years earlier. The youthful spirit was never from heard again.
About two weeks after little Paul Jepson vanished, 53-year old Frieda Langer met the same fate. Frieda was on a family camping trip near Somerset Reservoir. Frieda was no stranger to the woods or the hardships of camping and was said to be familiar with the area. That afternoon Frieda and her cousin decided to go on a short hike. About a half mile from their campsite she took a tumble into a stream. Not wanting to catch a chill by hiking in wet clothes during a cool fall afternoon, she decided to head back to camp, change and then catch up. When she did not
come back, her cousin began to worry and headed back to camp himself, upon his arrival he discovered she never returned. For the next two weeks, hundreds of people searched the mountains for Frieda. With such a short distance between where she was hiking and the campsite, it seemed impossible that she would get lost. Soon winter set in and deep snow blanketed the area, the search was called off. Then when spring arrived and the snow melted… Frieda Langer’s body was discovered in the open… in an area that had been covered by searchers numerous times. Because of the state of the corpsr, no cause of death could be determined.
Langer was the last person to disappear with certainty, but it is alleged that many others have vanished since. However, her body was the only one ever to be found. Investigators have no direct links between the causes. There are two things that tie them all together…the fall season and the area known as the Bennington Triangle. All of the disappearances happened near or on a section of the Long Trail between Woodford and Glastenbury Mountain.
Many theories have been offered on the disappearances… Could it be the “Bennington Ripper?” or “The Mad Murderer of The Long Trail?” Perhaps even attacked and mauled by a Bigfoot like creature called the “Bennington Monster.” Regardless of what you or I choose to believe, the fact remains, at least five people lost their lives near a short stretch of the rugged, beautiful and potentially deadly Long Trail.
Other Ghost Stories:
The Ghost of the Great White Sands. (White Sands National Monoument, New Mexico)
The Legend of Spearfinger. (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)