The winds on Glastenbury Mountain, in southern Vermont, are wild and ever-changing. It is a strange and primal place, shunned by Native Americans and seeped in centuries of myth and legend. It is said that HP Lovecraft used the mountain as the backdrop for his novella, Whisperer in the Darkness. When you consider the bizarre history surrounding it, its easy to see why.
Comprising approximately thirty-six square miles, loosely bordered by the towns of Bennington, Woodford, Shaftsbury, and the ghost towns of Glastenbury and Somerset, is an area author Joseph Citro coined as “The Bennington Triangle.” The phenomena documented there includes the Bennington Monster; a Sasquatch like creature famously reported to have attacked a covered wagon full of settlers in the early 1800’s. Strange, colored lights, not unlike the Brown Mountain lights, have been sighted dancing on the mountain for centuries. The wilderness has also been the site of several violent and bizarre unsolved murders. Then there is the Algonquin legend of a man-eating stone that travels around the mountain swallowing travelers unfortunate enough to step on it. This ancient legend stands as particularly disturbing in context with the Triangle’s most perplexing and well documented mystery, its rash of unexplained disappearances.
Vanishings are not new to the region, dozens have been reported, dating back to the founding of Glastenbury and Somerset in the mid 1700’s. However, it is a series of baffling incidents occurring between 1945 and 1950 that galvanized the legend and perpetuated the regions dark history. Central to these disappearances is the Long Trail, a 273-mile-long hiking trail that stretches from Massachusetts all the way to Canada. The trail crosses along the ridgeline of the Green Mountains and through the center of the Glastenbury Wilderness.
Middie Rivers was the first of the five, vanishing on November 12, 1945. Rivers was a 74-year-old woodsman and hunting guide, intimately familiar with the area. He was leading a small party on the Long Trail, near Rout 9, and had gotten ahead of the party by a few hundred feet. Members of the party speculated that Rivers intended to reach camp a few minutes earlier so that he could get a fire going. When the hunters arrived in camp, Rivers was not there. They backtracked the trail but found no sign of him. Later, a search party with bloodhounds would discover a single rifle cartridge from Middies gun near a stream, just off the trail. Continued searches turned up nothing more.
Eighteen-year-old Paula Weldon’s disappearance on December 1, 1946 was the most widely publicized and arguably most impactful. Weldon, a sophomore at Bennington, finished her shift in the college cafeteria and decided to take a long walk to clear her mind. Her roommate stated that Paula changed clothes, notably into a light jacket, bright red in color. Her attire was considered appropriate for the daytime temperature, but entirely insufficient for the frigid cold expected after dark. Through the testimony of several witnesses, it was determined that she hitchhiked to Rout 9, near the Long Trail access not far from where Rivers Vanished. A couple walking the trail reported an encounter with Weldon, siting her bright red jacket. They claimed to have spoken with her briefly before she continued down the trail and around a bend. When the couple reached the bend, only a few moments later, Weldon was gone. Despite one of the largest manhunts to date, no trace of Paula was ever found. Paula’s father, a man of some influence, complained that the search effort was flawed and rife with mistakes. His efforts in part led to the Vermont State Legislature creating the Vermont State Police, a few months later.
Easily the most inexplicable disappearance was that of James Tedford, occurring three years to the day of Paula Weldon, on December 1, 1949. Tedford’s wife had vanished mysteriously a few years previous, leaving all her possessions in their home. While some claim she left him for another man, Tedford rejected that theory. He was profoundly upset with her disappearance and moved into the Soldiers Home in Bennington. Late in the afternoon of December 1, Tedford was riding the bus back from St. Albans to Bennington. The bus driver, as well as every passenger, testified that Tedford was present on the bus after its last stop before Bennington. However, when the bus arrived, Tedford had vanished. Chillingly, his luggage was still stowed in the overhead rack and his bus schedule was open on his seat.
The youngest victim was eight-year-old Paul Jepson. On October 12, 1950, Jepson’s mother left him unattended in her truck while she tended to some pigs. When she returned an hour later, the boy was gone. A search party with bloodhounds traced the boy to the highway, not far from where Paula Weldon accessed the Long Trail before she vanished. The boy’s father said Paul had been fascinated with the mountains and had talked about going there. Contemporary news accounts suggest that the boy was abducted from the road, or in some darker cases, murdered by his parents and fed to the pigs. In any case, he was never seen again.
Frieda Langer was the fifth and final disappearance associated with this period. On October 28, 1950, Frieda and her cousin left their campsite on Somerset Reservoir for a short hike. Not far from camp, Frieda slipped and fell in a stream, drenching her clothes. As they had only just left camp, she told her cousin to wait while she went back to camp to change. After an hour, when Frieda hadn’t come back, her cousin returned to camp to look for her. No one in the camp had seen Frieda. A massive search effort was mobilized, ironically organized by the State Police, newly created in response to the Weldon case. Helicopters, bloodhounds, and hundreds of volunteers scoured the area with no success. The Frieda Langer case is unique among the five in that she is the only victim whose body was recovered. Six months later, a pair of hunters discovered her badly decomposed body in a field near Somerset Reservoir. Strangely, it was not far from her original campsite and was in an area that was extensively searched throughout the rescue operation. No cause of death could be determined.
Of the numerous theories, many suggest the possible operations of a serial killer. While there are certainly some intriguing similarities, such as all the incidents occurring around the same time of day, between the months of October and December, with two on December 1; the victims themselves seem extremely random. Others point to wilder conclusions such as the Bennington Monster or the strange lights that dance on the mountain. Or perhaps, they were consumed by the man-eating stone of Algonquin lore? With more than seventy years between us, it is unlikely that a satisfactory answer will ever present itself. Though, interestingly, these disappearances do share some similarities with other cases across the country, notably the National Parks disappearances as documented in “The Missing 411”.
One contemporary account of weirdness in the Bennington Triangle comes from a hiker named Robert Singly. Singly was in the Bald Mountain area on a routine day hike. He had just finished his lunch and was heading back towards Glastenbury, when a strange fog rolled in. He felt slightly disoriented but continued along the trail toward where he had parked his car. After traveling for several hours longer than it should have taken, Singly, was completely lost, despite following what he believed to be the Long Trail. Darkness came on him and he decided to stay put, taking shelter in a large elm tree. In the morning, he backtracked, thinking he had just gone too far. He found the trail completely unrecognizable from the night before, marked by things like fallen trees that he could not possibly have missed. After a mile, he saw a sign for the Goddard Shelter, one of the many rest stops on the Long Trail. He was miles away and on the opposite side of the mountain from where he parked his car.
Could he just have gotten lost? Possible. However, the Long Trail is the primary path through the area, it would be hard, especially for an experienced hiker, to mistake it. Singly doesn’t give much credence to the myths or legends, but claims it was an extremely frightening and haunted experience. One thing for certain, he can count himself lucky that he survived.