From time to time, we have the sudden, inexplicable disappearances of people who have seemingly vanished off of the face of the earth. For whatever reasons, these people have seemed to be almost erased, as if swallowed up by the universe itself. Yet although these strange occurrences happen across the globe in various far flung locales, there sometimes comes an area in which these vanishings happen to an unsettling degree. These are places that seem to be in a way black holes that open up to draw in unfortunate souls and to essentially negate their existence, leaving a trail of enigmas in their wake. Once such hotspot of strange disappearances is a picturesque area in Vermont that for all appearances seems to be a pristine nature spot, yet has over the years has snatched away innocent souls who have never been heard from again. There is a dark underbelly to this place, and it has accrued a reputation as a place not only dripping with high strangeness, but also as a place from where some don’t return.
What has come to be known as the Bennington Triangle, also sometimes known rather ominously as the “Triangle of Doom,” lies within a quaint area of southwestern Vermont, within the Taconics and the Green Mountains, that is well known as an idyllic, scenic locale favored by fishermen, hunters, and hikers. This region was so named in a public radio broadcast in 1992 by New England paranormal author Joseph A. Citro to describe the locale of a number of mysterious disappearances that occurred there during a timeframe between 1945 and 1950. The borders of the Bennington Triangle are amorphous and ill-defined, but are are largely thought to be centered at Glastenbury Mountain and its surrounding towns, which include Bennington, Woodford, Shaftsbury, and Somerset. It is a beautiful and historic area, with the town of Bennington being one of the oldest chartered towns of colonial America and it holds various historical landmarks such as Vermont’s first church, the “Old First Church,” and numerous old logging settlements.
The Bennington Triangle has long been a hotspot for a wide range of paranormal phenomena, such as UFO sightings, Bigfoot, anomalous sounds, lights, shadow people, and various other inexplicable happenings since at least the 19th century. Native peoples of the area considered it a cursed region, and were said to shun venturing there, only daring to use it as a burial ground. Early loggers and settlers were startled by strange lights in the skies and many instances of “wild men” lurking within the dark woods, as well as enormous Thunderbirds and various specters. Stories also abounded of people venturing into the area to never come back, suffer miserable hardships, disease, or go stark raving insane. Yet for all of this high strangeness perhaps the most notorious and spooky stories to emerge from the so-called Bennington Triangle are its long history of unexplained, bizarre disappearances.
People have been mysteriously vanishing in the area for a long time. Since the earliest colonial days, there have been people who ventured into the wilderness here to never come back. It was once thought that this was an area to be avoided at all costs and that those who dared to step foot in there were doomed to never return. Natives often spoke of people vanishing here, and early settlers and loggers also reported travelers dropping off the face of the earth in the area, often leaving behind all of their possessions in an orderly fashion, as if they would return at any moment. This disturbing history of strange disappearances became thrust into the limelight with a series of bizarre vanishings that occurred over a five year period between 1945 and 1950, which would cement the Bennington Triangle’s reputation as a sinister place not to be taken lightly.
The first disappearance happened in November of 1945, when a 74-year-old hunter by the name of Middie Rivers was out hunting with a group of four companions in the mountain wilderness near Glastonbury Mountain. As the group was heading back to camp from their excursion, in the Long Trail Road area near U.S. Route 9, Rivers strayed ahead of the group and proceeded to simply vanish. A thorough search of the area turned up only a single shell from the hunter’s rifle near a small stream. Although Rivers had been coming along in years, both the hunters and authorities alike were nevertheless perplexed as to where he could have gone, since he had been an extremely experienced hunter and woodsman and he had been very familiar with this particular area, a place he had hunted in many times before. It was speculated that Rivers may have leaned over at the stream and the shell had fallen out of his pocket, but other than that it remains a complete mystery as to what happened to him and he has never been seen again, seemingly engulfed by the forest itself.
The second disappearance occurred a mere year later, in December 1946, when 18-year-old Paula Weldon, who had been a sophomore at Bennington College, also vanished without a trace. On December 1, Weldon had finished her shift at the dining hall where she worked and returned to her dormitory, where she informed her roommate that she wanted to go out for a walk and get some fresh air. Her original plan was to get together others to go with her, but no one wanted to go so she ended up taking a popular hiking trail called Long Trail up Glastenbury Mountain alone at around 4PM. Weldon was witnessed by many other hikers at the time, including a man by the name of Ernest Whitman who she had approached to ask how far the trail went. She was also seen on the trail by an elderly couple who were out hiking around 100 yards behind her. The couple claimed that they saw Weldon take the trail around a rocky outcropping and when they rounded the same corner moments later Paula was nowhere to be seen, as if she had just vanished into thin air. When Weldon failed to return to her room or show up for classes the next day, she was declared missing. A massive hunt was launched by authorities, including a 5,000 dollar reward offered for information concerning her whereabouts, and even the FBI assisted in the investigation but no trace of Paula was ever found. There are several strange details about this particular disappearance, including the fact that the trail she disappeared on was well-traveled and not particularly secluded or difficult, as well as the fact that Paula had been underdressed for the chilly weather even though it had been forecast to snow heavily that evening.
Precisely three years later to the day, on December 1, 1949, the Bennington Triangle would strike again in a rather bizarre fashion. A war veteran by the name of James E. Tetford was on his way back from a trip to Vermont to visit relatives on a bus bound for Bennington which was full of 14 other passengers. Tetford boarded the bus at St. Albans but would never reach his destination. Other passengers aboard the bus reported that the man was sleeping in his seat at the next to last stop one moment and the next he was simply gone, leaving all of his luggage and belongings behind, including his wallet and all of his cash. Others aboard the bus were baffled. The bus had been in motion, so there was no way the man could have gotten off yet he had vanished and was nowhere to be seen when the bus reached its destination. No one had any idea of where he could have possibly gone. Tetford was never heard from again.
Whatever ominous force was at work here was not done yet. In October of 1950, 8-year-old Paul Jepson was playing on the farm where he lived with his mother. Paul’s mother left the boy to play on his own while she tended to some pigs on the farm. The boy had been playing happily and showed no signs of distress, yet when the mother returned to check on him a short time later, Paul was nowhere to be seen. Authorities converged on the area with bloodhounds in an effort to track the missing boy down, thinking that he would soon be located due to the fact he had been wearing a highly visible bright red jacket, but no sign of the boy was turned up. At one point during the search, the bloodhounds excitedly followed Paul’s scent to a nearby highway, where the trail simply stopped. Hundreds of volunteers gathered to scour the surrounding areas for any sign of the missing boy, but Paul Jepson was never found. The father would later give the eerie detail that the boy had recently showed an uncharacteristically strong urge to go up the nearby mountains, almost as if they were somehow calling him into their clutches.
A mere 16 days later, on October 28, 1950, Freida Langer, 53, and her cousin Herbert Elsner were camping with a group of friends near the Somerset Reservoir and decided to go on a hike. At one point during the hike, Langer reportedly slipped and fell into a stream. The woman told Elsner that she was not injured but that she was soaked and that if he waited for her there she would change clothes at the campsite and meet up with him later. Considering they were near the campsite, it was broad daylight, and there seemed to be no immediate danger, Elsner thought nothing much of it at the time and waited as instructed. Elsner became concerned when over an hour passed and Langer had yet to return. He made his way back to the campsite to see what was going on, but Langer was nowhere to be seen. In addition, none of the other campers had seen her return either. After a cursory search of the area turned up nothing, the worried Elsner contacted the authorities, who proceeded to launch a total of five extensive searches over the next two weeks using dogs and helicopters, yet the woman, or indeed any trace of her, could not be found. It was very odd, as it had been daytime, Langer had not been injured, and she was very familiar with the area. In a bizarre twist, the following year on May 12, 1951, Langer’s decomposed body was found in full view in an open clearing near Somerset Reservoir which was an area that had been extensively searched the previous year. The body was so decomposed that a cause of death could not be determined. Where did her body come from? No one knows. Langer would turn out to be the only missing person of the Bennington Triangle mystery whose body was found, and would also be the last major vanishing to be reported from here.
All five of these mysterious disappearances have remained unsolved to this day, which has invited a good amount of speculation as to what could have been behind them, ranging from the plausible to the more far out. That a serial killer may have been loose in the area is a popular and somewhat rational theory, yet the large variation in age, sex, and appearance of the missing individuals tends to not fit in with the typically more focused tastes of serial killers. The only pattern that can be discerned is that all of these cases happened in the autumn or winter, but other than that there is no relation whatsoever. There is also the idea that these people could have been the victims of the various dangers lurking in the wilderness such as hidden chasms, cliffs, unsteady trails, abandoned wells, or wild animals, or maybe they had just gotten lost, yet in many cases the missing were well acquainted with the area and its terrain. The fact that extensive, meticulous searches turned up absolutely nothing is also curious if they had merely gotten lost or succumbed to the dangers of the wilderness. And what of Tetford, who disappeared in full view of a bus full of passengers on city streets? Some have also said that these people may have been disturbed souls who had just escaped their lives to go off somewhere else where no one would find them, yet these were mostly happy people who showed no signs of wanting to leave behind their loved ones. Branching out into more fringe theories are the ideas that the victims were abducted by aliens, attacked by Bigfoot or some other mystery monster, or swallowed up by some sort of inter-dimensional portal. There is also the fact that the Native people of the area believe it to be cursed, inhabited by demons, and even the location of a mysterious rock that is said to devour people if they step on it.
What is going on in the Bennington Triangle? Are there forces at work here beyond our understanding and current knowledge? Or are these all unrelated cases of people simply falling victim to natural forces or a desire to leave their lives behind, with their occurrence in this one area merely a curious coincidence? It seems we may never know, and only the missing themselves were privy to the answers we so desperately seek. What we do know is that there are foreboding places in this world that for whatever reasons seem to draw people in and never let them go, places to which strangeness and the inexplicable gravitate. Whether we can explain it or not, these locales possess some otherworldly quality and on many occasions, such as the case with the Bennington Triangle, seem to have a way of making people disappear. For now it seems that the Bennington Triangle has been sated, but perhaps even now it waits, whatever insidious force that may be infesting this place biding its time until it lurches forth once more to claim its next victim.