‘Clueless in New England’

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Clueless in New England: The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull
Hardcover – June 14, 2010
by Michael C. Dooling  (Author)

In today’s world of Amber and Silver alerts, around-the-clock news, social media, crime scene investigations, video monitoring and criminal profiling, missing-persons cases still baffle investigators.

In the middle of the 20th century, however, they were often nearly impossible to solve.

Intrigued by the similar disappearances of two young women in New England within a few years of each other, historian Michael C. Dooling set out to examine news reports and case files to determine whether there was a connection. His trail led him to a third, underreported case close in time and geography that had been closed when the victim’s remains were found on a remote mountainside.

Three case studies

The skull of Katherine Hull, who went for a walk while visiting her grandmother in the Lebanon Valley of New York State in 1936, was found seven years later and the case was immediately closed. Paula Weldon, who walked away from Bennington College in Vermont in 1946, and Connie Smith, who wandered from her summer camp in Lakeville, Connecticut in 1952, were never found. Dooling was the first to see the connections in the three cases.

All three young women were known to be hitchhikers. The three disappearances each took place along the New York State line, near main north-south and east-west state roads in those pre-Interstate days. In researching each case, Dooling also traces other historical missing-persons cases in those areas, some dating back to the 19th century, to put them into context.

These digressions can be confusing to the reader, as can the detailed witness-by-witness account of the Weldon case. The depth and scope of Dooling’s research is impressive and carefully documented and footnoted. This level of detail does eventually allow the author to connect the dots among the three cases and make his argument for a serial-killer theory, but it also gets in the way of the narrative at times.

Lost to time

Were there other cases over this period, perhaps elsewhere in the country, that the author did not find? Were other bodies found but dismissed as victims who were lost in the woods and died of exposure? Perhaps. Dooling is persuasive that, given what we know today about serial killers and their patterns, if these cases happened today they would be investigated for possible relations instead of simply as women who wandered off the beaten path.

Full disclosure: I worked with Michael Dooling for several years when he was archivist and researcher for the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut (where the Connie Smith case is still remembered). I know him to be a meticulous researcher of news archives and original-source material, which is evident in this volume.

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