In October of 1991, James Van Wells, a sophomore at the time, made a casual visit to the book stacks at Doheny library. He probably just wanted to lose himself in some book, but little did he know, things were about to get very literal.
A week later, James had been missing for (you guessed it) a week, and no one had any idea where he could have gone or why. Search parties and investigations yielded no results: James had simply vanished.
Throughout the next twenty years, Doheny collected reports of disturbing sounds, lurking shadows, and strange items like toothbrushes and knives made out of books that had been abandoned throughout the book stacks. It didn’t occur to anyone to look into these matters further until last week when someone spotted what appeared to be a caveman darting behind a pile of books and whispering references from the early 90s.
“We thought that sounded a little bit weird,” says Dan Corman, self appointed Librarian Chief. “We heard there was a wild man in the book stacks saying that Goodfellas won best picture in 1991, but everyone knows it was Dances with Wolves. That got our attention.”
A new search team was assembled to hunt down this legend that had been haunting the book stacks, and after about a week of setting traps that involved leaving out free magazine pictures of Sofia Vergara, they were able to catch their guy. Most shocking was the discovery that this was in fact James Van Wells, the same student who had disappeared 20 years earlier.
The team had to wrestle the wild and uncooperative James Van Wells out of the book stacks and into a nearby hospital as he loudly sang Wilson Phillips’ hit song Hold On. “It was all pretty bizarre” says Corman. “But he was actually pretty good.”
Over the last week, investigators have been able to piece together Van Wells’ incredible story of survival. Back in 1991, James went exploring in the book stacks only to get hopelessly, hilariously lost. For the next twenty years, Van Wells built a life down in the book stacks, eating abandoned food and pages out of reference books that no one ever checked out.
Van Wells built an impressively sturdy little cave for himself out of books about housing, and developed his own language so that he could communicate with himself. Eventually he took an old chair and made it his wife, which he has really been missing ever since his discovery.
As celebratory as James’ return has been, James himself seems to be pretty unhappy with his new circumstances.
“He has been struggling to adapt back into normal modern life,” says DR. Roger Hunt. “Things like Ke$ha and ordering fruit at McDonald’s don’t make sense to him.” Fortunately, things look hopeful. “He’s back with his family now, and likes shaving his beard, which is the most important thing” says Hunt.
In the meantime, Doheny is taking measures to make sure something like this does not happen again. “Never go into the book stacks without telling someone where you’re going,” says Corman, a little chillingly as he holds a flashlight under his chin with the lights off. “There’s no telling what can happen down there.”