What's the deal with Thomas Lera & "Ted the Caver" [spoilers]?

To read “Ted’s Caving Page” unspoiled, go to this page first:

That done, I want it be clear, from the start:
This is not about whether the events in the story actually happened as described. They did not. It is a story. I know that. This about who actually wrote it.

One of the recent requests for scary story led to a link (possibly it was an older thread linked in that one) to the story on “Ted’s Caving page”.

It’s generally acknowledged that ‘Ted’ made up the story and is alive and well, although the pictures suggest some effort went into making it. I don’t know more about Ted, or indeed if more is known.

But someone on the linked thread pointed to, and a few other messages around the web, indicated that the story was written in 1987 by Thomas Lera. Ted’s page appeared in 2001 and, as I recall, was updated in real time. So maybe Ted copied from Thomas. Or maybe not. Read on.

The story linked to was from an web-archived page, and the link given was here:

(PDF Link) : http://web.archive.org/web/20050117173007/www.dougaustin.com/tlcaves/pdf/Thefearofdarkness.pdf

Note that the archive dates from 2005.

In that file, the title of the story is “The Fear of Darkness”.

It’s almost exactly the same story as Ted’s, except there’s an ending to the story. Another thing about it is despite a paragraph at the start about it being taken from a journal entry with italics interspersed later(as in Ted’s), the ‘journal’ is in a far more narrative style.

A copyright notice in the corner reads “Thomas Lera 1987-2004”. The story, however, begins with the date of December 30th, 2001. So either it was set in the future or updated, but not to 2004.

Something felt strange about this. More in the next post.

I did a search for Thomas Lera and found a few things:

First another, possibly earlier version of the story at this page :

Here it’s called “The Terror in Hupman’s Cave”. Although the details are the same as in “Fear of Darkness”, this one lacks an ending, and has more dates. In fact it’s far closer to Ted’s story; they may be nearly identical.

But there’s a disclaimer there, claiming that it was ripped off by “Ted” and, again, written in 1987. This note definitively says that it was at that time set in the future, though the explanation as to why isn’t that clear. That explanation doesn’t inspire confidence. There appears to be no good reason for that story to have been post-dated, if written in 1987.

I haven’t looked closely, but there doesn’t seem to be much more to the liquigel site, and it’s registered anonymously through GoDaddy.

As for “Thomas Lera” himself. Or whoever he is. The first two hits lead to “thomaslera.org” and a site in the Netherlands (which ends up being linked to by the first one):


There’s a copyright notice there of 2007, and a picture, but the whole thing seems to almost be something generated by a piece of software (like when you do a search and a webpage comes up with a few links). Possibly pulled in from other sites; it’s hard to tell. Almost no text, just links to PDFs or other sites.

There is both a Speleology and a “Horror Stories” section. More on the stories in a bit. First, the Speleology section. A few of the links there refer to stamps. Stamps? What does that have to do with caving? Well, one of the other search results, as well as another search on Thomas Lera, brings up the site http://www.speleophilately.com

Speleophilately, as its name would suggest, is all about stamps related to caves and caving. Hard to believe there’d be a whole field of study there, but this is the internet. Although they say they’ve been around 25 years, and seem to have a publication as well. The front page even says they only touch on the “core topics” since “the fields of speleophilately are large”. We’ll take their word on that.

While there are some dead or missing links, there is an occasional “Under Construction” label and the site appears to be legitimate. There really are stamps with caves on them. Now in the ‘contributors’ section, we have a listing for one Thomas Lera, right here:

There’s a brief bio, there, including a note about writing stories. Right under the name, though, there’s a link to the website labeled :

I say labeled, because that’s not even where the link points. Instead, it points to http://www.dougaustin.com/~toml/ . Doug Austin. Doug Austin’s name showed up before - in the internet archive. That’s where the PDF of the story was found.

A brief note on the links. “~toml” indicates a home directory for user toml. It could have been that he knows Mr. Austin, and had him create a home directory for him. “thomaslera.com” doesn’t go there; instead it goes to a defunct Lycos webpage - with the error message in Dutch. Currently the dougaustin link goes to a 404.

I looked up both speleophilately.com and ontis.nl for their registration info. They appear to be owned by the same person in the Netherlands. Someone with the same last name as someone listed on the “Contributors” page. Makes sense for the magazine, but not so much for the second one.

Next post, back on to the stories, I promise.

Both the ontis.nl ‘home page’ for Lera and the archived page from dougaustin.com contain lists of Lera’s stories. The Ontis ones are up-to-date and seem more reliable, so I picked one or two of those files. The first thing that I noticed - it didn’t say ©Thomas Lera. It said ©John Rowlands. One of them says “Thomas Lera AKA John Rowlands”. Another has ©Thomas Lera in the footer, but ©John Rowlands at the end of the text. All the stories I’ve seen so far have a copyright date of a few years ago.

So who is John Rowlands? If you read the bio on the Speleophilately.com page, you might have noticed these lines:

Okay, so John Rowlands is Thomas Lera’s pen name. Or so it would seem. John Rowlands’ stories are indeed available over at the horrorlibrary.net. Here’s one example: horrorlibrary.net |

Now I haven’t done any in-depth analysis here. Just looking at one or two of the stories, they don’t quite seem to be by the same author. Rowlands’s stories are all quite short, and seem to be more straight horror than anything. Nothing elaborate. Plus the style doesn’t quite fit. Rowlands, while not really a bad writer, seems to overuse adjectives in a way that doesn’t show up in the cave story. This is especially so when comparing it with “The Terror in Hupman’s Cave”.

Obviously someone wrote the Rowlands stories, whatever his or her name is. And somebody created Ted’s website. Someone else either rewrote and finished that story or wrote it before Ted did. Possibly it was revised at some point. Maybe these are all the same person. Or three separate people. Someone in the Netherlands might know something more as well.

Is Lera even real? He seems to have had a web presence, and certainly he could have written some things, but the business with the Dutch website is just slightly odd. On the other hand, I can’t see why someone would fabricate a person to that extent for no reason.

One thing I haven’t found yet is when the claims of plagiarism by Ted came about. So far, nothing seems to properly date to earlier than 2004 or so. That’s 3 years after Ted’s website went up. Even if the story was written in 1987, it doesn’t seem to have been published anywhere that Ted could read it. Unless Ted and Thomas are the same guy or knew each other.

That’s as much as I’ve gone so far. Does anyone at all have any further information on this?

Yes, this is very long and I’ve spent a lot of time on this and I’m not sure why.

Although it is difficult to put an exact name on my motivation, I think “closure” fits quite nicely. I need to find out a few things about this story. The main thing, believe it or not, is to find the beginning of the story. With all of the bizarre things I have witnessed these past few posts it would seem a bit trite to want, as a primary goal, to get to the beginning, but that is what I want. To be sure, I will be seeking other bits of knowledge along the way. If, however, I find the author of the first passage, and an end to the search for Lera blocked by lost files, I will be content to never return to the story or the website again. Never!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist doing my own copying. (that bit is adapted from … well, from someone’s story, ©Ted or Thomas or John 1987 or 2001)

It’s been a while since I read the story, but didn’t they use some slightly futuristic technology (stuff that wouldn’t have been available in the '80s, but could be easily concocted as something that might be a few years ahead)? I remember some kind of wired radio thingy that when I looked up the term they used for it, I got no results.

ETA: good job on all that research, by the way!

Near as I can tell, these seem to be the most questionable ‘near-future’ devices in the story:

“video camera” - In 1987 it was difficult, but not impossible, to get a portable camera to shoot video.

Chemical “glo-sticks” - I don’t think these were terribly common, but my guess is they did exist since by the 90’s they were easy to find. My guess is that cavers might have been able to get some by some means.

“cordless drill” - I have no idea how easy it would be to get a hold of one of these, but for this purpose I think it could have happened.

The special equipment they built was a wooden “squeeze box” and a metal rig for holding tools to enlarge the hole.

So, nothing that really required near-future devices; and nothing in the story seems to depend on slightly improved versions of then-current technology. It could go either way.

Taking a closer look at “The Terror in Hupman’s Cave” story, there appear to be some missing parts. One thing that I noticed is that there’s no mention of bringing the video camera, although it shows up in the story a bit later. Close reading shows that this is almost certainly a copy of Ted’s story.

Unfortunately the liquigel site is now down. Did we do that? I have no idea. All I can say is that either that story is poorly edited or poorly written/copied.

This site may be of key importance. If it is indeed a valid Lera-written version of the story, then it was either radically altered for “The Fear of Darkness” or changed to fit with Ted’s story. It is even possible that this version is yet another alteration. One thing of note - so far, this seems to be the only place that contends it was plagiarized by Ted (aside from people who found the archived story).

“The Fear of Darkness” doesn’t seem to have those problems. While it summarizes certain parts of the story, it keeps the details - for one, mentioning “my new video camera” upon the second-to-last trip.

Reading it again, I’m actually starting to think that much of the added portion - specifically the final entry to the cave, do seem a little more in Rowlands’ style. Ted’s Caving Page has a few interpolations about caving (giving it more verisimilitude), while “Fear of Darkness” tends to go along traditional horror story lines, with a bit smoother flow and action.

Where I stand is that I doubt the same person wrote both “The Fear of Darkness” and “Ted’s Caving Page”. My suspicion is that Ted’s Caving page is the original, and “Fear of Darkness” copied it, slightly altered it, and added an ending. It is possible that the author had written a similar caving story in 1987, but so far there isn’t enough evidence for that.

Also, I forgot to mention - I think the “low voltage phone” is actually an older bit of technology. I think they even mention it reminding them of old army equipment (which it essentially is, dating back to World War II). I don’t know whether or not these are actually “low voltage” or not, but it seemed to be a field telephone. Possibly their version was more advanced, but I’m not so sure about that. Even the old ones ran on batteries.

I searched the the Copyright office and found both “Ted the Caver” WebVoyage Titles and Thomas Lera. Its seems Teds name Is Ted Hegemann and the copyright for his story was created in 2001 and Thomas Lera WebVoyage Titles a copyright for his story that was created in 1995. So it seems that “Bats in philately” was written before “Ted the Caver” I hope this is helpful and I hope that you get this message because your last post was in 2008.

Hate to kick such a long-dead horse (thread) with a new post, but after re-reading the original story again, and reading it to my wife, I started looking around for the final word on what really happened, since I had never heard. After many hours of Google work (and just some plain old common sense), it’s easy to tell that Thomas Lera, whoever he may be (since it’s clearly a pen name), ripped of Ted’s original caving story when he created his Fear of Darkness story.

The Bats of Philately book that DieScorpion references above has nothing to do with the caving story in any way, so I’m not quite sure why it is referenced other than to try and disprove Ted’s claims that his story is the original work. Well, someone apparently thought it pertinent to try and ask the actual author, Ted, about it.
(taken from Ted the Caver Mystery – John's Blog)