This Easter Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of the great Jim Thompson (James Harrison Wilson Thompson – born 21 March 1906) who was the name behind the Thai silk industry in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The event has gone almost unnoticed except by those who have always been fascinated by the abrupt manner of his vanishing without trace on 26 March 1967 from the Cameron Highlands, a hill station which is in Pahang, the biggest state on the Malay Peninsula. 

Thompson, the son of a prominent Delaware family, Princeton graduate and architectural student at the University of Pennsylvania, wartime operative in the OSS, which was the forerunner of the CIA, disappeared while going for a walk alone after lunch. He was last sighted at around 4pm when he briefly visited the Lutheran mission bungalow, but after that he vanished completely without trace, despite an extensive search.

The case immediately generated almost unprecedented intense worldwide media publicity and speculation. Most press reports maintained that he’d either been kidnapped or murdered, perhaps due to his wartime connections, had been eliminated by powerful business rivals, or had voluntarily gone elsewhere in Asia in a high powered attempt to help negotiate the end of the then raging Vietnam conflict.

Many years later, some bones were discovered at the hill resort, but no effort was made to link them to Thompson as they were found at a site far from where he was thought to have been on that fateful day.

Residing in Pahang and based a little further south of the Cameron Highlands until 1966, I’ve always been inclined to support many of my Malay and Chinese friends who took the view that Thompson had strayed too far off the road and had in fact been taken by a tiger. Indeed, there were unconfirmed reports at the time of the presence of such a beast in the area. Besides, tiger sightings in the state were not uncommon in those days and many of us knew the possible locations.

The mystery took on a further macabre dimension when Jim Thompson’s sister was brutally murdered in Chester County, PA, just a few months after his disappearance; this murder remains unsolved. However, investigators could find no provable link with her brother.

Despite predation, maybe one day whatever remains of Thompson will be found in the jungle proving that he simply could not find the way back to his bungalow after wandering off the beaten track?


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