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The Mystery of Jim Thompson

June 26, 2010
Jim Thompson's House

Part of Jim Thompson's House

I’ve just returned to the UK after holidaying in Thailand. One of the many highlights of the trip was a visit to the beautiful Bangkok house of the American silk trader Jim Thompson. Thompson (not to be confused with the crime writer of the same name) was an OSS agent during the Second World War. He was stationed in Thailand at the end of the conflict and quickly fell in love with country. Thompson settled in Thailand permanently in 1946 and focused his efforts on revitalising the then declining silk trade. Thompson’s efforts were highly successful, and he achieved worldwide fame after his silks were used for the costumes in the film version of The King and I (1956). Thompson is a revered figure in Thailand today, and the Thompson brand is still very popular.

On Easter Sunday, 1967, while holidaying in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, Thompson left the bungalow he was staying in and went for a walk. He never returned. A large-scale manhunt ensued but no trace of Thompson nor any viable theory as to what happened to him has ever emerged. Six months after his disappearance, Thompson’s sister was murdered in the US in what appears to have been a bungled burglary.

You can read theories regarding Thompson’s disappearance here, here and here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2010 6:08 pm

    Interesting stuff on Thompson.
    Some years back I was contacted by a close friend of my father, Dr. George Hill Hodel.
    The friend had lived in Asia for decades and managed one of my father’s Market Research
    offices. The friend told me that George Hodel had known Jim Thompson and wanted to know if my father had ever mentioned him to me. He had not, and I knew absolutely nothing of Thompson.

    Guess I’ll have to put that mystery on a back burner for the next few years anyway.

    • Steve Powell permalink*
      July 13, 2010 10:31 pm

      Now that is interesting. It seems natural that your father would know Thompson. They were both prominent American businessmen in Southeast Asia after the war. Given Thompson’s OSS background, and that your father must have been one of the best connected Americans in the Phillipines, it’s worth speculating just how well they knew each other.

      Best,
      Steve

  2. January 21, 2016 6:56 pm

    Hello,

    I have been working on the case of the disappearance of Jim Thompson, the “Silk King of Thailand,” who went for a walk in the high jungles of Malaysia in March 1967 and was never seen again. No trace was found, despite what was probably the biggest land search in SE Asian history. I have recently written a substantial report which makes the first advances in the case since 1967, including interviewing search participants, evaluating the search methods, making calculations regarding the “probability of success” of the search procedures, analyzing a possible sighting of Thompson in Tahiti, examining the murder of his sister in PA soon after his disappearance, etc., etc. This first-ever scientific approach to the problem focuses mainly on evaluating the search quantity and quality, using principles from the (US) National Association for Search and Rescue. The report lays out a possible (but not certain) road map toward a solution, using modern SAR techniques.

    The report also contains the only accumulation in the world of the primary documents (CIA, OSS, FBI, US DoS, previously unpublished Thompson letters, etc.) on the case, which I obtained via FOIA and research in Malaysia, Thailand and the US. The report is downloadable gratis at:

    http://www.themosttraveled.com/new/new_land.html

    It is the second document on that page.

    Cheers and good hunting!

    Lew Toulmin, Ph.D.
    Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
    Member National ’04, The Explorers Club
    Former Chair, Section on Emergency Management, American Society for Public Administration
    Co-founder, Missing Aircraft Search Team
    Travel/Adventure Editor and Columnist, The Montgomery Sentinel
    Silver Spring, Maryland

    • January 21, 2016 9:10 pm

      Dear Lew,

      Thank you so much for commenting and for all your hard work on the Thompson case. I am going to take some time in studying your report. I have no fixed views on reasons behind Thompson’s disappearance but I remember fondly my visit to his spartan but hugely impressive house. I could see through the admiration of the people who worked there how well regarded Thompson was and is in Thailand. His contribution to the country was immense.

      Steve

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