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Cameron Highlands Travel Guide
History Of Jim Thompson
"Absolute mysteries only improve with age" writes William Warren, author of Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, "and there can have been few as absolute as Thompson's has proved to be."
His skills as a designer and textile colourist were soon noted by fashion editors and, when the cast of the musical, The King and I, wore Thompson's creations, his silk empire was off and spinning.
Most visitors to the Cameron Highlands head off for a walk along one of the many forest trails to enjoy the scenery and the refreshingly cool mountain air. Most return to relax in front of a log fire in one of several resorts located in the former colonial hill station made popular by heat-fatigued colonialists who headed up to the cooler Malaysian highlands for some cool relief from the heat and humidity of the lowlands.
Very few walkers don't return. The most celebrated trekker who didn't was American entrepreneur H.W. (Jim) Thompson who had single-handedly rekindled the Thai silk weaving industry before his disappearance.
Jim Thompsons disappearance saw renewed interest in the case. While there are many theories about his disappearance, the fact remains that they are mostly all speculative and no one really knows exactly what happened on that fateful March day. Noted Thai-based journalist and friend of Thompson, William Warren has written the definite analysis of the incident in his book, Jim Thompson - The Unsolved Mystery (Archipelago Press, 1970).
Before his disappearance, Thompson was already well known and this no doubt fuelled much of the speculation and kept the rumour mill ticking over.
Thompson had practised as an architect in New York City from 1931 to 1940. He then quit and enlisted in the army as a private in the Delaware National Guard Regiment. A year after the outbreak of World War 11, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which specialised in intelligence gathering, subversive propaganda and undercover activities behind energy lines. While the group went on to form the CIA after the war, its activities were a little different to those of the CIA. The organisation adopted the reverse Ten Commandments and was described by one operative as one where they were taught to lie and steal, kill, maim, spy, deceive, terrify and destro" Thompson volunteered to serve in the Pacific and he was originally assigned to the China-India-Burma area.
However, in 1945, he received orders to proceed to Thailand, then technically an enemy of the Allied forces as it was occupied by Japanese troops. In preparation for the assignment, Thompson received jungle training in Sri Lanka, so the jungles of the Cameron Highlands would not be completely unknown territory for him. As it turned out, he arrived in Bangkok just days after the Japanese officially surrendered but he was said to continue spying activities well after the war had finished.
Eaten by Wild Animal?
After his disappearance, it was suggested that he disappeared at the hands of terrorists seeking ransom money despite the fact that no ransom demand was ever received. Unsubstantiated suggestions were also made that Thompson was involved in drugs and that his disappearance was somehow related to this.
Another suggestion was that the Thai silk entrepreneur staged his disappearance despite not being depressed or financially strapped for cash at the time. Was he taken by a tiger, wild boar or leopard? If so, the 325 police, soldiers, friends, Orang Asli and volunteers failed to find any trace of Thompson.
No remains were ever found of the man. Perhaps he fell into a ravine and his remains were enveloped by the jungle? The slippery moss-covered rocks, prickly creepers and dark forest interiors pose problems for jungle trekkers even to this day. The search officially lasted 10 days, covering a territory of up to 70 miles from the scene (teams were dispatched to places where speculative sightings were reported).
Seven years after the disappearance, Jim Thompson was legally declared dead in 1974. As noted in William Warren's book: The myth of Jim Thompson is as vigorous as ever.
In Thompson's Memory
While time has diluted the mystery somewhat, there are those who still reflect on what happened that day. Others staying at the recently-opened Cameron Highlands Resort may raise an eyebrow with their evening late fireside nightcap and think twice about heading for one of the mountain trails without an experienced guide. These days, the only confirmed sighting of Jim Thompson is that of the label on many exclusive Thai silk products sold in the boutique bearing his name in the Cameron Highlands Resort.
Next time you're there, buy a copy of William Warren's Jim Thompson - The Unsolved Mystery from the boutique. Then snuggle up in one of the comfortable resort lounges in front of the log fire and postulate a few theories of your own.
The book starts by talking of the actual disappearance, in effect setting out its stall and the enticing readers with the nature of the mystery. Basically Jim disappeared with seemingly no trace, no clues and this started the mystery. The book obviously gives more detail and more potential plot threads.
Once the nature of the mystery is established the book details the first legend of Jim. Without the first legend the mystery would not be so important. That is to say if an ordinary person disappeared the story would not endure thirty years. Jim worked for the predecessor of the CIA in the war and then aged 40 basically single handedly rebuilt the Thai cottage silk industry into a multi-million pound (dollar) industry. The book talks of personal struggles, strife, conflict, interests and other things which add to the first legend.
Jim Thompson site: www.jimthompson.com