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Jim Thompson

The Unsolved Mystery of Jim Thompson in the Cameron Highlands

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Jim Thompson house in Bangkok

The Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, Thailand.

Photo by Ahoerstemeier / Creative Commons

Murder, suicide, the desire for a new identity: Many theories try to explain why Jim Thompson - an American businessman who made his fortune in the Thai silk trade - mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands.

On Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967 Jim left his bungalow to go for a walk and was never heard from again. Perhaps even more eyebrow-raising is the fact that Jim Thompson was an intelligence officer for the Office of Strategic Services - the predecessor of what is now the CIA. Did he know too much?

Jim Thompson Biography

Jim Thompson was born in 1906 to a wealthy family in Greenville, Delaware. He studied architecture, but never actually finished his degree. His strong, liberal beliefs eventually alienated him from peers and family. Looking for change, Jim left his architecture job in New York City to join the US Army in 1940.

After trying the Delaware National Guard, Jim Thompson decided to sign on full time as a commissioned officer. Because of his fluent French, he was transferred to the covert Office of Strategic Services to operate behind enemy lines in German-occupied France. At the end of World War II in 1945, Jim took over the OSS office in Bangkok. Little did he know how much the assignment in Southeast Asia would change his life.

Jim Thompson During the Vietnam War

Jim Thompson remained in Thailand after his discharge from the US Army to form the very successful Thai Silk Company in 1947 - the same year that the OSS officially became the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although he had officially quit intelligence work, it is speculated that he was contacted for various missions during the Vietnam War by his friend and confidant, General Edwin Black. General Black also happened to be in charge of the covert operations in Thailand and Laos during the Vietnam War.

The Thai Silk Company

Jim revitalized the entire Thai silk industry by creating new color schemes and production methods. He provided modern looms and techniques to weavers in tiny villages. The women which produced his silk were allowed to work from home, an option not available to mothers in Thailand at the time. His company - the Thai Silk Company - became instantly profitable.

Unlike many of the Western companies which simply take advantage of cheap labor in developing countries, Jim gave back to the people by providing shares in his company. Thousands of people once fighting for survival in poor regions of Thailand were made wealthy by his radical business plan.

Jim Thompson's House in Bangkok

Jim Thompson used his architecture background and love for art to design the ultimate Bangkok mansion. The house, completed in 1959, was actually constructed from the parts of six antique Thai houses moved from other parts of the country! Today, the Jim Thompson house can be toured in Bangkok; his rare collection of art from all over Southeast Asia is on display.

The Mystery of Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson often traveled around Southeast Asia, both for enjoyment and in search of rare art. On March 24, 1967 Jim Thompson came to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia on holiday. He stayed at the popular Moonlight Bungalows with two friends and his wife Helen Ling.

On March 26, 1967, the four attended Easter services at the All Soul's Church in Brinchang, just north of Tanah Rata. Upon returning to the bungalow, Jim told his wife that he was going for an afternoon stroll. At 1:30 p.m. Jim waved goodbye as he walked out of the door and was never heard from again!

Even more mysterious, Jim Thompson's final words as he left were: "Goodnight, sweethearts".

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