The Mysterious fate of
Jim Thompson
in Cameron Highlands

If you visit Cameron Highlands, no doubt you will come about some references to a gentleman called Jim Thompson. Maybe even visited a bar or had meal name that is after him. His story is rather intriguing and there was even a movie made about him!

Well, back in March, 1967, one of Cameron Highlands' most famous visitor, Jim Thompson, an American entrepreneur, came for a quiet sojourn to the highlands. He was a good man with a warm personality and made many visitors feel quite at home when they met up with him at his residence in Bangkok what is now known as the Jim Thompson House. He disappeared one day while having a walk through the jungle of the highlands and caused quite a stir in the media and put Cameron Highlands in the map as it was pretty much unknown those days. Until today his disappearance has been a mystery and many conspiracy theories had been put forth.

Jim Thompson was a military intelligence officer during World War II and after his discharge from the service; he made himself a permanent resident in Thailand. He made his home in Bangkok because he liked the people there and the easy going way of life in Thailand. Although his profession was as an architect, he saw there was an opportunity to promote the Thai silk. The industry at that time was very much neglected and in a declining state of affair. Slowly he built up the Thai silk industry and he became very well known not only in Thailand but abroad as well. While his silk empire prospered, he also contributed back to the silk industry and to the Siamese people involved in the silk production, from the silk worm growers and weavers as well.

 Moonlight Bungalow, where Jim Thompson stayed during his brief sojourn in Cameron Highlands.

After so many years of building his empire, I guess he heeded his friends advice and took a break when his friends asked him to go along for a vacation in Cameron Highlands. They stayed at the Moonlight Bungalow which still exists today. It is located on a hill, and can be reached via road from the golf course along the way to Strawberry Park Resort Hotel. A narrow road branches off from the main road to the hotel indicated by a small sign taking you to the secluded Moonlight Bungalow. It is a private property but I believe currently it is probably run as a private guesthouse pretty much the same as it was when Jim Thompson came to Cameron Highlands for his quiet holiday.

One day, he went for stroll in the jungle of Cameron Highlands. It seems he went out for a walk on the pretext of looking for some hornet's nest or something. When he did not return, his friend was worried and contacted the authorities and a search party was organized to look for him.

Many Orang Asli trackers were called upon to help in the search for Jim Thompson. Even with the expert tracking skills of the aborigine natives, the search went on for awhile and no trace of Jim Thompson could be located in the dense jungle.

 The road from Moonlight Bungalow is very narrow, only one car can pass through at any one time.

Meanwhile, news of Jim Thompson reached the media and there were headlines in the front page of papers screaming about the disappearance of Jim Thompson. It caused quite a big stir not only in the media, but also to the inhabitants of Cameron Highlands. If you can find any person that is still alive from that era, they can probably still recall the events and situation at that time.

As the search drag on, the detectives, journalist and even some film makers begin to wonder what could have happen to Jim Thompson. Could there be some kind of conspiracy at foot? After all, Jim Thompson has previously worked with the OSS, a precursor to the current CIA military intelligence, and perhaps he still might have some ties with them? Or perhaps he was eaten by tigers as there were quite a lot of tigers in the jungle those days.

Even today, many conspiracy theories have been put forth and each giving their reason that something might have been afoot. Everybody just loves a mystery, especially ones that are unsolved.

The reasoning seems plausible at first glance. There was a war going on at that time against the communist. The Americans were fighting a desperate war in Vietnam. They needed a staging area and airbases maybe towards the north of Thailand for their plane and choppers. Perhaps Jim Thompson still worked with the CIA covertly and his cover might have been blown and his life was in danger. He did leave for the Cameron Highlands in quite a hurry as some of his guests in Bangkok were expecting to meet him but to their surprise, found out that he had to go to Malaysia for a vacation.

With his cover blown, enemy agents may have tracked him down to Cameron Highlands; finding an opportunity to kidnap him while he was alone having a stroll on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Bundling him up in the trunk of a Thai taxi, he was whisked away to a secret location of the enemy.

Or, perhaps he was aware that his cover blown and his life was in grave danger; he needed to stage his disappearance so as to make it looked like he died in the dense Malayan jungle. It seems he has an old friend, a commander of the U.S. forces in Kohrat could have easily sneaked in a helicopter flying over the canopy of the highlands jungle as most military pilots were skilled in skimming above the treetops. With all the search parties and possible search aircraft buzzing around, no one would consider that another helicopter was also around not to assist in the search and rescue, but with another purpose in mind - to extract Jim Thompson and take him away from the area.

Given with a new identity, and relocated back to the U.S., Jim Thompson could now live anonymously in relative safety from any would be kidnappers or assassins; and the CIA secrets would be in safe hands.

Or perhaps he was just simply eaten by a tiger.

See also:

Back to the jungle walks:

Back to History of Cameron Highlands

Posted on 02-May-2006

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