The Cameron Highlands Jim Thompson Mystery

Prologue

To date, volumes have been written about Jim Thompson, by far, the best known legend of Southeast Asia.

For the last three decades, the mystery of his departure has not only been a topic which has enjoyed a fair measure of ambiguity; just as interesting, it has also been a subject which many a theorist have found hard to put aside.

I first came to have an interest in Jim's disappearance as a result of reading about it in the newspapers. My initial impression was that he got lost as a result of falling into a pit of quicksand. Years later, I came to realize that this was not so.

In 1994, while on a trip to the Highlands, it came as a surprise to me that in spite of the fact that he vanished more than 25 years ago, the memory of his insubstantiality was still fresh in the minds of many. What also caught my attention was this: some of the residents of whom I spoke to were pretty sure that he must have had a hidden motive for coming over to their neighbourhood. But, due to a lack of evidence, they had to put away their views.

While I was at the retreat, I somehow came to have an interest in his absconding all over again. To satisfy my curiosity, I took the route which he took just after he had left Moonlight. While walking down Jalan Kamunting, several questions crossed my mind: One, why did he have to choose this route when there were so many other avenues opened to him? Two, was he really on the lookout for a hornet's nest? Three, what was his purpose for heading for the Lutheran Mission bungalow? Four, was he aware that a holiday home existed at the end of the road? Five, while he was at the complex, what made him want to leave the place? Six, on his way back, did he scale the steep slope to his left? Last but not least, did he in any way have an appointment to be picked up by someone of whom he had earlier made arrangements with?

After giving it serious thought, it dawned on me that there was really more to it than his being on the lookout for a hornet's nest. On my return from the hill station, I went through a stack of files to see if I could pinpoint the exact time he left the cottage. To the best of my knowledge, I remembered being told that he left the mansion at about 1.30pm. What later proved to be a disappointment to me was this: most reports, if not all, mentioned the fact that he left the villa at about 3.30pm. Much later, while I was going through the past issues of the now-defunct "Eastern Sun", I came across an article which not only brought to light the issue that he left the mansion at 1.30pm; just as noteworthy, it also highlighted the awareness of both Helen and Constance that Jim did indeed leave the premises for a pre-dinner stroll. Armed with this information, I went ahead to write a book entitled: "SOLVED! The Mysterious Disappearance of Jim Thompson, the Legendary Thai Silk King". It was printed and published in the United Kingdom in 1996. Of the thousands who read my book, none in particular came around to say that they were "short-changed".

For this edition, I visited the Highlands again in mid-November 2002. While I was at the haven, I took the opportunity to spend a quiet afternoon at the Jalan Kamunting precinct. I particularly enjoyed my stroll from Moonlight to the Lutheran abode: in short, it not only gave me a nice "feel" of the route which Jim took approximately 35 years ago; it also made me more aware as to why he opted for this path. Except for the presence of a government-owned building (Rumah Istirahat Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Perkerja), nothing much has really changed in the area since the time he was pronounced as lost. Throughout my walk, I did not come into contact with anyone. It was much the same when I first traveled this road some eight years ago.

If you are planning a trip to the Highlands, this is the one place you should not miss. Only after you have taken this route would you be in a better position to understand why Jim was on this road for more than two hours and on it again for a questionable period of time.

As far as possible, do not start a walk late in the afternoon. Depending on its distance, some paths can take as long as three to five hours to cover.

If, by chance, you lose your way, do not continue on from wherever you are. It would be wise to stop and return to where you first came from.

Whether you are going for a long walk or a short one, do not burden yourself with a whole load of items. A compass, a reliable map, a whistle, a lighter, a filled water bottle, a torch, a raincoat, a jack knife and some snacks are some of the things you should bring along with you.

Whatever it is, do not go for a walk all by yourself. If you do so, do keep someone informed of the track you intend to take and the time you are expected to be back.




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Posted on 8-Aug-2006

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