#127 – The Case of the Missing Silk King

Shortly before we left Korea, our friend David lent us the book Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, which recounts his 1967 disappearance (Thompson's, not David's!). An American expat who lived in Thailand and founded a silk company, Thompson was well-known among expats and locals alike, and wasn’t without enemies. While travelling in Malaysia, he went to the Easter Sunday morning service at All Soul’s Church near Brinchang, then ate lunch with his traveling companions. Deciding to go for a walk while the others went back to their rooms to rest proved a fateful decision – he was never seen or heard from again.

Thompson’s disappearance is remarkable because of its complete lack of evidence. Search parties were immobilized and immediately began combing the area. No traces of him were ever found. Despite one of the most exhaustive investigations in Malaysian history that included interviews with friends, family, suspects, psychics, and witch doctors and inspired two book-length studies of the incident, there is still no adequate resolution.

The lack of evidence stops nobody from speculating, however, and theories abound.

Yesterday, Lee and I went walking on the trails of the Cameron Highlands. There has been much development over the last five decades, and tourism is clearly the dominant industry. Maps are passed out and posted everywhere. The path is well signed, though the maintenance people can’t keep up with the growth of the jungle – in many places the path was overgrown and we had to push our way through. I wouldn’t call it extremely technical or demanding, but it does feel treacherous at times. The daily rainfall makes the rocks and tree roots quite slippery and the path is often narrow with a steep drop-off. It seems entirely possible that if someone slipped and fell into the thick growth, they would go unseen by any search and rescue team.

If you’ll permit me the opportunity to add my opinion to the mix (if Thompson’s cousin in America and people who knew him for about five minutes in Thailand get to offer their two cents, why shouldn’t I?), I’d say he met his end in the jungle that day. Although he was an experienced hiker, his health wasn’t great and even the most qualified trekkers can lose their footing on a slippery path. He didn’t specify exactly where he was going, meaning the search would have had to extend in every direction, making it easy to overlook some places. There has been much speculation that his disappearance was the result of an organized attempt to eliminate him for political or financial reasons. If this were the case, somebody probably would have talked. The case generated enormous publicity, and let’s face it, people don’t have the willpower to keep secrets, especially if there’s a huge reward to come forward.

So there you have it. I’d like to thank my best friends and trusty sidekicks Bess and George, my boyfriend Ned Nickerson for always believing I can solve the crime, and my father for bailing me out whenever the situation becomes dangerous.

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