Features

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 | MYT 12:00 AM

Looking for the Silk King

New theories emerge about Jim Thompson’s disappearance over 40 years ago.

IT has been 43 years since Thai Silk King Jim Thompson went missing in the jungles of Cameron Highlands but the hills are still buzzing with tales of what could have happened to him.

Some of the theories on Thompson’s disappearance contain conspiracies fit for a spy movie, while others are too ludicrous to believe.

Recently, a mundane story came out of Cameron Highlands that Thompson’s disappearance was a simple road accident.

Strawberry Park Resort resident manager Lim Wai Ming said the story circulating in Ringlet was that on his death bed, an elderly farmer confessed to his family to ease his conscience that he had once knocked down and killed a European man and buried him in an unmarked grave.

However, the cliff-hanger was that he died before he could gasp out where the body was buried.

Long-time resident of the highlands Capt Philip J. Rivers said it was a credible story.

Rivers is a master mariner, lecturer in nautical studies, and a former insurance fraud investigator. He is also the author of the book, ‘1421’ Voyages: Fact and Fantasy, published by the Perak Academy.

“In 1967, it was rumoured that a lorry had struck Thompson on the road but this was not reported to the police.

“It was said that the driver in his panic placed the body on to the back of his vehicle, drove off and buried the body in the outskirts of a vegetable patch.

“An alternative story says the culprit was driving a timber lorry and the body was disposed of at a sawmill,” he said in an interview.

Rivers said he first heard of the intriguing Thompson case when he came to the highlands over 20 years ago.

“The story is so famous that in London alone, there are about 20 bars and restaurants serving Thai dishes and food from Asian countries named after Jim Thompson.

“Even the Strawberry Park Resort in Cameron Highlands has the Jim Thompson Terrace, a restaurant with a Jim Thompson hamburger as one of the items on its menu,” he said.

Today, tourists are still queuing up daily to visit the Jim Thompson Thai House (Museum) in Rama Road 1, Bangkok, although many do not know that Cameron Highlands is in Malaysia.

As the story goes, Thompson had come to the highlands with his close Thai friend Mrs Connie Mangskau less than a week after his 61st birthday in 1967 to spend an Easter weekend with friends, Dr T.G. and Mrs Helen Ling of Singapore at their holiday bungalow, Moonlight Cottage, located above the golf course in Tanah Rata.

He and his friends attended church service on Easter Sunday which fell on March 26 that year and then had a picnic before returning to the bungalow. Thompson was last seen standing at the verandah. Despite a massive search that followed, he was never found.

Tales of his disappearance then spread like wildfire.

“Pundits pontificated that Thompson was a CIA agent embroiled in Thai politics, because of his wartime service in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).

“He was also labelled a man of mystery, a soldier of fortune and even a spy, becoming a double agent working for the Chinese communists. Conversely, they whisked him away to settle the war in Vietnam or to revive the silk trade in China.

“His wartime service was exaggerated to turn him into a skilled jungle fighter who had been behind Japanese lines in Burma or directed the Thai underground.

“That is all nonsense,” said Rivers who has carried out research on Thompson.

Rivers said the case attracted a host of practitioners of the occult arts, including mediums, clairvoyants, bomoh, soothsayers, astrologers and palmists.

One of them, Peter Hurkos, was a private investigator said to be a telepathy expert from Los Angeles, hired by the Thompson family.

His credentials were that he had assisted the police in search of the mysterious killer in the Boston Strangler case.

It was also said that he had crushed the scepticism of a non-believer in Boston by telling a young policeman correctly that he had been making love to his wife on the kitchen table a few hours ago.

His spiel was that Thompson had been drugged unconscious, abducted and flown off to Cambodia.

But when he was told that there was no landing strip, the story was amended to include an equally impossible boat ride to a neighbouring state for the plane trip.

Beside Hurkos, a swamp of mediums and mystic psychics swept through the jungle and came out with an assortment of sinister possibilities.

Retired Deputy Supt Ismail Hashim, 85, who was the OCPD in Cameron Highlands then, said he logged 118 such people but many others came later.

“They were of all races and nationalities and many had come all the way from Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Some even posted in their predictions.

“For days, the hills were alive with the sound of incantations, gongs and firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

“The stories were that Thompson was either eaten by a tiger, leopard or a wild boar, gulped down by a python or swallowed by quicksand.

“Others argued that the orang asli had accidentally killed him with a dart from a blow pipe, some said he had fallen into an animal trap,” said Ismail.

He said a ridiculous tale featured Thompson in a cannibal feast but the most amusing of all was that a tribal “princess” kept him imprisoned as a “love slave”.

Rivers said there were quarters who claimed that the police were slow in their investigations and had only done a “cosmetic search” for Thompson because of the conspiracy theories.

“From what I have learnt, the police had done a thorough search for Thompson, and Ismail had been on the scene immediately on the evening after receiving a report,” said Rivers.

“Practically all police units, including the Special Branch, CID, Police Field Force, orang asli from Senoi Praaq and the Jubah teams had swept the jungle and the highlands during investigations.

“Experts on secret societies were also sent up to check whether Thompson could have been kidnapped. A woman inspector, Tan Ai Bee, was sent to stay with the women at Moonlight Cottage on the pretext of offering protection to determine whether Thompson’s disappearance had something to do with domestic matters,” said Rivers.

Others involved in the search included a British Military Police sergeant and a small detachment, convalescents from the British Military Hospital, local residents, missionaries, students from the American School, tourists and golfers, two Dayak Rangers with a tracker dog and two Danish friends of Thompson from Bangkok.

Even former adviser to the Malayan Aborigine Department, the famous Richard Noone, hired by the Thai Silk Company, failed to locate Thompson after a search with orang asli despite his extensive knowledge of Cameron Highlands both before the war and during the Emergency.

Noone’s final observation was that “Mr Thompson was not in the jungle, dead or alive as he would certainly be found by now.”

“The possibilities have narrowed to Thompson accidentally meeting his death and his remains lay undetected somewhere in the Cameron Highlands,” said Rivers.

Rivers will be giving a talk entitled He Never Left The Hills – The Real Search For Jim Thompson, organised by the Perak Academy at Syuen Hotel, Ipoh, at 7.30pm on Friday. For reservations, contact 05-547 8949/016-551 8172.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle

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