1967 Malaysian disappearance of Thailand silk king Jim Thompson rediscovered


I went to the scene of the crime to discover what really happened to Thailand's silk king Jim Thompson.    

by Jack Corbett


Cameron Highlands panorama

Click here to watch, "Driving Malaysia's treacherest roads to resolve the strange 1967 Malaysian disappearance of Jim Thompson


We rented the car from Hertz to enjoy Malaysia's idyllic Cameron Highlands, not to reinvestigate the 1967 Malaysian dispearance of Jim Thompson.  The key phrase here is "we".  The we was my girlfriend, who's been living with me in Thailand for over three years, Rene, my ex neighbor who had bought the condo next to mine, and his Thai girlfriend, Da.  Since we were staying at the Bala Holiday Chalet less than six kilometers from where Jim Thompson had disappeared and Jim Thompson had once been Asia's most famous American, I had to know more about why Thompson had suddenly vanished from the face of the earth. 


After serving in the O.S.S. (the father of the C.I.A.) at the end of World War II, Thompson had managed to singlehandedly put Thailand's sleepy silk industry onto the fast track of internationally acclaimed fashion design.    Meanwhile he had bought six traditional Thai houses with their singular arching rooflines, moved them across the Klong or canal from one of his silk factories, and had them transformed into one of  one of Bangkok's finest residences.    That was back in the 1960's in the middle of the Vietnam War when Thailand became America's biggest air base when the U.S. dropped three times more bombs on Vietnam than it did on both Germany and Japans during the Second World War.  Meanwhile, Thompson set about becoming one of Asia's most prolific art collectors while making his new home the in place to visit for those who lived in Thailand or were newly arrived visitors who had heard of the influential American.  Influential American politicians, generals, film stars, even Eleanor Roosevelt, would become Thompson's guests.  And then, on Easter Sunday Asia's most famous American suddenly disappeared in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands after leaving a pack of cigarettes next to the lawn chair he was relaxing in on the veranda at Moon Light Bungalow where he had been staying with friends.  The prevailing thought as to what had caused his disappearance was that he had gotten up to take a walk and had gotten lost in the jungle.


My girlfriend wanted to visit the scene of Thompson's disappearance only because she wanted to be supportive of what I wanted to do.   But my ex neighbor, an ex travel agent from Switzerland, could care less and I'm almost certain his girlfriend shared his lack of motivation for retracing what was likely to have been Thompson's last steps.  But here we were, the four of us all together in Malaysia's sensational Cameron Highlands about to search for Moon Light Bungalows, a hotel (I then believed) from which Thompson would never return.



Highland Jungle WalkHighland Jungle WalkHighland Jungle WalkHighland Jungle

Highland Jungle WalkHighland Jungle Walk


Our trip started in Kuala Lumpur where we rented a small Hyundai sedan from Hertz Rent A Car.  It didn't take long for us to get onto the toll road to Ipoh from the airport.  Our mistake was getting off what had been a good thing in search of a restaurant so that our two Thai girlfriends could get something to eat before we got into the thick of five or six hours of driving through what none of us had ever experienced.  Rene, who had been to the Cameron Highlands several times before, had reasoned that there might not be any good restaurants on the way.  I'm sure there probably were, but the thing about Malaysia is that it's nothing like the United States, and of course it's not a bit like Switzerland either.  In the U.S. there are billboards and signs all over our highways advertising where the next Best Western Hotel is or McDonalds so it's always easy to find lodging along the way or a suitable restaurant.  But this was in Malaysia, which is not even in Thailand where I could always get some idea of what restaurants or hotels might be nearby.   Restaurants and hotels are simply not advertised so one has no idea of where they are while driving Malaysia's highways.  But once we got off the toll road we did find a sign or two directing us to the restaurant Rene wanted to take us to.  Then the signs stopped and I found myself driving aimlessly around in Kuala Lumpur's suburbs with none of us having a clue as to where we were going.


Thai girlfriends have small gas tanks.  They can go only four hours max without having to be refilled.  Air Asia is a cheap airline that does not feed its customers unless you want to pay extra and we had figured, "why should we do that?" when we'd only be in the air for an hour from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.  Thankfully our girlfriends were able to hold themselves back from complaining about not getting anything to eat for the next four hours or so.  All of us wanted to get the hell out of Kuala Lumpur traffic and to get on with our mission which was to arrive at our hotel in the Cameron Highlands without having an accident. 


The roads were clearly marked.  And I was counting on Rene, who had been in the Highlands several times before and had once made a living as a travel agent, which is the main reason I had left my GPS back in my Honda Civic back in Thailand or why neither my girlfriend or I had thought of buying a map.   For roughly half the way, the highway was typical highway driving as one might experience it in the U.S. with only moderate traffic.  But once we got off the main highway to travel the two lane roads to the Cameron Highlands we started to gradually gain elevation and curves.  We had roughly two hours of mountainous driving, which although it proved to be challenging and a little hairy at times, would not begin to measure up to the insane driving conditions I would be experiencing later on after reaching our destination. 



Balas Holiday Chalet

Bala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday Chalet

Bala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday ChaletBala's Holiday Chalet


For us, Rene's choice of the Bala Holiday Chalet proved to be an excellent one.  Originally built in 1935, Bala's is most definitely done up in the English classic old inn style.  We had cozy rooms with white plastered walls, each one with its own loft, giving off a unique feel that's almost impossible to duplicate regardless of cost.  But our showers would be cold.   I think the entire resort was using one single tiny hot water heater so at one moment the water would be warm and then suddenly it would turn cold and remain cold for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.  But although I'd almost start to dread taking a shower, this was a small price to be paid for the overall uniqueness of the place, with the sitting areas and their garden benches and chairs outside our rooms, the lush vegetation around the buildings, ivy crawling all the way past cobblestone roofs, and all that sheer History just oozing out of the resort.  It had most definitely been built by the British for the British although most of the actual manpower would have been Malaysian.  Then in 1941 Japan invaded Malaysia, and put all the British into concentration camps and prisons.  Bala's underwent four years of Japanese occupation.   What was it like then?  


The air's cold n the highlands early in the morning and evenings.  We'd be getting up to over 6600 feet above sea level over the next day or two.  Malaysia's close to the Equator and it gets hot so it's small wonder why the Highlands would become such a treasured escape from the tropical heat for the wealthy.  And so it is, even today.  There's a lot of construction going in of large expensive houses and condos, and none of this 33 square meter coffin sized condos such as we are seeing built in Pattaya for retirees.  Nearby is a golf course.  It was there when Jim Thompson disappeared.  This golf course is in the middle of a valley which extends a number of miles in both directions with large steep hills around it on both sides. 


The Search for Jim Thompson Begins


So far I hadn't read a single book about Jim Thompson.  The key image I had was of his staying at a hotel or resort in the Highlands and of his going outside the living room to either go on a walk or to meet someone who had suddenly appeared.  There had been two or three others staying with him who had gone out into the living room, seen his pack of cigarettes close to where he had been sitting, and quickly concluded that he was missing.  What I remembered best was the fact that he had not taken his cigarettes with him.  But it didn't quite happen like that.  This was only the impression I had so far gotten about his disappearance.


Renee almost had us staying at the Cameron Highlands Resort but the rooms were considerably more expensive here--around $120.00 a night and from the pictures I had seen of Bala's and the Cameron Resort, I favored the old English flavor that seemed to be oozing out of the Bala's setting.  Meanwhile, since taking our rooms at Bala's someone had led me to believe that Thompson had spent his last nights at the Cameron Highlands Resort.   Upon getting there I started trying to figure out from which location of the resort Thompson started walking and in what direction was he might have been heading.   The resort even had a "Jim Thompson" room where the hotel was selling different items and it was here that I bought William Warren's Jim Thompson, the Unsolved Mystery. I quickly learned that Thompson had never stayed at the Cameron Highlands Resort.  Thompson had disappeared from Moon Light Bungalow, so once again I envisioned a hotel that was open to lodgers.  We were directed to the Golf Course and told to turn left.   I got the impression that Moonlight Bungalow was within easy walking distance. 


We never did find Moon Light Bungalow that first day or two. Leaving our rental car parked at the Cameron Highlands Resort, we walked down the main road to a street across from the golf course.  Strawberries were being sold here at vendor's little outdoor stands.  Rene and I walked a couple of hundred meters past the stands where we found a condo project being constructed at high dollar price tags neither of us would ever want to pay. These were three and four bedroom units.  There was not a sign for Moon Light Bungalows to be seen.Later that afternoon one of the desk clerks at Balas drew me a map to Moon Light Bungalows while telling me he didn't know if it was open or closed.  That night I probably got half way through my newly purchased book about Jim Thompson.  There were pictures in it, several of them of Moon Light Bungalow, which was no hotel by any means.  It was a cottage that had been purchased by Dr. Ling and his wife who had emigrated from China after the Revolution and had subsequently become friends of Thompson's.  The other houseguest of the Ling's when Thompson disappeared was Connie Mangskau, a good friend and business associate of Thompson's who had become one of Bangkok's most renowned antique dealers. 


Strawberry Farm 


The desk clerk had told me there was a sign to Moon Light bungalow.  Well, believe me, there was no sign and there was nothing on the way that gave us the slightest hint that Moon Light Bungalow ever existed.  It also turned out that we should have turned left instead of turning right which brought us to The Strawberry Farm.   There were other fruits and vegetables being raised here other than strawberries, but the main attraction was the strawberries which we were able to sample in in a huge variety of incarnations at a fast food strawberry restaurant. 

Strawberry FarmStrawberry FarmStrawberry Farm
Strawberry FarmStrawberry FarmStrawberry Farm


Bharat Tea Plantation


Since we had gotten up early, we managed to get in one more major attraction, the Bharat Tea Plantation.  The cool climate of the Cameron Highlands provides ideal growing conditions for tea.  We managed to cover the strawberry farm and the tea plantation on the same day, but still had been unable to find the Moon Light Bungalow which my mind had single mindedly focused upon.


Tea FarmTea FarmTea Farm

Tea FarmTea Farm


Jungle Walk


By this time I had finished William Warren's book.   I had also adopted one or two theories as my favorites to explain away Jim Thompson's disappearance.   A convenient explanation might have been that Thompson never really left the O.S.S. which had evolved into the C.I.A. and that he had been done in by those elements who had been displeased over some of Thompson's activities or perhaps remarks, possibly even over America's conduct of the Vietnam War.  However, Warren mentions in his book that Thompson was unlikely to have remained a spy because his business, entertaining and searching for art treasures didn't leave him enough time for doing all the things spies are supposed to be doing.    However....this is merely one author's opinion. 


But upon reading the book, a new theory had taken increased prominence in my mind.   First off, Thompson had lost good friends during a rebellion against the Thai government.   So he was likely to have been well known for siding with the wrong side in Thailand's ongoing struggles for political supremacy.  Thompson while scouring Thailand for art treasures which he'd put in his house on the Klong had also made a few enemies who felt such national treasures had no business remaining in a house that belonged to a foreigner.  And even if one might contend that Thompson had few enemies, it can also be said that anyone who put as conspicuous a display of such a beautiful home or for his lavish entertaining or of being able to assemble such a notable collection of antiques and art objects would have been certain of arousing a lot of jealousy all around him.   His viewpoints had also become all too well known for being anti status quo whether the status quo meant the conservative ruling classes  in Vietnam or Thailand.


Nevertheless, the most prevalent viewpoint was that Thompson had simply taken a walk out into the jungle, had gotten lost, and died, perhaps even after falling and injuring himself.  Or that he had been run over by a car, and  had then been hastily buried after the motorist had realized what he had done.  I had to find out for myself and although I'd never really learn what had actually happened to Thompson at least I could get a glimpse of what he might have seen that afternoon he disappeared. 

Once you have seen the video and the pictures below it, you can begin to appreciate just how arduous a casual afternoon hike might have been.  But do keep in mind that I took these pictures and the video at a 6500 feet elevation.  Nevertheless, this highest point in the Cameron Highlands is just a few miles from where Thompson disappeared at Moon Light Bungalow.  Thompson disappeared in 1967 which is nearly fifty years ago.  So I cannot say what condition the trails or jungle might have been in around Moon Light Bungalow that Thompson might have hiked under. 


But from what you can determine from these pictures and the video, let me ask you several questions.   Do you think you could determine where a trail actually exists in these kind of jungle conditions?   The boardwalk upon which we are walking is actually a trail made of wood.  The jungle beneath and around it is very conspicuous, so much so that I'd say getting through even one hundred meters of it would take a long time if it were not for the boardwalk.  Well, certainly no boardwalk existed in or around Moonlight Bungalow when Thompson was staying there.  But there can be little doubt that wherever a trail might have existed that both people and animals would have kept any vegetation off it by their constant footsteps.   There certainly would not have been any of this, "now you see it now you don't" that stems from a trail blending into the vegetation or earth surrounding it.  I would think any trail would have formed an indelible scar into the jungle.  My second question is considering how rough the topography is in this area and how thick the jungle is, could you ever consider getting off a trail at 2:30 in the afternoon to undergo a casual hike out into the wilderness?  I say, not.  I would therefore conclude that Thompson would see clearly where the trails are and where they are not and that he'd want to stay on them.  And that he'd preferably stay on a road, say the one to the Golf Course.


Moon Light Bungalow


There is nothing quite like going to the place itself, whether this be a crime scene, where a famous battle took place, or in this case, where Jim Thompson was last seen.   Moon Light Bungalow was very difficult for us to find.  The road leading up to it was all one lane.  We encountered no other vehicles and we actually shot past the little lane leading up to it and found the Lutheran Bungalows instead.  We had to retrace our route a short distance and then we found a steep lane leading up to Moon Light Bungalow.   I expected to see a security guard or someone there who'd question us and who might bar our entry to the site.  For this I was prepared.  Mr. Bala, the owner of Bala's Holiday Chalet had given me his business card and advised me to present it to anyone who might question our having the right to enter the Moon Light Bungalow.  No one was there, however, so we simply drove right up around a sharp curve where we parked the rental car and then we trespassed on foot right up into the property.

The view up there is very impressive.  Moon Light Bungalow is isolated from everything else on the highest point around.  Directly down from us was the golf course, which would have been a real natural for Thompson to visit on foot along the road.  In fact, that's exactly what Dr. Ling had thought around 5 p.m. when everyone had finally noticed that Thompson had gone missing.   Dr. Ling had then driven down the road to inquire about Thompson down at the Golf Course.  My immediate thought became, "Suppose that Thompson suddenly realized that he had gotten lost.  Had I been in Thompson's shoes, I'd certainly had kept on going downhill until I emerged down into that valley either at the Golf Course or down or above it on the main route traveled by cars.  That's what they teach you in wilderness training schools and I had gone to both Colorado Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander Wyoming where we had all been taught how to navigate our way through some of the roughest country the United States had to offer.  And I had done a lot harder things than trying to find a golf course down in a valley.   At NOLS and Outward Bound we had been taught to follow a stream to wherever it ends because water flows downhill, and to always head downhill when lost.  We also all had topographical maps with each of us having five and at least one of us had a compass which we used to hike for six days across 85 miles of the Wind River Mountains to our base area.  I would have thought that Thompson with his OSS background would have learned similar wilderness skills. 

As for Thompson accidentally getting run over by a car--well....I sure did a lot of driving on one lane roads without meeting up with many cars driving towards me and in the case of our final and this time successful drive to Moon Light Bungalow we never encountered anyone else on that road.  So I'd say that this simply didn't happen.  As for Thompson falling into an animal trap dug by one of the aborigines living in the area, once again I find such a theory to be completely implausible.    A lot of Aborigines were part of the search parties looking for Thompson and had one of their members laid a trap in the area in which Thompson had been hiking I'm thinking members of the search party would have been aware of it.  Certainly now that forty-five years have passed since Thompson disappeared someone would have talked by now....."Yeah, it was my Uncle Frank who died years ago.  He was the one who caught Thompson in that animal trap of his."

Thompson had a history of gall stone attacks and he had left his gall stone medication in his room at Moon Light Bungalow.   One of the theories is that he might have had a gall stone attack while on his last hike and become so impaired that he could not make it back.   I don't buy this theory at all.   If Thompson knew he'd be out hiking for long one would have thought he'd be bringing his medication along.  Also....a fact not to be underestimated is that he left his cigarettes out on the veranda just outside the veranda.  It is highly unlikely that Thompson, a man totally addicted to cigarettes, would have allowed himself to be separated from his cigarettes for every long. 

"Never a fitness fanatic--he enjoyed swimming, but mostly so he could tan, and he couldn't go an hour without burning a cigarette down to a stub--Thompson pushed himself at O.S.S. training into the best shape of his life." (The Ideal Man:  The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantazick, Kindle Edition).

What we do know is Jim Thompson, Dr. and Mrs. Ling, and Connie Mangskau had a picnic lunch the day that Thompson disappeared and that the small party returned to Moon Light Bungalow in the early afternoon on Easter Sunday.  The Lings and Connie (Thompson and Connie reputedly were platonic friends who had their own separate rooms) went back to their rooms to get in their afternoon naps.   At roughly 3:30 p.m. the Lings heard Thompson outside on the veranda through their bedroom window which they had left open.  They heard the sounds of an aluminum chair being open or sat on and then they heard the sound of footsteps leaving the veranda.  They later contended the footsteps were not Asian. 

By chance we just happened to park our rental car along the curve of the small road leading into Moon Light Bungalow.  While parking the car there we fully expected to be accosted by someone telling us to leave because the property was private.  But when one looks at this picture, one can imagine someone or a group of men parking a car just out of sight of the bungalow and from this point advancing on Thompson who would have been by this time relaxing in that lawn chair on the veranda.  Still another theory that has been advanced is that a terrorist group might have abducted Thompson.  After all, for years both British and Malaysian troops had been engaged in a guerrilla war against Malaysian Communists and finally had emerged victorious.  It had been rumored that Moon Light Bungalow had been the site of a Communist base or camp and perhaps even the site of interrogations and executions.  So according to this theory, if the remnants of one of the Communists groups had decided to adduct Thompson one would think that as soon as he spotted any strangers approaching him that he would have alerted the others in the house. 

Here's the bottom line in my opinion on the 1967 Malaysian disappearance of Jim Thompson.  I can easily visualize a car being parked just behind the exact spot I parked the rental car and one or more individuals approaching Thomson.  I would think that he would have known at least one of them and that he had then silently approached them to avoid waking up the others in the house.  Once Thompson had been brought around the curve he could have been physically restrained and taken out of the area in the car.  It is even possible that a meeting might have been arranged and that Thompson had gone out alone onto the veranda so that he could quietly view his visitors prior to his having a private conference with them.


Other Theories

The list is long and varied.  One theory is that Thompson was in full collusion with is captors.  That is he helped arrange and perhaps he was even the chief architect of his own disappearance.  For example, that a former prime minister of Thailand had helped arrange for a completely new identity and that Thompson had absconded to China to rejoin his old friend who had been forced out of power in Thailand in a bloody coup.  Still another theory was that Thompson was possibly not in the best of health and that he had arranged his suicide in a manner in which his body could not easily be found.  The subject of Thompson's disappearance is certainly fascinating and one that now ranks right up there, for me at least with, what really happened to General Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 and whether or not George Mallory ever succeeded in climbing Mount Everest prior to his dying close to the summit in the 1920's.  I'd give my left arm if I could have a time machine that would enable me to discover the real truth behind such mysteries

I shot this video back in 2012.  Although it took us 2 days to find Moon Light Bungalow, I now find out Jim Thompson's last moments can be relived for History buffs such as myself.  Because rooms are now opened to the public.  Book a room here and you just might be able to relive the 1967 Malaysian disappearance of Thailand silk king Jim Thompson.

For more Jack Corbett web pages on Asian and Thailand travel click here.  I cannot compete with agoda.com or booking.com or travel advisor.  Just keep in mind that money is number one with all of them.  While I make no money whatsoever from my alphaproductions web site. Or for my travel articles. 

If you want to visit Jim Thompson's house in Bangkok Click here.


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