Thailand: Air of Intrigue

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Ever since Thai Silk King James Thompson vanished without a trace while vacationing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia (TIME, April 17), his friends have grown increasingly suspicious about the disappearance. The biggest search that the highlands have ever known failed to produce a trace of Thompson. No word of his presence has filtered down from the aborigine villages of the highlands. There has been no sign of Thompson's remains, which would certainly attract birds of prey. Hoping against hope, Thompson's friends have therefore concluded that he may still be alive, the abducted victim of some international intrigue.

Last week, to back up their hopes, an anonymous group of Thompson's friends doubled, to $25,000, the previous reward for information that would lead to his return alive (and offered $10.000 for proof of his death). Thompson's Bangkok-based silk company sent back to the highlands for another careful look Richard Noone, 49, a British officer in SEATO who was once an adviser to the Malayan aborigines department. Noone, who knows the dialects and habits of the area's tribes, brought along a North Borneo border scout and an aborigine witch doctor. Thompson's friends flew in Peter Hurkos, the psychic Dutch crime detector who directed his talents toward solving the Boston Strangler case without notable success in 1964. "Thompson is alive," declared Hurkos. "He has been abducted to another country, but he is not being held for ransom. I would stake my neck on this."

Political Abduction? Thompson's friends, who include former OSS agents (Thompson first came to Thailand when working for the OSS) and other men with experience in intelligence work, feel that he could have been kidnaped for a ransom not yet demanded. But they lean toward the belief that he was abducted for political motives. What political motives? They are not sure, but feel that he may be the prisoner of Communists who wish to use him as some sort of intermediary or in a propaganda ploy. They point out, for example, that Thompson knew many of Ho Chi Minh's agents at the time of the Japanese defeat in World War II.

These vague speculations gain some credence from a couple of suspicious events that occurred a few days before Jim Thompson disappeared from a friend's home in the highlands. On the way there, the driver of Thompson's taxi was mysteriously switched, whereupon the taxi headed for a garage for repairs. There, Thompson and his traveling companion were asked to take another taxi that already contained two men, but refused to share the ride. Friends figure that this may have been an abortive kidnap attempt. On the day that Thompson disappeared, a caravan of five cars was seen going up the usually traffic-free road to the highlands and coming down three hours later— right after Jim Thompson vanished.