Forty-five years after vanishing into a jungle without a trace, “Silk King” Jim Thompson remains a daily presence in Thailand: shoppers crowd his elegant stores and the American expatriate’s antique-rich residence is one of the capital’s top tourist attractions.
Credited with the revival of a now booming silk industry, Thompson attained legendary status, enhanced by a bon vivant lifestyle at a time when Thailand was still truly exotic — and by his mysterious death. But little has been known about Thompson’s intensely political, darker side — his freelance backing of Asia’s insurgencies, clashes with Washington’s Cold War warriors and his connections to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which to this day reportedly refuses to release his complete file.
It’s the cloak and dagger stuff, rather than the glitz and glamor, that’s the focus of a recent book “The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War” by Joshua Kurlantzick, an author on Asian affairs with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
The book provides no new clues about Thompson’s vacation walk into a Malaysian jungle in 1967 from which he never returned. Numerous theories, which still continue to pop up from time to time, range from having been eaten by a tiger to abduction by U.S. intelligence agents.