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Letters from readers about the disappearance of Jim Thompson ’28

November 4, 2002

The fine article about Jim Thompson '28 ("Tracking a Legend" by Francine Mathews, Oct. 22, 2002) brought back fond memories of my own brief work and friendship with Jim.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the 1964-66 period, and during the latter half of 1965 I was asked by the Peace Corps in Thailand to help set up a new Peace Corps community development effort in northeast Thailand that would include silk production and distribution.

We decided to put together an in-country training program for the newly arrived volunteers who would be assigned to this project (up to that point almost all Peace Corps training was carried out in the U.S. before entering the host country).

I had heard of Jim as the legendary founder of the Thai silk industry, and, taking a chance, called his store asking to meet him. I was surprised how easy it was for me to get an appointment.

Jim and I met several times. Among other things, he told me about his days at Princeton and his experiences in Thailand — in the OSS (when he first saw Thai silk being produced in the northeast, sparking his life-long involvement with Thai silk) and later in jump-starting the entire silk industry by creating his own enterprise.

Jim went out of his way to help us in launching the new Peace Corps initiative. He spoke to the new volunteers. He graciously invited them to his store and, most especially, to his fantastic house and the silk production facilities located behind his house. He also arranged for us to meet others — business people, government officials, and producers — involved in the silk trade, both in Bangkok and "upcountry."

Of all the Westerners I met in Thailand, none had a stronger affection for that country and its culture than Jim (as his collections and the architecture of his house, which is now open to the public, testify). He was also proud of what he contributed to the development of the Thai economy.

I was extremely sad to learn of Jim's disappearance in Malaysia's Cameroon Highlands in 1967. I had returned to the U.S., and it had been a little less than a year since I last saw Jim. I was unaware of the rumors concerning his alleged involvement with the CIA. I can only say that, though perhaps a small matter and possibly not even worth a footnote, in 1965 Jim made an unselfish and inspiring contribution to the Peace Corps silk project we established.

Mel Horwitch '64
Cambridge, Mass.

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November 4, 2002

As the great niece of Jim Thompson's, I was sorry to read the article by Francine Mathews in the Oct. 23 issue. So many of her facts were off, and especially the mention of my aunt's murder in Chicago when it was in fact Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

Perhaps she might think to do some research through the many family members in the Northeast. Jim's two nephews — Henry Thompson Reath ’42, in Philadelphia, Thomas Reath in York, Maine, and others —  and many great-nephews and great-nieces throughout the Northeast, including my brother Henry T. Jr., living in Princeton, and myself.

We have piles of memorabilia and fabric from Jim, who was close to many of us.  My son Porter Thompson Fox recently visited Bangkok, as did my niece Frances Reath), who worked at the Silk Shop for three months.

Many people it seems, including Ms. Mathews love to write and speculate on Jim Thompson, and no one ever goes to the real source — the immediate and nearby family.

Robin Reath Graves
Dedham, Mass.

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October 21, 2002

The disappearance of Thailand's silk king, Jim Thompson '28, is discussed in the PAW for Oct, 23, 2002 as happening on "Easter Sunday 1967.” I was in Bangkok from the 11th through the 15th of March, I was two weeks before Easter. As I recall, Jim Thompson had been missing for sometime by then and was a matter of concern to the American community there. However, the Embassy wives soldiered on and continued to provide tours of his marvelous Thai home which we took. The story a the time was that he had taken a walk in the Cameron Highlands and had not been seen since.

William W. Stevenson ’50
Charlottesville, Va.

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