James Harrison Wilson Thompson was born in 1906 in Greenville, Delaware in the United States. His father was a textile manufacturer, whilst his mother was the daughter of a prominent Union General. Jim spent the years 1931-1940 working as an architect in New York City, designing homes for the elite. Thompson found an interest in costume design and textiles whilst working on the board of the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
JIm enlisted in the Delaware National Guard. When war broke out, Thompson worked for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA) and was stationed all over the world. Around 1945, Thompson was transferred to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where preparations were underway to invade Thailand. Japan’s surrender eliminated the need for such an invasion and in August of the same year, Jim arrived by military plane in Thailand.
In 1947, Thompson’s first breakthrough came upon the discovery of an enclave of Thai weavers who lived in an idyllic small community called Ban Krua, in the heart of Bangkok. Thompson had his fresh portfolio of hand-woven silks sent to New York. The silks captivated the leading names in fashion, including Edna Woolman Chase, the influential editor of Vogue Magazine
Following on from the excellent reception in New York, Thompson’s Thai Silk business prospered and in 1950 he opened his first shop on the iconic Surawong Road in Bangkok.
Jim also acquired a diverse collection of Thai art. By the late 1950’s, his collection was so extensive that he built a place to house his splendid antique collection. In 1959, Thompson’s famous House on the Klong, made up of six old teakwood houses in Bangkok (Banh Krua) and Ayutthaya province (Pak Hai), was completed.
On Sunday March 26th 1967, while holidaying in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, Jim went for a walk and never returned. His disappearance triggered one of the largest search operations in the region, with 400 men dispatched to search. However, the body of Jim Thompson was never found.
Abounding theories surrounded his disappearance, ranging from kidnapping, assassination, tiger attacks and suggestions that he simply lost his way. While Jim Thompson may be synonymous with elegant silk, the name is equally well known for the legendary disappearance that continues to mystify to this day.