Podcast Episode 316: A Malaysian Mystery

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moonlight_bungalow.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the many theories behind Thompson’s disappearance, which has never been explained.

We’ll also borrow John Barrymore’s corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear’s significance.

Intro:

A 1969 contributor to NPL News suggested that orchestras were wasting effort.

Robert Wood cleaned a 40-foot spectrograph by sending his cat through it.

Sources for our feature on Jim Thompson:

William Warren, Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, 2014.

Joshua Kurlantzick, The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, 2011.

Matthew Phillips, Thailand in the Cold War, 2015.

Taveepong Limapornvanich and William Warren, Thailand Sketchbook: Portrait of a Kingdom, 2003.

Jeffery Sng, “The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War by Joshua Kurlantzick,” Journal of the Siam Society 102 (2014), 296-299.

Tim McKeough, “Jim Thompson,” Architectural Digest 71:4 (April 2014).

Alessandro Pezzati, “Jim Thompson, the Thai Silk King,” Expedition Magazine 53:1 (Spring 2011), 4-6.

Daisy Alioto, “The Architect Who Changed the Thai Silk Industry and Then Disappeared,” Time, May 9, 2016.

Anis Ramli, “Jim Thompson Found, 40 Years On,” Malaysian Business, May 1, 2009, 58.

“Thailand: Jim Thompson’s Legacy Lives On,” Asia News Monitor, Feb. 8, 2010.

Peter A. Jackson, “An American Death in Bangkok: The Murder of Darrell Berrigan and the Hybrid Origins of Gay Identity in 1960s Thailand,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 5:3 (1999), 361-411.

Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa, “Documentary Claims CPM Responsible for Jim Thompson’s Disappearance in Cameron Highland,” Malaysian National News Agency, Dec. 10, 2017.

Barry Broman, “Jim Thompson Was Killed by Malay Communists, Sources Say,” The Nation [Bangkok], Dec. 4, 2017.

Grant Peck, “New Film Sheds Light on Jim Thompson Mystery,” Associated Press, Oct. 21, 2017.

“A 50-Year Mystery: The Curious Case of Silk Tycoon Jim Thompson,” dpa International, March 22, 2017.

George Fetherling, “The Man Who Vanished,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 29, 2013, B.7.

“Trends: The Mystery of Jim Thompson,” [Hamilton, New Zealand] Waikato Times, May 8, 2013, T.13.

“Bangkok: Remembering Jim Thompson,” The Nation [Bangkok], Oct. 3, 2012.

Bernd Kubisch, “The Riddle of Jim Thompson Continues to Fascinate Bangkok Visitors,” McClatchy-Tribune Business News, Feb. 21, 2012.

Joshua Kurlantzick, “Into the Jungle,” [Don Mills, Ont.] National Post, Dec. 7, 2011, A.16.

Joshua Kurlantzick, “Our Man in Bangkok,” [Don Mills, Ont.] National Post, Dec. 6, 2011, A.14.

Yap Yok Foo, “Mystery of Jim Thompson’s Disappearance,” [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, Feb. 1, 2004, 30.

Robert Frank, “Recipe for a Fashion Brand?”, Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2001, B.1.

Jonathan Napack, “Will Jim Thompson’s House Disappear, Too?”, International Herald Tribune, Aug. 30, 2000.

Michael Richardson, “The Disappearance of Jim Thompson,” International Herald Tribune, March 26, 1997, 2.

Hisham Harun, “Jim Thompson’s Legacy,” [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, Aug. 12, 1996, 09.

Philp Shenon, “What’s Doing In: Bangkok,” New York Times, Jan. 31, 1993.

William Warren, “Is Jim Thompson Alive and Well in Asia?”, New York Times, April 21, 1968.

“Jim Thompson,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (accessed Oct. 4, 2020).

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “John Barrymore” (accessed Oct. 8, 2020).

“Drew Barrymore Has a Hard Time Processing While Eating Hot Wings,” Hot Ones, Aug. 20, 2020.

Marina Watts, “Drew Barrymore Reveals the Unique Experience Grandfather John Barrymore Had After Death,” Newsweek, Aug. 21, 2020.

Adam White, “Drew Barrymore Says Her Grandfather’s Corpse Was Stolen From the Morgue for ‘One Last Party,'” Independent, Aug. 20, 2020.

Wikipedia, “Hot Ones” (accessed Oct. 8, 2020).

“Earth Does Not Move for Science,” BBC News, Sept. 7, 2001.

Tim Radford, “Children’s Giant Jump Makes Waves for Science,” Guardian, Sept. 7, 2001.

Reuters, “Jump Kids, Jump! Shake That Earth,” Wired, Sept 7, 2001.

“Schoolkids Jump-Start a Quake in Britain,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 8, 2001.

“Newspaper Clipping of the Day,” Strange Company, Aug. 26, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Hanno Zulla, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

The Persian Princess

In October 2000, a mummy was offered for sale on the black antiquities market in Pakistani Baluchistan. Tribal leader Wali Mohammed Reeki claimed that it had been found after an earthquake near Quetta.

At first a Pakistani archaeologist suggested that the mummy had been a princess of ancient Egypt, or perhaps a daughter of Persian king Cyrus II. Iran and Pakistan began to contend for its ownership, but then American archaeologist Oscar White Muscarella came forward to say he’d been offered a similarly uncertified mummy the previous March which had turned out to be a forgery.

On examination, the “Persian Princess” turned out to be substantially younger than her coffin — in fact, the mat under her body was only 5 years old.

In the end, Asma Ibrahim, curator of the National Museum of Pakistan, reported that the woman had in fact died only around 1996, possibly even murdered to provide a corpse. She was eventually interred with proper burial rites, but her identity remains unknown.

Watch Your Step

In 2016, Manchester’s Casa Ceramic installed custom tiles in its entry corridor to create the illusion of an uneven surface.

Sales administrator Harry Molyneaux says the effect is most vivid in photographs.

“The floor is completely flat and safe to walk over.”

Miss and Hit

At the commencement of this battle [Gettysburg], as the Regiment was rushing forward toward the enemy, a cannon ball passed between the legs of Captain Robert Story, of Company B, plowing up the earth beyond, yet he rushed on until, half an hour later, he lay mortally wounded, in the enemy’s lines. He was struck in the left thigh by a Minnie ball, which, on reaching and fracturing the bone, divided into three parts.

— Abram P. Smith, History of the Seventy-Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, 1867

Figure and Ground

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

A recipe for “toast sandwiches,” from Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery, 1865:

Ingredients. — Thin cold toast, thin slices of bread-and-butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode. — Place a very thin piece of cold toast between 2 slices of thin bread-and-butter in the form of a sandwich, adding a seasoning of pepper and salt. This sandwich may be varied by adding a little pulled meat, or very fine slices of cold meat, to the toast, and in any of these forms will be found very tempting to the appetite of an invalid.

In 2011 the Royal Society of Chemistry worked out the nutritional content:

3 slices of white bread = 240 Calories. Butter = 10 g = 90 Calories
Total = 330 Calories
Toast sandwich nutrients
Protein = 9.5 g
Fat = 12 g
Carbohydrate = 55 g
Fibre = 4.5 grams
Calcium = 120 mg
Iron = 2 mg
Vitamin A = 90 mcg
Vitamin B1 = 0.25 mg
Vitamin B2 = 80 mcg
Vitamin B3 = 4 mg
Vitamin D = 0.08 mcg

“I’ve tried it and it’s surprisingly nice to eat and quite filling,” said he RSC’s John Emsley. “I would emphasise that toast sandwiches are also good at saving you calories as well as money, provided you only have one toast sandwich for lunch and nothing else.”

The Burned House Phenomenon

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of Neolithic Europe left behind a curious puzzle for archaeologists: It appears that, for more than a thousand years, the houses in every settlement were burned. It’s not clear why. Possibly the fires arose accidentally or through warfare, or possibly they were set deliberately. The extent of each fire must have been considerable, because the raw clay in the walls has been vitrified by intense heat, an effect that has not appeared in modern experiments with individual houses. But the reason for the phenomenon, and for its longevity, remains unknown.

Turnabout

https://www.reddit.com/r/interestingasfuck/comments/j1iekj/as_photography_became_more_common_an_odd/

In the early 20th century, medical students often posed for photographs with the cadavers they were learning to dissect — in some cases even trading places with them for a tableau called “The Student’s Dream.”

John Harley Warner and James M. Edmonson have published a book of these photos, Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. “What we know with certainty about any particular photograph often is frustratingly meager,” they write. “A dissection room photograph discovered tucked between the pages of an old anatomy textbook or up for auction on eBay is likely to have no indication of where or when it was taken, who took it, or who is in it. The photographs suggest stories that cannot easily be recovered.”

But they say that the images generally were intended not to be entertaining or flippant, but to mark a professional rite of passage for the students. “Privileged access to the body marked a social, moral, and emotional boundary crossing. ‘Know thy Self’ inscribed on the dissecting table, the Delphic injunction nosce te ipsum, could refer to the shared corporeality of dissector and dissected. But it most certainly referred to knowing the new sense of self acquired through these rites. As visual memoirs of a transformative experience, the photographs are autobiographical narrative devices by which the students placed themselves into a larger, shared story of becoming a doctor.”

https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/items/show/17964

The Swampman

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Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp; I am standing nearby. My body is reduced to its elements, while entirely by coincidence (and out of different molecules) the tree is turned into my physical replica. My replica, The Swampman, moves exactly as I did; according to its nature it departs the swamp, encounters and seems to recognize my friends, and appears to return their greetings in English. It moves into my house and seems to write articles on radical interpretation. No one can tell the difference.

But there is a difference. My replica can’t recognize my friends; it can’t recognize anything, since it never cognized anything in the first place. It can’t know my friends’ names (though of course it seems to), it can’t remember my house. It can’t mean what I do by the word ‘house’, for example, since the sound ‘house’ it makes was not learned in a context that would give it the right meaning — or any meaning at all. Indeed, I don’t see how my replica can be said to mean anything by the sounds it makes, nor to have any thoughts.

(“I should emphasize that I am not suggesting that an object accidentally or artificially created could not think; The Swampman simply needs time in which to acquire a causal history that would make sense of the claim that he is speaking of, remembering, identifying, or thinking of items in the world.”)

(Donald Davidson, “Knowing One’s Own Mind,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60:3 [January 1987], 441-458.)

Emily

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In November 1995, a three-year-old heifer jumped a 5-foot gate at a slaughterhouse in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, minutes before she would have been killed. Despite record amounts of snow, she stayed alive and evaded capture for 40 days, foraging in backyards and aided by sympathetic townspeople.

When she was final retaken, a local family purchased her from the slaughterhouse and established her in sanctuary at Peace Abbey in Sherborn, where she received regular visitors and became a symbol of animal rights and vegetarianism.

When she died in 2003, she was buried between statues of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Her own grave now bears a life-sized statue.