A Mysterious Disappearance

Richard Franklin Bishop

© Copyright 2014 by Richard Franklin  Bishop  
My Military Life Series (Without Deadly Force)
Part One - Enjoying Asia
Part Three - My Life As A Non-Combatant
Part Four - A Mysterious Disappearance
Part Five - Controlling An English Disaster
(Of American Origin)
Photo of temple and boat in Bangkok, Thailand.

I was on a roll! My one-year assignment, received at Scott Field, Illinois, while assigned to the Headquarters of MATS (Military Air Transport Service) was to Thailand. And I thought it was a Winner! Instead of a Headquarters Staff Officer, I was to be out in the field; an Accounting and Finance Officer (A&FO) again. But, I had to bounce around within the country a little before my final assignment came in. The Gulf of Siam is just south of Thailand and the town of Satahip was situated right on a corner of land protruding into the Gulf. Here was located the U-Tapao RTNS (Royal Thai Naval Station), both a Naval Port and an Aerial Port.

The sleepy fishing village of Satahip was energized and had gotten a facelift with the stationing of thousands of Americans, mostly U.S. Air Force members, whose presence required a myriad of construction projects that included extending the runways and building a petroleum pipeline from the Navy Port facilities to the Air Base. A SAC Wing of thirsty B-52 Bombers and their KC-135 Tankers justified this JP4 pipeline and those extra-long runways.

The various building projects on-base also caused a fleet of hundreds of Japanese-origin Dump Trucks to be constantly in motion as they gradually cut down a nearby mountain of Red Laterite and spread it around to stabilize the low ground on base, originally somewhat like a marsh. And, if a careering and careening Dump Truck didn’t “get you,” you had to especially watch out for scores of “Baht-buses” hell-bent-for-election, carrying their fares at all-out speeds in every direction.

Exotic Bangkok was within Baht-bus range (about 90 miles to the Northwest). The Hotels there were falling all over themselves to subsidize various forms of transportation from the Base to downtown Bangkok, as a courtesy to the Americans, of course. Those who didn’t care to travel via surface modes could usually find a semi-official reason for catching the regular daily “Round-Robin” Lockheed C-130 Hercules flight to Don Muang Air Base just outside Bangkok or other destinations “up-country.”

As I have stated elsewhere, all non-combat support personnel were on a ten-hour shift with one day off a week. Many of us were still “on-call” when off-duty from our normal work. Then there was always your turn on the roster for a 24-hour shift of performing Staff Duty Officer for the Combat Support Group, about once every three weeks. Besides being assigned to one of the Disaster Control Teams, there were also the “Additional Duties.” Sometimes these were given to last the entire overseas tour and sometimes as a “one-time” event.

I was selected to perform as a one-time “Investigating Officer” in the suspected theft of 20 Window Air Conditioning Units. Now crime was not unknown to the Thai community. Normal protective measures such as locked doors or “Full-Security” warehouses, or Well-lighted security compounds with barbed-wire fencing and Patrol Dogs only slightly hampered the clever denizens of the Thai “underworld.”

But in behalf of the friendly Thai people, let me say that wonders never cease. Once, when our on-base Bank had been “hit” and $ 25,000.00 had been stolen in an Armed Robbery in broad daylight, it looked bad for our local Bank Manager who was an American Civilian and who became a good friend of mine. He had been involved in hiring a new female cashier who was now missing since the day of the robbery. Not to worry about such a matter in Thailand. A visit to the Head-Priest of the local Buddhist Monks and all was arranged. The woman was located, her masked boy-friend who perpetrated the crime was arrested and amazingly, the money was duly returned all in about 10 days. Naturally, the Bank Manager's job was saved.

During this cursory investigation, I was under the nominal supervision of the local JAG (Judge Advocate General) otherwise known as the “Legal Officer.” I read the Regulations covering the assignment to such an investigation but they were not very much help except for the instructions on how to prepare the final report. And there were no briefings by the “Legal Office” on such matters and not much other assistance available unless you happened to know someone in the Military Police.

I did have a fleeting acquaintance with the local Provost Marshal who was a Lieutenant Colonel and a buddy of my boss, the Comptroller. But he was much too busy closing down shady bars that had sprung-up on some corner of the Base or placing unhealthful off-base congregation points “off-limits” to all Military Personnel. So, in the end, this left me all alone using my wits to report and make recommendations on this alleged crime.

The Air Conditioners were big window units and each was worth about  $395.00 (wholesale) and were intended for one of the Headquarters buildings nearing completion. It amounted to a theft of $ 7,900.00 in brand-new merchandise and back in the U.S.A. (in our system of jurisprudence) this would easily have qualified as “Grand Theft.” But, of course, those words would only have fit on the “statement of charges” to the perpetrator, if there was one. But, there was nobody under suspicion by the Air Police or their Thai counterparts.

I started by visiting the local Air Police Post; showed them my letter of appointment, and was allowed to read all their reports. The missing units were gone from the on-base construction site and had been there one day and the very next day were missing. The site was reasonably secure, being well lighted at night, and with Security Police Patrols every hour or so, staggered in time so that they could not have been anticipated. They were in a compound surrounded by fencing (but not electrified) and it was not protected with Dog Patrols.

A valid conclusion could have been that it was a “theft-to-order” since very valuable materials were not touched (such as rolls of pure copper tubing & cable, etc.). As it was, it must have been conducted with well-planned organization, lightning-like speed, and ordinary-looking vehicles since the Gate Guards detected nothing suspicious that evening. It was so magical and smoothly done, almost with sleight-of-hand, that in my personal opinion it was an “inside job” although, without further tangible proof, I would not have dreamed of putting that into my report.

After days of making the rounds of talking to construction workers, Air Policemen of different shifts, and other interested parties (including Warehousing to make sure they were not covering an internal loss by crying: “Theft”), I had to finally call it a day by writing my final report. I must admit that I was pretty much at my wits' end over this open-ended, intangible situation.

As I sorely needed background information, I perused a personal insurance policy of my own regarding what household furniture losses were covered by insurance and what were not so covered. One item caught my eye because it was fully covered by the insurance company, even though it was somewhat “flaky” as to circumstances surrounding the loss. It was a category called “Mysterious Disappearance.” It apparently fit here since there seemed to be no trace of persons involved or other irregularities as points of reference for a crime. And so, I seized upon the opportunity of putting Civilian Insurance Policy terminology into my report:  
Conclusion: No trace of the items could be found and no trace of any crime became visible during the investigation. Therefore, the loss of these 20 items of Equipment was the result of a “Mysterious Disappearance.”

After I had exactly followed the instructions on how to prepare the final report, I duly filed my report and was dismissed from the case by the “Legal Officer” ̶ with thanks.

Several weeks later, meeting the Legal Officer on the way to the mail-room, I asked about how my report had been received by the Chain of Command. He laughed and said it was exemplary and that they were now using my report as a “model” to show newly assigned one-time “additional duty” investigators how to perform and write up their investigation. I was astounded !

Naturally, I was flattered beyond all bounds, but I'm a Taxpayer too and so I was also aghast that many future losses would probably be covered by such a “blanket” conclusion. In the end, all I could do was “shrug” and say: “Well, the facts of each investigation are different and so that’s their lookout.”

I was glad that I was not assigned any more of these investigations and that this was my one and only attempt to be a solver of crimes against the Military! 

   Contact Richard
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Richard Bishop's Biography and Story List
Book Case
Home Page
The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher