Suspect in Aspen bomb scare found dead |

Suspect in Aspen bomb scare found dead

Wyatt Haupt Jr.
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” A former Aspen resident who left several homemade bombs in the downtown area on New Year’s Eve died Thursday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

James Chester Blanning Jr., 72, was found dead at 2:19 a.m., inside his Jeep Cherokee in an unincorporated area of Pitkin County, east of Aspen, authorities said.

The vehicle was parked on the side of a road.

Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said at a Thursday press conference Blanning was “well armed” at the time he was located by authorities. He said Blanning had a handgun and rifle in the vehicle.

Linn did not disclose the location of the vehicle, although it was believed to have been found at North Star Nature Preserve.

A witness reported seeing the suspect at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday driving his green Jeep Cherokee with a spare tire on the roof. It was the last reported sighting of Blanning.

Authorities said Blanning strolled into two banks Wednesday afternoon and left a box at each location with an attached demand note. The notes were identical.

The note, a copy of which was later dropped off at the front door of The Aspen Times (see page A4) along with a personal letter, stated the boxes contained big “fire crackers” or bombs.

The note also made a demand for cash ” $60,000 in used $100 dollar bills.

Linn said the head teller at each bank was to be given “20 minutes to give up” the money to a man outside the bank.

At that point each bank alerted authorities.

A representative from Wells Fargo Bank telephoned at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, according to a revised timeline released by Aspen police Thursday. Vectra Bank reported the threat at 2:36 p.m.

The banks are about two blocks apart, with Wells Fargo at 119 S. Mill St. and Vectra at 534 E. Hyman Ave.

Blanning was identified through bank surveillance footage by Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis at about 8:17 p.m. Braudis and Blanning had been friends for decades.

Linn said the packages contained 5-gallon “plastic bladders” of gasoline that were fitted with cellular phone actuators and mousetraps or anti-tampering mechanisms.

Two other packages were found on a black sled in alley behind the Gap at 204 S. Galena St.

He said it was not clear if the bombs, which were disguised as presents, could have been detonated as configured by Blanning.

The Grand Junction Bomb Squad disabled the bombs overnight. Linn said the bomb at Wells Fargo created a small “fire ball” when it was detonated. No injuries were reported.

Blanning, most recently a Denver resident, suggested in his demand note there was a fifth bomb “hidden in a high end watering hole that we will remove after we are fully clear and know for sure all has gone well.”

Authorities said that led them to canvas as many as the local bars and restaurants that they could overnight. Aspen police officers were seen Thursday heading in and out of many related locations.

“The intent is to go to every bar or watering hole type of establishment,” said Aspen police spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro.

She said officers encouraged people to look for anything suspicious. They also showed photographs of some of the evidence collected in the case.

The bomb threat resulted in the closure of a 16-block perimeter stretching from Main Street to Cooper Avenue, and from Aspen Street to Original Curve.

The area was also evacuated with reverse 911 calls going out to businesses in late afternoon.

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said the perimeter was determined by the size and potential of the bombs. The threat also led to the city of Aspen canceling a fireworks show, which was subsequently rescheduled for Thursday night.

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