UPDATE: Police: Four bombs left in Aspen; suspect killed himself
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspen police believe Jim Blanning was acting alone when he deposited four bombs around downtown Aspen Wednesday before apparently killing himself in his vehicle east of town.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn described the events of Wednesday and the wee hours of Thursday at a press conference outside the Pitkin County Courthouse on Thursday morning.
A Grand Junction bomb squad disabled four handmade bombs late Wednesday and early Thursday ” two that Blanning left in a pair of local banks and two he apparently left in an alleyway after discovering police were responding to reports of bombs in the first two banks Blanning visited.
Police believe the other two bombs were intended for two other banks, Linn said.
“We really applaud the banks for their clear-headed response, which was to call police,” he said.
Authorities aren’t sure when Blanning shot himself; he was found dead in his Jeep Cherokee in rural Pitkin County, east of town. Highway 82 east of Aspen is gated at the base of Independence Pass, as the pass is closed to travel during the winter months. Linn did not reveal the exact location of Blanning’s vehicle, but said he was armed with at least a handgun, which he apparently used to take his own life, and a rifle.
The bomb squad was checking the vehicle Thursday morning to make sure it was safe, Linn said.
In Denver, authorities were searching Blanning’s residence Thursday morning, Linn said. Blanning, 71, was a former longtime Aspen resident whose family moved to town in the 1940s. In the 1990s, he was convicted of fraudulent land sales in the Aspen area and sent to prison to serve a sentence.
An evacuation order on Wednesday, which eventually cleared a 16-block area of downtown Aspen, was lifted at about 5 a.m. Thursday. Wells Fargo Bank and Vectra Bank ” the two institutions where Blanning actually delivered bombs and threatening letters that indicated “Aspen will pay a horrible price in blood” if his directions weren’t carried out ” remained cordoned off on Thursday morning while Aspen police and FBI agents continued to collect evidence.
Blanning’s notes demanded $60,000 from each bank, to be provided to him in used $100 bills, Linn said.
At least one of the banks, Blanning apparently delivered two packages, wrapped like a holiday gifts. He handed one package, containing the note, to a bank employee, and left the other package, containing the bomb, at the bank, Linn said.
The bombs were constructed with gasoline, a detonation device made with a cell phone, and an anti-tampering device made with a mousetrap, Linn said. The bomb squad wasn’t sure whether or not the devices would actually have worked, he said, but when the squad broke apart one of them, it produced a “pretty good fireball” outside Wells Fargo.
The bomb squad used a high-pressure water cannon to blow apart the bombs, creating what sounded like detonations around town late Wednesday and early Thursday, according to police. The bombs weren’t actually exploding, though, except for the one outside Wells Fargo, along Hopkins Avenue.
On Thursday, Linn also explained the police department’s decision to close off downtown Aspen on what would likely have been one of the busiest nights of the winter season in an already-hurting economy.
“In the interests of safety, we had to do the most prudent and safest thing,” he said.
Asked to assess the actual danger to the town, Linn said: “It’s hard to actually quantify that. There were four actual bombs in downtown Aspen. How dangerous is that? Dangerous enough.”
Police chose not to set up checkpoints for traffic leaving town Wednesday night to search for the suspect, though, and did not prevent traffic from entering town throughout the evacuation, he said. Authorities weren’t even sure who they were looking for until late Wednesday evening, after Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis identified the suspect as Blanning from a security photo taken at Vectra Bank, Linn explained.
And, Linn added, the situation was already severely impacting the town.
As for the losses suffered by restaurants and nightclubs that were either evacuated or were never able to open for New Year’s Eve, Linn said he couldn’t put a dollar figure to the impact, but guessed it was “in the millions.”
The law enforcement costs alone, including police agencies from around the Roaring Fork Valley and federal agents, is estimated at $150,000 to $200,000, he said.
By Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
ASPEN – Jim Blanning is no stranger to Aspen authorities. He had two scrapes with the law after bizarre incidents in the early 1990s and was sent to prison after he was convicted of fraudulent land sales.
Blanning, an Aspen native, had a long-running feud with Pitkin County authorities over ownership of numerous mining claims in the 1980s and 1990s. Pitkin County challenged his ownership of property, and Blanning retaliated in two ways.
He confronted the county commissioners and county staff by popping into the Cantina bar and restaurant wearing a sock as a dildo after the government officials finished with a meeting. The county officials were gathered for drinks, and Blanning confronted them for positions in landuse disputes.
Former county attorney Tim Whitsitt said that the confrontation occurred in the early 1990s. Authorities came to the bar and arrested Blanning, but Whitsitt couldn’t recall if Blanning was prosecuted for the incident.
At about the same time, Blanning caused a commotion when he used a rope to hang outside a portico on the second story of the Pitkin County Courthouse. Authorities shut down the courthouse during Blanning’s antics during business hours and convinced him to come inside without incident.
Blanning’s scrapes with the law caught up with him after he was accused with fraudulent land sales in the 1990s. Court records established that Blanning would do meticulous research on the owners of Aspen- area mining claims from the 1880s and after the silver crash of 1893.
He would create dummy companies and corporations with the same names as historic landowners and claim title to mining claims, often located in obscure areas of the backcountry. Blanning would then sell the property to buyers convinced that he had legitimate title to the property. He was charged and convicted of a similar type of land scam involving property owned by a longtime Aspen resident. He served a prison sentence and returned to Aspen after his release.
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