(AP) A man who left bomb threats and homemade bombs around Aspen on New Year's Eve shot and killed himself in his car a few hours after his threats cleared much of the resort town, Aspen police said.
Assistant Aspen Police Chief Bill Linn said James Chester Blanning, 72, walked into two Aspen banks Wednesday afternoon and left packages wrapped in holiday paper along with notes saying the boxes contained bombs. The notes threatened ``mass death'' and demanded $60,000 cash, along with criticisms of President George Bush, Linn said.
The Aspen Times Newspaper reported that Blanning left a typewritten note at the newspaper's offices Wednesday evening. The profanity-laced note, which appeared to match those Blanning left at banks, said ``Aspen will pay a horrible price in blood'' if his demands were not met.
The note said a fifth bomb was ``hidden in a high end watering hole.'' Linn said Aspen bars had been searched but that no additional bomb was discovered. On the outside of an envelope containing the note, Blanning handwrote what he called a ``last will and testament'' leaving three Denver properties to two men. He gave no motive, but he wrote, ``I was and am a good man.''
Blanning's notes said he was targeting four banks. Later, police found two similar packages in a downtown alley atop a black sled. All four boxes contained homemade bombs made of gasoline and cell phone components. ``We believe the suspect abandoned his plan halfway through,'' said Linn, who said Blanning's notes didn't say which other two banks he planned to target.
Sixteen blocks, nearly the entirety of downtown Aspen, was cleared of holiday revelers Wednesday afternoon. Linn said that police bomb squads detonated the bombs once the area was cleared, and that one of the packages created a fireball outside a Wells Fargo Bank when police detonated it. No one was injured. Linn said the bombs were dangerous, containing plastic bladders of gasoline, but Linn did not describe exactly how sophisticated they were.
Blanning, who grew up in Aspen, was identified by the Pitkin County Sheriff on a surveillance tape from one of the banks. Linn said the suspect was well known to police and that the sheriff remembered Blanning from a 1994 suicide threat atop the Pitkin County Courthouse. By Wednesday evening, police released Blanning's name and picture. Linn said that early New Year’s Day, Blanning was found dead alone in his Jeep Cherokee east of Aspen. In the car police found a rifle and a handgun they believe Blanning used to kill himself.
Linn said there were no other suspects in the bomb scares.
Police said a downtown Wells Fargo bank first discovered a package with a threatening note at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. A nearby Vectra bank reported a similar package minutes later. The evacuation lasted until about 4 a.m. Thursday. It was not clear how many people were evacuated, but the American Red Cross helped in the effort.
Aspen residents recalled Blanning as an eccentric who grew up fascinated by Aspen's past as a silver mining town. People who knew Blanning say he became disenchanted with his hometown as it turned into a holiday playground for the rich.
Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, who pens a weekly society column for the Aspen Times Newspaper, knew Blanning as a boy in the 1940s and once employed him as a driver for her trucking company in the 1960s. Hayes recalls firing Blanning, a noted skier in high school, because he was unreliable. ``He was a very good skier, but he didn't really fit into the new Aspen,'' Hayes said Thursday.
In 1994, according to police and newspaper accounts, Blanning
climbed atop the Pitkin County Courthouse with a noose and threatened suicide. Blanning tied the noose around his neck but was talked off the courthouse after seven hours and was not charged. Blanning told reporters after the courthouse standoff that he was protesting the ``elitists'' of Aspen and that he was angry about a 1990s Colorado Supreme Court ruling about a mining claim.
The bomb threats put a damper on festivities in the resort town, a popular New Year’s Eve destination that typically draws tens of thousands of people. A fireworks show was pushed back from 8:30 P.M. until midnight and then canceled altogether. Many bars, restaurants and nightclubs that had planned festivities to ring in the New Year fell in the evacuation zone and had to close.
Linn said the evacuation and bomb scare cost police between $150,000 and $200,000 and that the cost to downtown aspen business would be much higher. ``I think it's pretty easy to say it's in the millions,'' Linn said of the losses to business planning holiday
dinners and parties.