Man sought in Colo. bank bomb threats found dead

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) -- A man wanted for questioning after two banks received bomb threats and suspicious packages in holiday wrapping was found dead early Thursday, police said. The threats shut down this resort town on New Year's Eve, one of its busiest nights of the year as the evacuation lasted until 4 a.m. Thursday.

The man, Jim Blanning, was found dead early Thursday just east of Aspen in rural Pitkin County, said police officer Stephanie Dasaro. She couldn't say how he died or exactly where his body was found.

Blanning, 71, grew up in Aspen but had lived in Denver since 2003.

Police cleared a 16-block area Wednesday afternoon after two banks reported receiving the threats and packages. Police also found clear plastic boxes containing holiday wrapped packages and pizza boxes on a black sled in a downtown alley.

Police released surveillance tape from one bank showing Blanning and asked the public to help find him.

It was unclear Thursday what the packages contained. Dasaro said they were destroyed early Thursday, but she did not say whether they contained explosives.

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 notes indicated a "credible threat to the community," the Aspen Police Department said in a statement.

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 writes 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 skiier, but he didn't really fit into the new Aspen," Hayes said Thursday.

In 1994, according to newspaper accounts, Blanning climbed atop the Pitkin County Courthouse with a noose and threatened suicide. Blanning was talked off the courthouse after seven hours.

Blanning told reporters afterward that he was protesting the "elitists" of Aspen and was angry about a 1990s Colorado Supreme Court ruling about a mining claim.

The events Wednesday 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 delayed 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.