“The Aspen that James Chester Blanning knew as a competitive skier, lumberjack and truck driver was nothing like the swank resort town it is today, and friends and family say it ate at him.
“Aspen became trendy,” said Dieter Bibbig, a retired ski instructor who knew Blanning for 50 years. “I didn’t let it bother me; I just accepted it. Not Jim.”
Police say the disgruntled 72-year-old former resident left four gift-wrapped bombs in downtown Aspen on New Year’s Eve, forcing thousands of well-heeled revelers to abandon plans to ring in 2009. He was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound a few hours later east of town.
Bank robbery was the apparent motive, but people who knew Blanning said he had long been disenchanted with his hometown as it changed from a former mining town to a playground for the rich. In 1994, he climbed atop the county courthouse, wrapped a noose around his neck and threatened suicide for hours in what he later said was a protest against the “elitists” of Aspen and for working people.
On Friday, working people were among those most furious about Blanning’s attack. The bomb cleanup forced police to clear the mountain resort just as thousands of revelers were pouring into town for dinner, costing bartenders, waiters and other workers on what is usually the town’s biggest night of the year.
“People were expecting to pay their rent with that money, and now they’re wondering what to do,” said sandwich and coffee server Sami Hibner, 21.
One private club had expected to charge guests more than $500 for New Year’s Eve dinner and dancing; a nearby sushi restaurant had to close its doors and throw out a pricey shipment of fresh seafood flown in for the holiday.
Aspen, which already had been getting fewer tourist dollars and lower hotel occupancy rates because of the poor economy, tried to recapture the holiday spirit with a belated New Year’s fireworks celebration on Thursday night. But revelers numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands.
Blanning walked into two downtown banks Wednesday and left homemade bombs – made of 5 gallons of gasoline and cell phone components – with notes demanding $60,000. Police found two similar packages atop a black sled in a downtown alley.
Police have said Blanning acted alone in his bank plot, and they considered the investigation complete by New Year’s Day.
Blanning grew up in Aspen, once skied competitively and helped clear lumber to construct a ski run at nearby Breckenridge resort. He moved to Denver in 2003, by which time Aspen had been transformed into an internationally known ski destination where few working people could afford to live.
“It was a small town. Everybody knew everybody. And then little by little it changed,” said Blanning’s brother, 71-year-old Bill Blanning of Denver.
James Blanning worked odd jobs all his life, including short stints as a ski patrolman, a lumberjack and a truck driver. He couldn’t keep a job long, friends recalled, and a scheme to get rich by using old silver mining deeds to secure property rights landed him in prison on fraud charges in the late 1990s.
Bibbig, the retired ski instructor, said he liked Blanning and once spent a summer with him clearing lumber. But he added, “He was a little deranged.”
Blanning’s handwritten “last will and testament,” which left three Denver properties to two men, was written on the outside of an envelope containing a typewritten note left at the Aspen Times on Wednesday. He gave no motive, but wrote, “I was and am a good man.”
Kind of like Jude Law’s last line in A.I. (“I am. I was.”)
You know what? I blame Claudine Longet
Longet was arrested and charged with the 21 March 1976 fatal shooting of her lover, Olympic skier Vladimir “Spider” Sabich, at his Aspen, Colorado home after he had showered and was preparing to dress. Sabich was a very handsome athlete with no lack of female companionship when he met Longet. As their relationship progressed, Longet and her three children moved in with Sabich, radically altering his bachelor life. There were widespread rumors of discord between the couple before the shooting. Spider had told friends he wanted Claudine out of his house but had taken no real action to evict her because he adored her children. At the sensational trial, Longet claimed the gun discharged accidentally as Sabich was showing her how it worked. Despite the fact that the autopsy found that Sabich was bent over with his back turned to her and Claudine was no closer than 6 feet (1.8 m) from him, she stuck to her story that it was a tragic accident. Williams very publicly supported Claudine throughout the trial, even escorting her to and from the courthouse.
The Aspen police made two enormous blunders which turned the tide for Longet. They took a blood sample from her and confiscated her diary without warrants. Longet’s blood contained cocaine and her diary showed that her relationship with Sabich had turned bitter. Since the evidence was not obtained legally the prosecution could not enter it into evidence. The gun was also mishandled by non-weapons experts. It was given to a policeman, who wrapped it in a towel and put it in the glove compartment of his unit; for 3 days it was unaccounted for.
Put on the stand, Longet reiterated her innocence and pleaded for mercy because her three young children needed her. The jury acquitted her of felony manslaughter but convicted her of criminal negligence, a misdemeanor, and sentenced her to pay a small fine and spend 30 days in jail. As a generous gesture, Judge Lohr allowed Longet to choose the days she served, believing that this arrangement would allow her to spend the most time with her children. Longet chose to work off most of her sentence on weekends. Once the trial was over, she took off for a vacation with her defense attorney Ron Austin. Austin left his wife and children to do so. Longet and Austin later married and remain together, residing in Aspen.
Longet has never performed again. After the criminal trial, the Sabich family initiated civil proceedings to sue Longet. The case was eventually resolved out of court for a large monetary settlement, with the proviso that Longet never tell or write about her story.
I’ll bet Blanning knew every detail.