Police say Aspen bomber held up Vail banks
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. ” The man who planted explosive material in Aspen on New Year’s Eve also robbed a West Vail Village bank twice within two years, Vail police said Tuesday.
Vail Detective Sgt. Craig Bettis and the FBI said they determined that James Blanning, 72, robbed the WestStar bank on Hansen Ranch Road in 2005 and 2006.
Blanning tried to hold up two Aspen banks on New Year’s Eve and planted devices with gasoline and cell-phone components that didn’t detonate but still shut down the town’s New Year’s celebrations. He committed suicide several hours later.
Bettis was helping at the scene of the Aspen threats when he saw a picture of Blanning. He said he instantly recognized the man from several photos of the Vail robberies.
Along with the FBI, Bettis began an investigation into Blanning’s life, turning up several clues that led to Tuesday’s determination that he was the Vail bank robber. Items found included glasses, gloves and clothing similar to that worn in both robberies, police said.
Blanning matched the character description of the Vail robberies, and the style of the heists were similar, police said.
He also used similar hats and sunglasses to cover his features, and police said the style of his jacket matched both the Aspen and Vail robberies. The most distinct similarity between the two was white cotton gloves Blanning wore in both robberies.
Witnesses from the robberies said the person holding the banks up appeared to be wearing bronze makeup on their face, and police found two tubes of un-opened Halloween makeup laid out on Blanning’s bed.
Police also traced a gun back to Blanning. The gun used in the second Vail robbery was described by witnesses as a black revolver with a wooden checkered handle. The same type of gun was found on Blanning the night he killed himself.
Additionally, a teller from one of the Vail robberies told the FBI he got chills when he saw Blanning’s picture on the news after the Aspen incident, and that he was between nearly certain it was Blanning.
Police also found suspicious bank records from Blanning. After he was released from prison in 2001 and put on probation until two months before the first Vail robbery, no one was able to trace a legitimate, regular source of income for Blanning. However, he paid for almost everything through money orders or cash.
A small business loan account that was open from 2004 to 2006 showed that 18 days after that second Vail robbery, Blanning made a $6,290 purchase and made a payment on the account for $8,463 one month later. Police said he also bought his truck with cash on Jan. 16, 2006, not even three weeks after the first Vail robbery.
Police officially closed the case Tuesday.
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