ASPEN, Colo. – What has scarcely been mentioned in all the reporting about Jim Blanning, the former Aspen resident who deposited four bombs of gasoline in the city’s business district before killing himself on New Year’s Eve, is how closely the fundamental story line resembles the strange and fearful machinations in two other Colorado mountain towns, Alma and Granby.
In the case at Alma — which is located south of Breckenridge and has the distinction of the highest incorporated town in the United States — a 50-year-old man shot and killed a former mayor, firebombed the town hall, then drove a front-end loader into a number of buildings, including the post office, fire department and water-treatment plant. That was in 1998. The man — who was put into a mental institution — had objected to being forced to go onto the town’s water system.
In 2004, the owner of a muffler shop on the edge of Granby rampaged through the town in a bulldozer, shielded by a concrete-encased cabin, tearing into the town hall, the newspaper office, and the former mayor’s business, among others, before turning a gun on himself in the basement of a Gamble’s store. He had felt aggrieved that a concrete batch plant had been permitted near his property, and felt that the newspaper editor had sided with town officials.
True to form, Aspen has the most colourful and bizarre story of all. Blanning was very well known in Aspen, and had been profiled by The Aspen Times in 1976. That, however, was before the trouble — the trouble over the mining claims.
Blanning had moved to Aspen during World War II with his mother and three brothers, living in the Hotel Jerome at first, skiing for Aspen High School, and graduating from that same school in 1954. He was handsome and a lady’s man. He had been fired from one job as a truck driver, because the truck was so often found parked in alleys while he was enjoying dalliances. In all, he was married seven times, including twice to the same woman.
Early on, he became fascinated with the town’s mining history — and tried to ratchet himself into a position of wealth. “He was always looking for the mother lode,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, who had known him since the 1960s. “But he was always scraping for a grubstake.”
Braudis, who was considered a friend by Blanning, said Blanning would “rather hustle a dime than earn a thousand dollars.”
While still a youngster, Blanning gathered around the old miners at the Jerome and began learning about the claims. Even as a teenager he was doing meticulous research on ownership. “I don’t know anybody who knew as much about mining claims as Jim Blanning,” said Gaard Moses, Blanning’s friend for almost 40 years. “He would educate lawyers on the 1872 mining law.”