Police link bomb suspect to Vail robberies | VailDaily.com

Police link bomb suspect to Vail robberies

Dustin Racioppi
Vail, CO Colorado
This video surveillance image shows a man police suspect robbed the Vail WestStar Bank in July, 2006.

VAIL, Colorado “-The clues left behind by James Blanning extend beyond Aspen, where the 72-year-old allegedly planted bombs near two banks and shut down the town’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

The former Aspen resident, who later killed himself in a rural section of Pitkin County and left a note describing his actions, was recognized through photos by Vail Detective Sgt. Craig Bettis as a possible suspect in Vail bank robberies in 2005 and 2006.

Bettis, who was helping at the scene on New Year’s Eve in Aspen and saw Blanning’s photo, said he turned to one of the FBI agents there and said, “That could be our West Star robbery suspect.”

Vail police and the FBI swiftly opened an investigation into the robberies, and Blanning was then named a prime suspect.

“I had looked at that picture probably a thousand times,” said Bettis. “It immediately tipped me off.”

The robberies occurred at the same Vail location, West Star Bank on Hanson Ranch Road, on two separate dates. West Star Bank has since changed ownership and is now U.S. Bank.

The first came on Dec. 27, 2005, and the suspect, described as a white male in his late-40s to early 50s and wearing sunglasses and a beanie-style knit hat, fled with an unknown amount of cash. The description of the man in the 2006 robbery “-about 5-feet- 8-inches tall, unshaven and wearing aviator sunglasses and a hat “-nearly matched the previous hold up.

In Blanning’s last stand on New Year’s Eve, he also left notes demanding money, police said at the time.

Now Vail police and the FBI are investigating Blanning’s history and the tapes from the bank to determine whether Blanning was the robber.

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, who also was close to Blanning, saw the still photos from the robberies and couldn’t help determine whether it was Blanning.

“It could be,” Braudis said. “I can’t say it’s him. I can’t say it’s not him.”

Braudis said digital technology that many agencies use to get closer, more accurate looks at people’s faces would be a better bet to figure out if Blanning was behind the robberies.

“I do believe there are better ways of answering that question than just eyeballs,” he said.

Before New Year’s Eve, Braudis said he wouldn’t have thought Blanning would rob a bank, let alone plant bombs in the town he grew up in. He’s taken another look since the bomb threat, and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Blanning was behind the Vail robberies.

“It now has caused me ” knowing what I know now “-to re-evaluate the Jim Blanning I knew through the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s as a party animal, fun-loving scammer without any violence in his history or personality,” Braudis said.

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.

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