Ever since the initial arrests in the Blanding pothunting cases I’ve wondered about the antiquities dealer, named in court papers only as “the Source,” who cooperated with federal authorities in setting up the sting operation that resulted in the arrests. I initially thought he might have been doing this as part of a plea deal after being caught for some sort of looting-related crime himself, but apparently he came to the feds on his own and has not had any previous trouble of this sort. His motivations are still pretty obscure at this point, but it seems likely that he may have just realized that all this pothunting around Blanding was going to get investigated sooner or later and he might as well ingratiate himself with the authorities at the outset. His identity has also been kept secret in court documents and press accounts, but it’s surely no secret to people in Blanding, which is a very small town with a population of around 3000.
Whatever his motivations, which will likely become clearer as the cases proceed toward trial, the Source was clearly doing this at considerable risk to himself. People in Blanding, like rural westerners in general, don’t much care for the federal government, and they don’t tend to think collecting artifacts is that big a deal. They also tend to be armed. If any of the suspects from whom the Source bought looted artifacts had learned that he was recording their conversations to gather evidence against them, things would likely have become very ugly for him.
Things have since become very ugly for everyone, of course, especially with the two suicides that have occurred so far apparently in response to the arrests. The suicide of Dr. James Redd, one of the suspects, the day after his arrest was particularly galling for people in Blanding, where he was a very popular and highly regarded physician. His wife and daughter have since pleaded guilty to the charges against them, presumably as part of a plea bargain under which they will provide information in the remaining cases in exchange for lighter sentences, but the anger among people in Blanding over Dr. Redd’s suicide is still quite hot.
For one of Dr. Redd’s patients, it seems to have been particularly hot. On Saturday Charles Armstrong of Blanding was arrested and charged with plotting to tie the Source to a tree and beat him with a baseball bat, apparently in response to the Source’s role in precipitating Dr. Redd’s suicide. It’s not that clear, at least to me, how serious this threat was, but tensions in Blanding are high enough that I can certainly see Armstrong having meant it, and the authorities are clearly not taking any chances.
I don’t know who the Source is, although Armstrong apparently does, but I suspect that he isn’t spending much time in Blanding these days. In fact, I think it’s quite likely that he has moved away for good (or will soon). Blanding’s a nice place in a lot of ways, but I’m certainly glad I’m not there right now.