Days Long Hostage Incident Results in New Diagnosis


Wild Scheme Ends in Failure

Stockholm Syndrome is a term so ubiquitous in today’s society, you would think it is a long-identified condition.  It has been used to describe victims from Patty Hearst to Elizabeth Smart. 

Most would be surprised to hear that the term is not some long diagnosed mental condition.  The theory originated in 1973 after a robbery and hostage crisis in Sweden.  

On August 23, 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson, a convicted burglar and robber out on furlough from prison walked into the Kreditbanken bank (how original) in Norrmalmstorg, Square, Stockholm, Sweden.  Olsson had befriended serial robber Clark Olofsson in prison, and was planned on using the bank robbery as a way to get Olofsson released. (If you have ever been told how great the Swedish corrections system is, here is a good example to discuss)

Jan-Erik Olsson, entered the bank using a disguise and speaking English in an American accent.  He produced a submachine gun, opened fire into the ceiling and yelled “The party has just begun!” (which seems like a very American thing to say) 

Olsson took four bank employees hostage and waited for the police to arrive.  When the cops arrived on scene, he sent a burst of gunfire out of the front of the bank to show he meant business.  One officer was shot in the hand.

And so, a standoff ensued.  Olsson demanded more than $700,000 in Swedish and foreign currency, a getaway car and the release of Clark Olofsson, his prison cellmate.  Police were actually compliant with his demands, incredibly delivering Olofsson to the bank along with a blue Ford Mustang and the money. 

The one thing they refused was to allow Olsson to remove the hostages.  He was in a catch-22.  They wouldn’t let him take the hostages with him, but there was nothing stopping the cops from arresting him if he didn’t have hostages.  (perhaps a Mustang wasn’t the best get away car for 2 perps and 4 hostages)

The standoff continued.  Hours turned to days.  The robbers were very polite with their hostages.  A bond began to form between the two group.  Olsson and Olofsson trying to cater to the hostage’s needs and concerns, while the hostages hoped that the police would not resort to violence.  One hostage went to far as to call the Swedish Prime Minister, Olaf Palme, asking him to let the perps go and volunteering to accompany them as a willing hostage. 

On August 28, 1973, the police finally got sick of standing around outside the bank and took action.  They fired tear gas into the bank and the pair of polite perps surrendered after breathing in the noxious gas for an hour.  Olofsson was returned to complete his sentence and Olsson was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Both would be released and go on to commit more crimes.

The relationship between the bank employees and the robbers intrigued psychologists.  Nils Bejerot termed the relationship Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, which became known as Stockholm Syndrome outside of Sweden. 

Is Stockholm syndrome a real phenomenon?  Did the bank employees want the perps to escape peacefully because they didn’t want to be in the middle of a full-blown shootout? Are Swedes just too nice?  These questions remain open to debate today. 


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