The Origin of Stockholm Syndrome
For 5 nights and 6 days, 4 people were held as hostages at the Sveriges Kreditbanken located in Norrmalmstorg square in Stockholm, Sweden. All of the events were orchestrated by one man, Jan-Erik Olsson, although he did have an accomplice, as well as the 4 captives who had become friends with the two convicted felons.
Jan-Erik Olsson had a history of being in jail and was serving time for grand larceny at the time of the bank robbery. The prison that was housing Olsson let him leave on furlough, except he failed to return to the prison at his expected time. On the morning of August 23, 1974, Olsson walked into the Sveriges Kreditbanken wearing toy store glasses, blush, and a brown wig while carrying a sub machine gun. After entering the bank, Olsson shot at the ceiling and then wounded a police officer in the hand when he responded to the bank’s silent alarm. Another officer who arrived at the scene was forced to sit in a chair and sing a song to Olsson. He chose to sing “Lonesome Cowboy” and was never injured.
When more police arrived, Olsson had already taken Kristen Ehnmark, Elisabeth Oldgren, Birgitta Lundbald, and Sven Safstrom, all of who were employees at the bank, hostage into the bank vault. Olsson then requested roughly $700,000, a getaway car, and the release of Clark Olofsson, an inmate who was serving a sentence for armed robbery and as an accessory to the murder of a police officer. Part of the request to release Olofsson was that Olsson wanted him at the bank due to his prior experience robbing banks and cracking safes, Olofsson was released and brought to the bank. After his requests were granted Olsson refused to let the hostages go free, and even stranger was that the hostages did not want to be set free either.
During their time with their captors, the hostages began to sympathize with Olofsson and Olsson, by the second day the hostages were calling them Clark and Jan. Part of the sympathies may have come from the courteous treatment they received from their abductors, such as when Ehnmark complained that she was cold, Olsson gave her a wool jacket. Lendbald was trying to reach her family and Olsson told her not to give up and keep trying. Captive Oldgren had even been treated with kindness when she told Olsson that she was claustrophobic, and so Olsson tied a 30 foot rope around her neck and let her walk out of the vault. Oldgren later reported that even though the rope was tied around her neck, she never felt threatened and was overcome with joy that she was able to leave the vault.
Everything that was happening in the bank was being written and talked about at the time; newspapers were headlining the standoff and news stations were reporting up-to-date information. With so much coverage it is no wonder that the public was reaching out to police with suggestions on how to end the standoff, such as with a concert of religious tunes and a sending in a swarm of angry bees to draw them out. In the end, police filled the vault with teargas forcing all six people to leave the vault. Police demanded that they wanted Olsson and Olofsson to go first but Ehnmark told the police that if they let the captors out first then the police would just shoot them. It was agreed that everyone would come out at the same time in order to keep the two criminals safe from police brutality, as all the captives had become fearful of the police during their time in captivity. At the entrance to the vault, before the two gunman were arrested, the hostages and abductors all embraced, kissed and shook hands while talking about seeing one another again.
No one was injured, quite the opposite really. Everyone was taken care of during the entire hostage situation. After the arrest, Olsson received 10 years for his crimes. During that time the hostages would visit him in prison frequently. More curious than prison visits was that after his release, he became friends with the hostages. When he was released, Olsson married a woman who wrote to him while in prison, has led a crime free life ever since and is still alive. Olofsson on the other hand was not charged with any of the crimes but he also stayed in close contact with the captives when he was not in prison for committing other crimes on and off for the next few decades.
Police were so confused at how the captives were acting that they even investigated Ehnmark for thinking that she was part of the robbery but the investigation ended with Ehnmark cleared. The hostages were confused as well. They didn’t understand why they were not mad with the two men who held them. There was no name for what happened to them, yet.
Psychiatrists who examined the captives compared their behavior to shell shock when soldiers were held as prisoners of war. The psychiatrist coined the term Stockholm Syndrome, defining it as situations where captives become emotionally indebted to their captors for being spared death.