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This photo was taken by the Stockholm Police on August 26, 1973, the fourth day of a highly televised bank robbery turned hostage crisis.

The Birth of “Stockholm Syndrome”

The robbery at Norrmalmstorg in 1973 took an unexpected turn when the hostage started sympathising with their captors

In an instant the Stockholm Syndrome was born

A bank robbery in the Swedish capital would have been largely forgotten had four bank workers held hostage not started to show sympathy for the criminals.

The term Stockholm Syndrome is named for an event that occurred in a Stockholm bank in 1973. An escaped convict entered the bank in Norrmalmstorg square and held four employees hostage. They were put inside the bank vault for more than five days.

By day two, the hostages were on a first-name basis with their captor and were hostile to police who came to check on them during negotiations. They did not gain freedom until police pumped tear gas into the vault. Television stations broadcasted updates from the standoff day and night. Everybody in Sweden was captivated by the drama, and they were especially intrigued by the victims’ apparent sympathy and compliance with their captors.

The hostages hugged their captor before leaving and protected him from police so he would not be shot. They even collected money for his defence attorneys.

It all completely baffled the public, who had watched the events unfold on the news. Within a few months of the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery, psychiatrists had given Stockholm Syndrome a name.

The main captor in this situation, Jan-Erik Olsson, was no ordinary thug. He was convicted of grand larceny in 1972 and achieved “certain fame” when an elderly couple caught him robbing their house.

The elderly man collapsed, and the woman asked Olsson to grab his heart medicine in the kitchen. Olsson got the medicine, then continued ransacking their house.

Olsson showed similar glimmers of compassion after he escaped from prison and burst into a Stockholm bank called the Sveriges Kreditbanken with a submachine gun the following year, as did his accomplice, a 26-year-old criminal named Clark Olofsson. (Police brought Olofsson to the bank from his prison cell at the request of Olsson, who knew him when the two were doing time together.)

Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. These feelings, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. Generally speaking, Stockholm syndrome consists of “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.

Formally named in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm syndrome is also commonly known as ‘capture bonding’. The syndrome’s title was developed when the victims of the Stockholm bank robbery defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them. Stockholm syndrome’s significance arises because it is based on a paradox, as captives’ sentiments for their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain an onlooker may expect to see as a result of trauma.

There are four key components that generally lead to the development of Stockholm syndrome: a hostage’s development of positive feelings towards their captor, no previous hostage-captor relationship, a refusal by hostages to cooperate with police forces and other government authorities, and a hostage’s belief in the humanity of their captor, for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.

Stockholm syndrome is considered a “contested illness,” due to many law enforcement officers’ doubt about the legitimacy of the condition.

While the term is widely known, the incident that led to its coinage remains relatively obscure.

Outside Sweden, few know the names of bank workers Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Kristin Ehnmark and Sven Safstrom.

It was 23 August 1973 when the four were taken hostage in the Kreditbanken by 32-year-old career-criminal Jan-Erik Olsson – who was later joined at the bank by a former prison mate. Six days later when the stand-off ended, it became evident that the victims had formed some kind of positive relationship with their captors.

Stockholm Syndrome was born by way of explanation.

The phrase was reported to have been coined by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot. Psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg was intrigued by the phenomenon and went on to define the syndrome for the FBI and Scotland Yard in the 1970s.

At the time, he was helping the US National Task Force on Terrorism and Disorder devise strategies for hostage situations.

His criteria included the following: “First people would experience something terrifying that just comes at them out of the blue. They are certain they are going to die.

“Then they experience a type of infantilisation – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission.”

Small acts of kindness – such as being given food – prompts a “primitive gratitude for the gift of life,” he explains.

“The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.”

But he says that cases of Stockholm Syndrome are rare.

Police snipers opposite Kreditbanken where Jan-Erik Olsson held workers hostage for six days. photo AFP.

The corner at the intersection between Norrmalmstorgsgatan and Hamngatan in Stockholm was once the location for one of Kreditbanken’s (The Credit Bank) offices. An August day in 1973, Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson, on leave from prison, went into the bank armed with a submachine gun and tried to rob it. The police were on the scene right away and two officers went inside. Olsson opened fire, injuring one of them in the hand and the jaw. He then ordered the other policeman to sit in a chair and “sing something.” He chose Lonesome Cowboy by Elvis Presley.

Olsson then took four people as hostages. He demanded his friend Clark Olofsson be brought there, along with 3 million Swedish kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a fast car. Olofsson was a repeat offender who had committed several armed robberies and acts of violence, the first committed at the age of 16.

The government gave permission for Olofsson to be brought as a communication link with the police negotiators. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, said she felt safe with Olsson and Olofsson but feared the police might escalate the situation by using violent methods. Olsson and Olofsson barricaded the inner main vault in which they kept the hostages. Negotiators agreed that they could have a car to escape, but would not allow them to take hostages with them if they tried to leave.

The bank robbery in Stockholm in August 1973 held all Swedes, from the government and police to the mass media and the public, in horrified suspense for six days.

  1. Right at the beginning the robber very nearly killed a policeman with shots from his submachine gun.

Conclusion: The man would be a serious danger to the police in a confrontation in the bank, or in a later chase.

A few days afterwards another policeman was shot, and here again, it was only by chance that this did not end in the murder of a policeman. Or, the other hand in the early stages two policemen, after agreement with the bank robber, were able to go into the bank unharmed and negotiate without being shot at.

It was clear that the man was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor was he psychotic (“insane”). He was a resolute man of normal intelligence, and he functioned in a rational way from the standpoint of his criminal ambitions. Had he been psychotic, it would have been very difficult to predict his

  1. The robber demanded three million crowns and insisted that Clark Olofsson, a prisoner who had a further six years to serve, and who, two weeks previously, had made an unsuccessful attempt to escape by blowing up a prison door, should be brought to the bank. He also demanded two pistols and safe conduct for himself and Olofsson together with the hostages.

Conclusion: ‘We were faced with a shrewd, daring and ambitious professional criminal. He would not be expected to do anything unless he would gain something by it, directly or indirectly.

So, what went on in the bank on Stockholm’s Norrmalmstorg square that enabled the captives to experience positive feelings towards their captors, despite fearing for their lives?

In a 2009 interview with Radio Sweden, Kristin Ehnmark explained: “It’s some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have change in some way.”

It was Ehnmark that, according to reports, built up the strongest relationship with Olsson. There were even erroneous reports afterwards that the pair had become engaged.

Aug. 08, 1973 – Bank gunman in Stockholm surrenders: Jan Erik Olsson, the 32-year-old gunman who held four people hostage.

The previous morning, a convicted thief absconding from parole called Jan Erik Olsson had held up the Sveriges Kreditbank, one of the largest banks in Stockholm, and taken four young staff as hostages.

Two of his demands – for cash and for a prison comrade called Clark Olofsson to join him – had been met. Now the police wanted something back: to see the hostages for themselves.

But as Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Kristin Ehnmark and Sven Safström filed into view, the police officer in charge noticed something odd. The hostages showed hostility towards him, their expressions sullen and withdrawn, and Kristin practically curled her lip. None of them had any requests and he detected no imploring looks.

By contrast, they seemed relaxed and convivial with Olofsson, and Kristin and Elisabeth did not flinch when he put his arm around them. Later that day, the situation became more bizarre when Kristin rang the Swedish prime minister and demanded that she and her fellow hostages be allowed to escape with their captors.

In the phone call from the bank’s vault to the country’s prime minister Olof Palme, Ehnmark begged to be allowed to leave the bank with the kidnappers. One of Olsson’s demands had been the delivery of a getaway car in which he planned to escape with the hostages. The authorities had refused.

Telling Palme that she was “very disappointed” with him, Ehnmark said: “I think you are sitting there playing checkers with our lives. I fully trust Clark and the robber. I am not desperate. They haven’t done a thing to us. On the contrary, they have been very nice. But you know, Olof, what I’m scared of is that the police will attack and cause us to die.”

By the end of the six-day siege, Birgitta had passed up a chance to escape, all four hostages were convinced the police were trying to kill them and Kristin called, “Clark, I’ll see you again!” as the robbers were taken away. She was as good as her word: she formed a lasting friendship with Olofsson, and all four hostages maintained the belief that their captors had saved their lives.

Their names mean little today outside their native country but the incident they were involved in has acquired a place in history. Whenever a prisoner like Jaycee Dugard in California or Elisabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch in Austria is found to have formed an emotional bond with a monstrous jailer- Jaycee even stayed in her grotty tent when her abductor was in prison for six months – they are said to have Stockholm syndrome. The Kreditbank siege is where the term comes from.

It started when 32-year-old Olsson walked into the bank with a sub-machine gun and explosives. He cleared the building, keeping Birgitta, 31, Kristin, 23, and Elisabeth, 21, as hostages. Sven, 25, was later found hiding in a stockroom. Having nearly killed a policeman with gunfire, Olsson set up base in the ground-floor vault. Police were on the floor above.

After an hour he realised the vault was oppressive and allowed Elisabeth out on a rope noose. “I remember thinking he was very kind to let me leave the vault,” she said. Later, he allowed Kristin and Birgitta to use the toilet. Out of their captor’s sight, they saw crouching policemen. One asked Kristin how many hostages Olsson had. “I showed them with my fingers,” she recalled. “I felt like a traitor. I didn’t know why.”

Birgitta, a mother of two, realised she could make a run for it but decided not to. “I was afraid I might endanger the others if I didn’t go back,” she said.

The police quickly met two of Olsson’s demands: supplying a bag of cash worth £150,000 – £1.4million in today’s terms – and bringing former cellmate Olof­sson, a handsome 26-year-old, from prison to join him. His final demand was to escape with the hostages. When the police said no, he telephoned prime minister Olof Palme, threatening to kill Elisabeth. He later used her as a human shield, with a bomb at her feet, at the entrance to the vault.

Another time, Oldgren woke up with a chill in the middle of the night and felt Olsson putting a coat on her shoulders. “Jan was a mixture of brutality and tenderness,” Oldgren told Lang. “I had known him only a day when I felt his coat around me, but I was sure they had been that way all his life.”

Both captors seemed overly concerned when one of the three women being held hostage got her period and didn’t have the proper supplies.

“It led me to suspect they might not possess a killer’s instinct,” one of the police officials involved in the standoff said.

Their captives apparently didn’t think their kidnappers were homicidal, either. All four of them wanted to be released with their kidnappers to ensure the captors wouldn’t be hurt. “We want to leave with the robber,” 23-year-old Kristin Ehnmark told the prime minister at the time, Olof Palme, on the phone. “He will let us go soon.”

Police didn’t have that much faith in the captors, though.

The next day, Sven also felt gratitude when Olsson – whom the hostages knew only as “the Robber” – took him aside and said he was planning to shoot him. But, he added, he would make sure he didn’t kill him and would let him get drunk first. “All that comes back to me is how kind I thought he was for saying it was just my leg he would shoot,” said Sven, although he had to force himself to remember that this was an outlaw who had taken over their lives.

Earlier, Kirstin had phoned Palme, saying: “I fully trust Clark and the Robber. They haven’t done anything to us. On the contrary, they have been very nice. But you know, Olof, what I am scared of is that the police will attack and kill us… I want you to let us go away with the Robber. Give them the foreign currency and two guns and let us drive off.”

Olofsson walked around in the vault singing Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”. On August 26, the police drilled a hole into the main vault from the apartment above. From this hole, a widely circulated picture of the hostages with Olofsson was taken. Olofsson also fired his weapon into this hole on two occasions and, during the latter attempt, he wounded a police officer in the hand and face.

The press, noticing that hostages and captors alike were young and attractive, began to wonder if the vault-prison had turned into an orgy. It later emerged that Olsson made an advance towards one woman (it was never revealed which). She let him touch her, keeping her clothes on, to humour him. Bonding with the captors was a conscious choice – “If someone likes you, they won’t kill you,” said Kristin – but also an unwitting psychological reaction, as the captives tried to convince themselves their abductors were nice people in order to make their situation bearable.

That bond intensified when the police blocked the door of the vault and the siege got tougher, without food and with waste-paper bins as toilets. The discomfort affected the hostages, who blamed their would-be rescuers when holes were drilled in the vault’s roof. Water used to cool the drills drenched the carpeted floor and wet their bedding.

Those in the vault were now terrified that the police would gas them. At this point, the robbers put nooses around their captives’ necks and made them stay standing so that if they fell unconscious they would hang. Even then, the hostages saw the police as the aggressors.

Eventually, the siege did end with gas. Olsson gave up immediately but the hostages refused the police’s demand that they leave the vault first. “No, Jan and Clark go first – you’ll gun them down if we do!” shouted Kristin. As they parted, the women kissed their captors and Sven shook their hands.

Olsson received 10 years in prison. Olofsson, on the other hand, was released after appealing his sentence, managing to convince a judge that he had only shown up at the scene of the crime to help ensure the safety of the hostages. He became friendly with his captives over the years, even getting chummy with Ehnemark’s whole family when he wasn’t in and out of prison on various charges for the next few decades.

Some reports say that each captor even eventually married two of their hostages. While that’s not true, Olsson did marry one of the many women he corresponded with while in prison—apparently, his hostages weren’t the only ones in whom he inspired sympathy.

Why would such a thing happen, though? How could anyone feel sympathy for their would-be murderers to the point that they would befriend them? There are a lot of steps in the process, but one of them is a psychological survival tactic: To make the situation less stressful and more manageable, the captive comes to believe that the captor is their friend, that he or she is a good person deep down, and they can get out of this predicament together.

A file photo taken on August 23, 1973, shows police officers wearing gas masks escorting Jan-Erik Olsson (C) in handcuffs after a hostage drama at the Kreditbanken bank on Norrmalmstorg square in Stockholm. Forty years after a Swedish hostage drama gave rise to the term “Stockholm Syndrome”, the phenomenon is still being used, and misused, to explain the reactions of kidnap victims. But one man knows exactly how it works. Jan-Erik Olsson remembers clearly the strange things that happened after he walked into a bank in the Swedish capital on August 23, 1973, pulled out a submachine gun and took four employees hostage. AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX SWEDEN / EGAN-POLISEN

American journalist Daniel Lang interviewed everyone involved in the drama a year later for the New Yorker. It paints the most extensive picture of how captors and captives interacted.

The hostages spoke of being well treated by Olsson, and at the time it appeared that they believed they owed their lives to the criminal pair, he wrote.

On one occasion a claustrophobic Elisabeth Oldgren was allowed to leave the vault that had become their prison but only with a rope fixed around her neck.

She said that at the time she thought it was “very kind” of Olsson to allow her to move around the floor of the bank.

Safstrom said he even felt gratitude when Olsson told him he was planning to shoot him – to show the police understood he meant business – but added he would make sure he didn’t kill him and would let him get drunk first.

“When he treated us well, we could think of him as an emergency God,” he went on to say.

Stockholm Syndrome is typically applied to explain the ambivalent feelings of the captives, but the feelings of the captors change too.

For those who have never been through such an ordeal, it may seem a bizarre response. It can certainly lead to anger and guilt when the abductee is reunited with their loved ones who want to know why they didn’t do more to escape.

But as far as the original Stockholm syndrome is concerned, a prison interview with Olsson demonstrates that the hostages’ attitude saved their lives.

Olsson remarked at the beginning of the siege he could have “easily” killed the hostages but that had changed over the days.

“I learned that the psychiatrists I interviewed had left out something: victims might identify with aggressors as the doctors claimed, but things weren’t all one way,” wrote Lang.

“Olsson spoke harshly. ‘It was the hostages’ fault,’ he said. ‘They did everything I told them to do. If they hadn’t, I might not be here now. Why didn’t any of them attack me? They made it hard to kill. They made us go on living together day after day, like goats, in that filth. There was nothing to do but get to know each other.'”

The notion that perpetrators can display positive feelings toward captives is a key element of Stockholm Syndrome that crisis negotiators are encouraged to develop, according to an article in the 2007 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. It can improve the chances of hostage survival, it explained.

But while Stockholm syndrome has long been featured on police hostage negotiating courses, it is rarely encountered, says Hugh McGowan, who spent 35 years with the New York Police Department.

McGowan was commanding officer and chief negotiator of the Hostage Negotiation Team, which was set up in April 1973 in the wake of a number of hostage incidents that took place in 1972 – the bank heist that inspired the film Dog Day Afternoon, an uprising that came to a violent end at Attica prison in New York and the massacre at the Munich Olympics.

“I would be hard-pressed to say that it exists,” he says. “Sometimes in the field of psychology people are looking for cause and effect when it isn’t there.

“Stockholm was a unique situation. It occurred at around the time when we were starting to see more hostage situations and maybe people didn’t want to take away something that we might see again.”

He acknowledges that the term gained currency partly because of the bringing together of the fields of psychology and policing in the field of hostage negotiating.

There are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria to identify the syndrome, which is also known as terror-bonding or trauma bonding and it is not in either of the two main psychiatric manuals, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD).

But the underlying principles of how it works can be related to different situations, say some psychologists.

“A classic example is domestic violence when someone – typically a woman – has a sense of dependency on her partner and stays with him,” says psychologist Jennifer Wild, a consultant clinical psychologist.

“She might feel empathy rather than anger. Child abuse is another one – when parents emotionally or physically abuse their children, but the child is protective towards them and either doesn’t speak about it or lies about it.”

Forty-four years on and the term is evoked nearly every time an abductee is found after many years out of public sight. Some argue that its very nature implies a criticism of the survivor – a weakness perhaps.

In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, Kampusch rejected the label of Stockholm Syndrome, explaining that it doesn’t take into account the rational choices people make in particular situations.

“I find it very natural that you would adapt yourself to identify with your kidnapper,” she says. “Especially if you spend a great deal of time with that person. It’s about empathy, communication. Looking for normality within the framework of a crime is not a syndrome. It is a survival strategy.”

In 2006, the police department in Helsingborg, southern Sweden, received an unexpected visitor. Swede Jan-Erik Olsson, known as the “Norrmalmstorg Robber,” had stopped by to turn himself in.

Olsson served time for this crime, but after his release apparently carried on with unlawful activities. He had been wanted, both by Swedish and international authorities, for more than ten years for alleged financial crimes.

Olsson decided to turn himself in. “I said that now I want to get rid of this baggage I’ve carried for almost 15 years.”

The guilt-ridden thief found needn’t have worried. Upon arriving at the police station on the west coast of Sweden, Olsson was at first encouraged to stay on the run by a policeman.

“When I came to the police, there was a cop who said, ‘Take off Janne. You’re wanted,'” Olsson said. Then, after not accepting the advice and officially turning himself in, Olsson learned that authorities had dropped his case.

“He wanted to confess, but the prosecutor had decided to not pursue the charges of financial crimes since it was so long ago,” police spokesman Lars Forsell said.

No charges were filed against Olsson, who travelled from Thailand to turn himself in. While in town, Olsson also visited the Swedish tax authorities, where he ordered a new passport and set up an account to receive his pension.

Clark Olofsson has repeatedly committed armed robberies and acts of violence, both before and after the events in 1973, starting at 16 years of age. He was finally released from prison in 1991, but in 1999 he was arrested in Denmark and was sentenced to another 14 years of prison. He has spent some 24 years in prison.

The Story Behind Stockholm Syndrome | Mental Floss

40 years ago, this is how ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was born – The Journal

Jan-Erik Olsson – Wikipedia

‘Stockholm Syndrome’ robber turned away by police – The Local

The Stockholm Syndrome turns 40 | The Japan Times

Norrmalmstorg robbery – Wikipedia

The Birth of “Stockholm Syndrome,” 40 Years Ago – History in the …

The Norrmalmstorg robbery

August 23, 1973: Swedish bank robbery gives rise to ‘Stockholm …

Bank Robbery Employees Victims of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

The Story Behind Stockholm Syndrome | Mental Floss

This Insane Bank Heist From 1973 Inspired The … – Business Insider

Stockholm syndrome originates with Norrmalmstorg robbery 40 years …

Birthplace of the Stockholm Syndrome – Stockholm, Sweden – Atlas …

What is Stockholm syndrome? – BBC News

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