Half a century of Stockholm Syndrome: this was the most spectacular hostage taking of the 20th century

2023-08-23 17:40:00

“Everybody on the ground, let the party begin!” With these words, Jan-Erik Olsson, submachine gun in hand and under the influence of drugs, broke into a bank in the center of Stockholm on August 23, 1973, exactly 50 years ago.

“Janne” Olsson had entered one of the largest banks in the Swedish capital, the Kreditbankin a busy square called Norrmalmstorg, wearing a folded coat that concealed a submachine gun and a suitcase with ammunition, explosives and ropes.

The attacker was a 32-year-old escaped convict from southern Sweden. He wore a bushy wig and glasses bought at a costume store. She had flushed cheeks, and her mustache and eyebrows were dyed jet black.

Olsson told one of the tellers to tie up three of his colleagues: Kristin Ehnmark (22 years old), Birgitta Lundblad (32) and Elisabeth Oldgren (25). Later, the cashier and everyone else was allowed to leave, although another employee, Sven Safstrom (25), was found hiding in a warehouse.

Jan-Erik Olsson, submachine gun in hand and under the influence of drugs, breaks into a bank in central Stockholm on August 23, 1973.

Silent alarms from the bank alerted Stockholm police, who quickly arrived and heard a calm Olsson tell them his demands. A large group of police officers were deployed in the area, with snipers targeting the bank.

“Suddenly, I heard shots and I threw myself to the ground. The assailant got behind the desk and, pointing at us, ordered me and two colleagues to get up,” Kristin Enmark told the BBC in 2021.

“I often thought about this absurd situation we find ourselves in,” recalled Kristin, then 22. “We were terrified and caught between two death threats: on one side the police and on the other, the kidnapper,” she recalled.

The kidnapper wanted his friend Clark Olofsson to be brought to himwho was serving a six-year sentence for armed robbery in Kalmar prison but actually said he vaguely resembled Olsson.

The kidnappers: Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson

Olsson also asked for 3 million SEK in cash. (equivalent to over $4 million today, half of it to be in foreign currency) and a car to take four hostages to ensure their demands were met, even though he knew Prime Minister Olof Palme wouldn’t want to risk it. to endanger the captives with a dangerous rescue operation.

To appease the hijacker, the government conceded to the first two requests, but they denied him the third: allow them to be carried out somes of the hostages with them

Olofsson was rushed to the bank premises to calm down the robber, letting it be known along the way that he was just “a mere pawn in this game of chess”, but his role will turn out to be more relevant than that.

Olofsson was described as a criminal “extremely dangerous“: at the age of 26 he was already one of Sweden’s most notorious criminals for his frequent bank robberies, his link to the murder of a policeman and his two successful escapes from prison.

The hostages: Birgitta Lundblad and Kristin Ehnmark.

“When Clark Olofsson arrived, he took charge of the situation and the negotiations with the police, in his own way”, said a photographer who covered the news, Bertil Ericsson, currently 73 years old. Olofsson “had charisma, he spoke well,” he adds.

Olsson calmed down almost instantly when his accomplice arrived, and Kristin Enmark saw him as a savior, as she describes in her book. Olofsson”He promised me that nothing would happen to me and I decided to believe him“, recounts Enmark.

Olsson treated the captives well: “We could think of him as an emergency God,” said Sven Safstrom.

Elisabeth Oldgren y Sven Safstrom.

Stockholm’s Kreditbank: outside, police and cameras; inside, chess games and songs

The assault had rapid media coverage in Swedenwhere the newspapers and television channels were already heavily engaged in updates on the health of the elderly King Gustavus Adolphus, who was fighting for his life in a hospital.

For the next six days, the bank became a prison for Kreditbank employees and customers, and Sweden was shocked by what they saw on television, even unaware that the transaction was taking place. first real-time news coverage in Sweden

Crowds poured into Norrmalmstorg square only to look at the bank, surrounded by police, TV cameras, photographers and snipers.

Little by little, the hostages grew fond of their captors. One of them, Kristin, was able to call the Swedish Prime Minister directly to tell him that Olsson was being very nice to them and that they “were not in the least afraid of him.”


“He has disappointed me a lot. I think he is playing with our lives,” he reproached Palmé about the police plans. “I completely trust Clark and the thief. I am not afraid of them at all, they did nothing to me. They were very nice,” Kristin said on the second day of captivity..

Wanting to show he was in control, Olsson told Sven Safstrom, the only male hostage: “I’m going to shoot you in the leg, but I’m going to avoid the bones, so I don’t hurt you so much.“, Told him.

At Stockholm’s Kreditbank, the captors and their captives quickly developed an emotional bond.. Olsson gave the grateful Kristin a bullet as a keepsake of her, and Olofsson gently stroked her forehead when she had nightmares.

“They say you can freeze in fear, and I think my mind just shut down. unspeakable dread“, she said.

If you know that the kidnappers played chess with the hostages and a relaxed Clark Olofsson constantly hummed Roberta Flack’s “Killing me softly”, which had been released three weeks earlier and became the hit of the European summer.


The liberation: the hostages said goodbye to the captors with kisses and hugs

At the end of the sixth day, the police went into action, piercing the roof of the bank and storming into the place, firing tear gas. “Janne” surrendered and the hostages were released. Earlier, Kristin and Elisabeth kissed and hugged Olsson goodbye, while Birgitta asked him to write to her.

Kristin recalled the moment: “Jan told us: ‘if they leave before, they will kill us’. So we told them: ‘you go out first’“. To prevent the kidnappers from seeing their lives threatened, the hostages left afterwards.

At 21:40 on Tuesday, August 28, Radio Sweden broadcast the news: “The bank hostage-taking is over.” At 10:00 p.m., Commissioner Sven Thorander stepped onto the bank steps, removed his gas mask, and summed up the most dramatic 132 hours in Swedish criminal history: “Nobody hurt, all clear.”

On August 30, it was reported that the hostages they were “in shock” and being treated at a psychiatric clinic. “A bulletin read by the attending physician, Dr. Lennart Ljonggren, described his condition as similar to that of the shock victims of war,” wrote American journalist Henry Kamm.


Olsson was declared guilty of kidnapping, extortion, aggravated assault and robbery, and sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison. In 1980 he got out for good conduct and opened a used car business in Helsingborg, his hometown.

Olofsson was convicted of accessory to robbery, aggravated robbery and accessory to extortion. In 1976 he again escaped from the prison where he was serving time for previous crimes, and committed the largest bank robbery perpetrated by a single person in Swedish history.

Kristin Enmark corresponded with Clark when he went back to jail and they had lunch together in Stockholm in October 1974. After four entering and escaping prison, the criminal was released in 2018 and currently lives in an undisclosed location in Sweden.


This is how Stockholm Syndrome arose

The hostage crisis in the Stockholm Kreditbank would give rise to the famous Stockholm Syndromecoined by Nils Bejerot, a Swedish psychiatrist who advised the police throughout the operation by analyzing the behavior of the robbers and the hostages live.

Stockholm syndrome has become popular all over the world and is defined as the favorable attitude or even attraction that kidnapped people can develop towards those who hold them. The smallest kindness is magnified when offered by your tormentor, so he or she seems to become your protector.

“When a normal person is kidnapped by a criminal who has the power to kill them, in a matter of hours, the hostage has a kind of regression to childish emotions”explained the psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, who defined the syndrome for the FBI and Scotland Yard in the 1970s“She can’t eat, talk, go to the bathroom without permission. Doing so is a risk, so she accepts that her captor is the one who gives her life, just like her mother did.”

“It’s not a psychiatric diagnosis,” he objected. Christoffer Rahm, psychiatrist and researcher at the Karolinkska Instituteauthor of an article titled: “Stockholm Syndrome: Psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?”.

Clark Olofsson.

The term “can be described as a defense mechanism that helps the victim to survive” in an extreme pressure situation. “Thanks to that positive bond, he develops a form of acceptance of the situation, which in turn reduces his stress,” Rahm explained.

According to Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology at the University of QueenslandStockholm Syndrome ‘subverts our understanding’ of who we should associate with in life.

“We are not meant to identify with groups that mistreat and oppress us,” he says. “However, the reality is that this happens all the time, for example, in toxic relationships at home and in the workplace.”

At a psychological level, “developing a positive emotional bond with someone threatening” is a common reality, for example, in abusive romantic relationships, argues the investigator Christoffer Rahm. “The victim’s psychological reaction allows her to alleviate the weight of shame and guilt she may feel,” she concludes.


“We are more afraid of the police than these two boys”

According to Cecilia Åse, Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University, “Stockholm syndrome is an invented concept” to hide the lack of state protection.

The statements of Enmark and the other women during the drama were interpreted by the authorities “in a very sexualized dimension, as if they had fallen under the spell of a syndrome“and they would have lost all ability to reason for themselves,” said To see.

But the hostages at the Stockholm bank “acted incredibly rationally,” the professor argued. “They called the journalists, they fought (with the police and politicians) so that the criminals would take them out of the bank.”

We represented a real threat to the hostages“, commissioner Eric Rönnegård would admit years later in a book about police failures in that case. “With so many policemen surrounding the bank, there was a risk that one of the hostages could receive a bullet.”


The second day of the hostage taking, he New York Times had reported that Ehnmark “was more critical of the authorities than of the thieves and accused the government of ‘playing with our lives'”.

“We are more afraid of the police than these two boys,” she said. “We’re arguing, and believe it or not, we’re having a pretty good time here. Why can’t you guys just let the guys ride with us in the car?”

As a sign of their resentment against the authorities, the former hostages chose to keep absolute silence during the trial of the kidnappers.

Throughout the last decades there were many examples of this syndrome in a criminal contextsuch as the case of Mary McElroy, who was kidnapped in 1933, in Missouri, by four men with whom she became so fond that, when they were caught, she begged for mercy and visited them in jail to bring them gifts.


A decade later, in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Jewish prisoner Helena Citronova even had an affair with one of her Hitler’s SS guards, Franz Wunsch.

In 1998, Austrian Natascha Kampusch, who was ten years old when she was kidnapped in March 1998 and locked in a cellar for more than eight years, cried uncontrollably when told that her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, had committed suicide.

Priklopil had abused Natascha terribly, but she spent the next few years in the house where he held her captive and is said to now, at 35, keep her captor’s photograph in her bag.


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