Norrmalmstorg square – A place that is an intersection of two major shopping streets in Stockholm, Sweden. Anyone who has played the Swedish version of Monopoly would know that this square is the most expensive lot. But this square is notoriously known for an incident that took place in 1973. An incident that stands witness to how irrational humans can behave. An incident that rattled the minds of every behavior analysts and that coined a very bizarre psychological phenomenon known as the STOCKHOLM SYNDROME!
23rd Aug 1973 – A Thursday when the rays from the Sun danced in perfect union with the cold winds from the north, thus producing a very clement weather. However, Norrmalmstorg square was unusually vacant. Press photographers and police snipers outnumbered civilians that day. All of them overlooking the Sveriges Kreditbanken (Sweden Credit Bank). The only civilians present apart from the press photographers were 4 bank employees taken hostage by a convict, Jan-Erik Olsson, a safecracker who was on overdue parole from his three-year sentence for grand theft.
Olsson had 3 demands:
a) More than $700,000 in Swedish and Foreign currency
b) A getaway car
c) Release of another convict Clark Olofsson, who was serving time for armed robbery and acting as an accessory in the 1966 murder of a police officer.
Within hours, his fellow convict, the ransom and a Blue Ford Mustang with a full tank of gas were arranged. To ensure safe passage, Olsson made a demand to leave with the hostages, that was outrightly refused. What followed after that, was a series of events that are going to baffle your cognitive senses. Having been refused safe passage, the hostage situation continued that entire day. What happened within those four walls was no ones tell. Every news channel and headlines were singing in chorus about this hostage situation.
On the second day, the police commissioner was allowed inside to inspect the health of the hostages. On meeting every hostage, the commissioner found something very peculiar. All the 4 bank employees appeared hostile on meeting the commissioner like they feared that the commissioner does something that would cause hurt to them. What was even more unusual was that the victims shared a cordial rapport with the convicts. So much so that they addressed their abductors by their first name. This bizarre behavior on the part of the captors and the victims was beyond the police commissioners comprehension. While the world was hoping that the victims don’t suffer any brutal suffering from the captors, this was an unusual turn of events. If only they knew what happened on the first day of hostage!
Obscured behind a cramped up bank vault, Olsson and Olofsson did the unthinkable. Fearing that things will go south from here on, they started creating a bond with their captives through small random acts of kindness. One of the captives Kristin Enmark had begun to shiver when Olsson draped a jacket around her. When she had a bad dream, Olsson had soothed her and had given her a bullet as a memento. When another captive Birgitta Lundblad was unable to reach her family by phone, Olsson asked her to try again and not to give up. Elisabeth Oldgren, another female captive started feeling claustrophobia, when she was allowed to walk outside the vault attached with a 30-foot long rope.
These actions by the captors had perplexed the captives entirely and forced them to believe that maybe their captors weren’t that bad after all. The hostages had become emotionally indebted to the captors for being spared death. This behavior is dubbed by Psychiatrists as “Stockholm Syndrome”. So intoxicated were the captives that one of them even phoned the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and pleaded to let them take her in their escape as she was convinced that she wouldn’t be hurt. “I fully trust Clark and the robber,” she assured Palme. “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 am scared of is that the police will attack and cause us to die.”
Ultimately after more than 130 hours, on August 28, the police pumped tear gas into the vault and the abductors quickly surrendered. None of the captives were physically harmed. The police called for the hostages to come out first, but the four captives, protecting their abductors to the very end, refused. Enmark yelled, “No, Jan and Clark go first—you’ll gun them down if we do!” So much was the drama, that the police had a hard time separating the convicts from the hostages. But in the end, they managed to do so.
Both Olsson and Olofsson returned to jail where they continued to receive jailhouse visits by their captives!
Hope you enjoyed reading this unusual yet true hostage situation. If you are aware of more such stories and would like me to write about it, please do let me know in the comments section!