Stockholm Syndrome, the story behind the phrase

Our tour guide walked us to Norrmalmstorg and pointed at the Acne Studios shopfront across the road, “this place made Stockholm infamous…”

We stared at him, uncertain of what he meant.

“Noope not Acne Studios…” Didn’t think so, I thiught to myself.

“The year was 1973, the shopfront was originally a bank and there was a robbery…”
“Stockholm Syndrome!” gushed one of the fellow participants on the tour.

Stockholm Syndrome refers to a psychological condition where hostages develop an alliance with their captors (Jan-Erik olsson, Clark Olofsson) as a survival strategy during captivity. It was first coined after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of 1973.

Jan-Erik Olsson was born in south-western Sweden (Ekerby). He was a recalcitrant criminal who was convicted for a number of violent crimes. On one of his first visits to prison in southeastern city of Kalmar he met Clark Olofsson and became friends with Olofsson. Olsson was fascinated by Olofsson’s criminal history as a bank robber.

Jan-Erik Olsson after the crisis was over (source)

Olofsson was an even more dangerous criminal than Olsson. Born to a family of alcoholic parents and later grew up with a single mother who was unable to give the son the attention and discipline needed while working to support him and his 2 siblings. Olofsson turned to petty crimes in his teenage years, two years after his incarceration in a correctional facility he escaped and in a move of great defiance entered the country estate of the them Prime Minsiter Tage Erlander to steal fruits and vegetables from the greenhouse. He was also invovled in physically assaulting two police officers and was put in prison 9 months after his escape. The grills of prison were obviously not strong enough and he escaped again in the end of 1966. Olofsson was next involved in another burglery at a bicycle shop in Nykoping in which a police officer was shot dead by Olofsson’s accomplice. While his accomplice was caught and sentenced to 12 years in prison, Olofsson managed to slip away and evade arrest for a further 2 weeks. He escaped again and was caught again for another set of burglaries. This catch and escape carried on till he “retired”.

Clark Olofsson (source)

On August 1973, Olsson was granted leave from his correctional facility. While in the facility, he made a plan with Clark to get the latter out of prison – they would rob a bank and demand that he be released. Sweden had never seen such a bank heist before, and the police would be found wanting.

Excited by the chance to commit a robbery with Olofsson, Olssson hid a submachine gun in his coat and made his way to the Kreditbanken office in Norrmalmstorg.  He entered the bank and revealed his submachine gun, taking 4 persons hostage and demanding the release of Olofsson to join him and 3 million Swedish krona.

For reasons I cannot decipher, Olofsson was actually delivered to Olsson but the other demands weren’t met.

Upon entering the bank, the genuinely hardened criminal Olofsson took control of the scene. Three bank tellers were taken hostage. A fourth person was found hiding and also taken hostage.  To get an idea of what was going on the police went to the residence above and made a picture of the scene, this enduring one that you see below. The hole was discovered and the police were threatened with killings should gas be used.

The enduring picture taken of Clark Olofsson and the hostages (source)

This was a classic hostage situation plain and simple.

Or that was what it seemed until things started to get weird.

Clark Olofsson had a phone conversation with the Prime Minister Olof Palme in which he threatened to kill hostages should his demands not be met. The next day, Olof Palme recieved a second phone call, but not one from Olofsson, it was instead from the youngest of the hostages, Kristin Enmark. Instead of looking forward to being saved by the police, the youngest hostage, Kristen Enmark first scolded one other hostage for being afraid to be shot in the leg (so that the police would take the case seriously) and then told off the then Prime Minister Olof Palme and defended the robbers instead. This strange behaviour would later come to be called the Stockholm Syndrome by psychiatrist Nils Bejerot.

The hostage takers and the hostages had ended up developing a bond with each other, Kristen Enmark had come to trust here hostage takers, described by psychiatrist as useful survival strategy.

Two days after the hole was dug and the threat of killing hostages was made, the police decided that they had to take action. gas was fed through the hole and a special team was sent in to apprehend the criminals and rescue the hostages.

Till this day, Kristin Enmark (now a professional psychologist) still considers here hostage takers and friends and exchanges letters with the. Something that till this day leaves many puzzled, even herself.

The bank is no more, in its place a jeans store. The only sign of its dark past…

Nothing except memory…


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