40 years ago, a guy wearing “toy-store glasses,” blush, and a thick brown wig burst into a bank in Stockholm and took four employees hostage, according to an epic 1974 New Yorker article, titled “Bank Drama.” The captives bonded with him during the six-day standoff, at one point offering to leave the bank with him and his accomplice so their captors could flee unharmed.
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.
Swedish psychiatrist Nils Bejerot later coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” to describe so-called captor bonding.
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, according to the 1974 New Yorker article.
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.)
At one point, Elisabeth Oldgren, a 21-year-old bank cashier, complained of feeling too claustrophobic in the vault where they were all staying. Olsson put rope around her neck and let her go for a walk.
“I couldn’t go very far and I was on a leash that he held, but I felt free,” she told New Yorker correspondent Daniel Lang.
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, Lang writes.
“It led me to suspect they might not possess a killer’s instinct,” one of the police officials involved in the standoff told Lang.
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 authorities refused to let them leave with their hostages, and eventually Olsson and his accomplice surrendered after police used tear gas on them.
The three women captives kissed Olsson and Olofsson good-bye, and the lone man Sven Safstrom shook hands with them.
The New Yorker story points out that, by the end of the ordeal, the kidnappers had apparently also bonded with the people they’d held captive. As Olsson told Lang when he visited him in prison, “There was nothing to do but get to know each other.”
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