It happened this day in history – August 23, 1973. The city was Stockholm, Sweden. What happened is referred to as the “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson, on leave from prison, went into Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, central Stockholm and attempted to rob the bank. Police were called in immediately. Two of them went inside, where Olsson opened fire, injuring one policeman. The other was ordered to sit in a chair and “sing something.” Olsson then took four people as hostages. He demanded his friend Clark Olofsson be brought there, along with three million Swedish Kronor, two guns, bullet proof 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 age 16.
The government gave permission for Olofsson to be brought in as a communication link with the police negotiators. One of the hostages, Kristin Emmark, 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.
Olsson called up the Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and said he would kill the hostages, backing up his threat by grabbing one in a stranglehold; she was heard screaming as he hung up. The next day, Palme received another call. This time it was hostage Kristin Emmark who said she was very displeased with his attitude, asking him to let the robbers and hostages leave.
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.
On August 28, gas was used, and after half an hour Olsson and Olofsson surrendered. None of the hostages sustained permanent injuries.
Both Olsson and Olofsson were charged, convicted, and sentenced to extended prison terms for the robbery. Olofsson, however, claimed that he did not help Olsson and was only trying to save the hostages by keeping the situation calm. At the court of appeal, Olofsson’s convictions were quashed. He later met hostage Kristin Emmark several times, and their families became friends. But he later committed further crimes.
The hostages, although threatened by Olsson, never became violent toward the police or each other. They did not identify with or join the cause of their captors. They were merely upset at the reckless attempts by the police to resolve the situation quickly, and some did testify on behalf of Olofsson because they witnessed no evidence of his guilt of complicity in the crime.
It happened 43 years ago today. Crazy bank robberies have happened hundreds of times since. But rarely have they resulted in robbers and hostages establishing lasting friendships. If Emmark and Olofsson could become friends, what about you and that person you can’t seem to forgive?