It’s one of the strangest traits of human nature – when hostages begin to side with their captors, defend their actions, and even develop an affection for them.
Known as Stockholm syndrome, it takes its name from a bizarre bank robbery in the Swedish capital nearly 50 years ago when a group held for six days approached the two men responsible and sympathized with them.
During the siege, a hostage even telephoned the Swedish Prime Minister from inside the bank to complain about his attitude towards his captors.
Now the story is set to feature in the six-part Netflix drama Clark, which explores the wild biography of one of the two hostage takers, Swedish mobster Clark Olofsson.
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The comedy stars fellow Bill Skarsgård – Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King’s supernatural chiller films It.
Olofsson, now 75, is considered Sweden’s most notorious criminal and has spent half his life behind bars for crimes ranging from theft to attempted murder. He was only released from his final stretch – for drug trafficking – in 2018.
But the gangster is best known for the hostage crisis in August 1973 which gave rise to the term Stockholm syndrome.
Olofsson was serving his sentence when his friend JanErik Olsson – known as Janne – walked into a bank dressed in a women’s wig, makeup and sunglasses…and carrying a submachine gun.
He fired shots at the ceiling while shouting in English: “The party begins!”
Rounding up three hostages, he demanded three million Swedish kronor – worth around £3million today – and that his friend Olofsson be brought to the bank from prison.
Police did as he asked, delivering Olofsson to the scene as camera crews broadcast the standoff live around the world.
David King, who has written a book about the case called Six Days in August, explains: “While they were in jail together before, Clark and Janne had talked about various plots and plans that might be set in motion.
“But on the morning of August 23, 1973, when he heard about the situation in Stockholm, I think Clark was really surprised.”
He says giving in to Olsson’s demands was “a highly questionable decision,” adding, “Clark resumed negotiations on the shooter’s behalf.
“He helped smash cash registers. He destroyed the footage from the security camera. He phoned his media contacts and charmed them with exclusive interviews amid the crisis. And so on.
Hostages Birgitta Lundblad, 31, Elisabeth Oldgren, 21, and Kristin Enmark, 23, had their wrists and ankles bound with rope. A fourth hostage, Sven Säfström, 25, was taken after Olofsson’s arrival.
A fast getaway car was even brought to the bank – but the snipers had orders not to let the hostage takers go.
For six days the gunmen and their captives were locked together inside the bank vault, a tense atmosphere in which a tenderness began to develop between them.
Elisabeth later told police how Olsson, 32, had wrapped her gray wool jacket around her when he noticed her shivering.
When she became claustrophobic, he tied a rope around her and let her out of the vault for a walk. She would later say, “I was on a leash, but I felt free. I remember thinking he was very kind in letting me leave the vault.
Rather than fearing their captors, the hostages grew to fear the police, fearing that the authorities would bring about a violent end to the siege.
Kristin even spoke by phone to Prime Minister Olof Palme to ask him to let the captives go with the robbers when they left.
In a police transcript of the call, she told Palme, “I think you’re sitting there playing checkers with our lives. I completely trust Clark and the thief.
“I’m not desperate. They didn’t do anything to us… they were very nice. But you know, Olof, what scares me is that the police will attack us and kill us.
Meanwhile, the public offered an assortment of solutions, to the press and the police directly, to end the standoff.
Send a hypnotist. Use poison darts. Flood the vault with dried yellow peas. Some even suggested sending hornets or skunks to hunt the gunmen.
On the fourth day, the police broke through the ceiling of the vault and took a photo of Olofsson and the captives together.
Olsson fired shots through the hole, wounding an officer and threatened to kill the hostages if police tried to gas them. But in the end, two days later, that’s exactly what they did: send tear gas into the vault.
The couple quickly surrendered and officers ordered them to release the four captives. But to the amazement of the authorities, the hostages insisted that Olofsson and Olsson be allowed out first, fearing for the safety of their captors if they were released before the victims.
The group even hugged the gunmen before they all finally left the vault. But the hostages’ high regard for their captives has left doctors and psychologists perplexed.
Kristin herself even asked a psychiatrist, “Is there something wrong with me? Why don’t I hate them?
Criminologist Nils Bejerot coined the term Norrmalmstorg syndrome, named after the place where the theft took place, to describe the phenomenon of captives identifying with their captors.
Outside of Sweden it has become known as Stockholm syndrome. But it remains a controversial topic, with some critics calling it a form of victim blaming.
Hostage Kristin criticized Bejerot’s analysis, saying she only made a report as a survival strategy.
Dr. James Alvarez, 58, is a hostage negotiator and clinical psychologist. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in London and says he is the only consultant to be used by both the NYPD and Scotland Yard. He thinks Stockholm Syndrome is a compelling idea – but very rarely occurs in real hostage situations.
Dr. Alvarez says, “I’ve never seen it live in the field. Most of the time, the former hostages want to kill the motherfucker.
“But it has an intuitive appeal that the public and the media appreciate. I don’t rule it out though – I see the development of the identification of hostages with the captors, especially under particular conditions.
Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who advised the FBI and provided one of the first definitions of Stockholm syndrome, says the concept has merit. He thinks certain types of extreme politics and abusive relationships can also be seen as Stockholm Syndrome.
Speaking from Florida, the 82-year-old said: ‘Incidents like this can help us understand important things about our species and how those who are mistreated are entrenched from abusive people. I think it has been helpful that it is an expression that has become part of everyday usage.
“Stockholm Syndrome is one type of traumatic bond, and there are many others.
“The irony is that in these circumstances someone can be psychologically – and literally – tied to a sadistic, conscienceless person.
“And then they risk making that mistake in another part of their lives.”
The year after her ordeal, Kristin had a brief romance with Olofsson, and they stayed in touch.
While Olsson was sentenced to 10 years for the theft, Olofsson’s conviction was overturned by the appeals court. He returned to prison to complete his original sentence – but went on to rack up a string of other high-profile crimes, including several prison breaks and the biggest bank robbery in Swedish criminal history.
But his role in the Stockholm robbery and the loyalty he inspired in his hostages remain his most gripping crime. And it seems to be the one he looks at fondly.
Author David King says: “When I asked him what he thought of Norrmalmstorg today, Clark laughed and said, ‘Damn, that was great fun’.”
■Clark was released on Netflix on May 5