Friday, August 06, 2004

Crime Scene Investigation - Stockholm Syndrome

The Stockholm Syndrome is an emotional attachment, a bond of interdependence between captive and captor that develops 'when someone threatens your life, deliberates, and doesn't kill you.' (Symonds, 1980) The relief resulting from the removal of the threat of death generates intense feelings of gratitude and fear that combine to make the captive reluctant to display negative feelings toward the captor or terrorist. In fact, former hostages have visited their captors in jail, recommended defense counsel, and even started a defense fund. It is this dynamic, which causes former hostages and abuse survivors to minimize the damage done to them and refuse to cooperate in prosecuting their tormentors. "The victims' need to survive is stronger than his/her impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma." (Strentz, 1980) The victim comes to see the captor as a 'good guy', even a savior. This condition occurs in response to the four specific conditions as listed below:

1. A person threatens to kill another and is perceived as having the capability to do so;
2. The other cannot escape, so her or his life depends on the threatening person;
3. The threatened person is isolated from outsiders so that the only other perspective available to her or him is that of the threatening person; and
4. The threatening person is perceived as showing some degree of kindness to the one being threatened.

It takes only 3-4 days for the characteristic bond of the Stockholm syndrome to emerge when captor and captive are strangers. After that, as research shows, the duration of captivity is no longer relevant.

The above phenomenon was dubbed "Stockholm Syndrome" by the criminologist Nils Bejerot in relation to an actual bank robbery in 1973 where four Swedes were held captive in a bank vault for six days, during which they became attached to their captors.

On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik "Janne" Olsson, on leave from prison, walked into Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, central Stockholm. Police were called in immediately, two of them went inside, and Olsson opened fire, injuring one policeman. The other was ordered to sit in a chair and "sing something". He started singing "Lonesome Cowboy". Olsson then took 4 people as hostages. (See picture.) He demanded his friend Clark Olofsson to be brought there, along with 3 million Swedish Krona ($360,000 US 2003 value), two guns, bullet-proof vests, helmets and a fast car.

Olofsson was brought in by permission of the government and established a communication link with the police negotiators. One of the hostages, Kristin Ehnemark (not present on the photo), said she was confident with the robbers but feared the police might cause trouble by violent methods (this was the beginning of the Stockholm syndrome). The robbers barricaded the inner main vault together with the hostages. The doors to the vault were closed. The robbers were permitted to have a car to escape but were not allowed to take the hostages with them, if they were to leave.

The robber, Olofsson, called up the Prime Minister Olof Palme and said he would kill the hostages, and took a stranglehold on Elisabeth; she was heard screaming as he hung up.

The next day Olof Palme received another call. This time it was Kristin Ehnmark who said she was very displeased with his attitude, asking him to let the robbers and the hostages leave.

Olofsson walked around in the vault singing Roberta Flack's "Killing me softly".

The drama went on. On August 26, the police drilled a hole into the main vault from the apartment above. This was the hole from which the picture of the hostages and Olofsson was taken. Olsson opened fire and threatened to kill the hostages if any gas attack was attempted. He attached small snare traps to the necks of the hostages which would cause them to strangle themselves in the event of a gas attack. These can be seen on the deposit boxes on the left.

On August 28 the gas was used anyway, and after half an hour the robbers gave up. Nobody was injured physically.

Both Olsson and Olofsson were charged and sentenced to extended imprisonment for the robbery. However Olofsson claimed he didn't help Olsson and was only trying to save the hostages by keeping the situation calm, and at the court of appeals he was freed of any charges. He was later to become a friend with one of the hostages, Kristin Ehnemark, and they meet sometimes, their families becoming friends. Olsson was sentenced to 10 years of prison and has not committed a criminal act since he was released. He got many admiring letters from women who found him attractive. He later got engaged to one of them (not one of the hostages, however, as some state).

The hostages still repeatedly claim they were more frightened of the police than the robbers during their six days of confinement. They clearly identify with their unlawful guardians. This leads to academic interest in the matter.

Clark Olofsson has repeatedly committed armed robberies and acts of violence, both before and after the events in 1973, all since he was 16 years old. He was finally released from prison in 1991, but in 1999 he was arrested in Denmark and was sentenced to another 14 years of prison. He has spent some 24 years in prison.

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