How a Botched Bank Heist Created the Term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

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A bank in a tony Stockholm neighborhood would seem an unlikely place for a hostage drama. But when a gunman stormed into the Swedish bank in 1973, demanding money and the release of a prisoner, it gave rise to the idea of “Stockholm Syndrome.”

The story is documented in the true crime caper that’s the subject of David King’s new book, “Six Days in August.”

On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 23, 1973, the bank had just opened when a tall, muscular man, wearing a wig, makeup and a pair of sunglasses, walked into the bank. He ripped out a sub-machine gun, fired it into the ceiling, and shouted, "The party starts. Down on the floor."

Jan-Erik Olsson was a master safe cracker and when he entered the bank, he took four hostages. Olsson made his demands. He wanted 3 million Swedish crowns and the release of a prisoner named Clark Olofsson.

“Clark Olofsson was one of the most notorious criminals in Sweden at the time. He was a bank robber, a celebrity. He was a media star. He was known for these daring bank robberies, these breaks out of prison, leading police on manhunts,” King told Inside Edition Digital.

He and Olsson were close friends and remarkably, the police conceded to one of Olsson’s demands, and brought Olofsson to the bank. But the standoff continued.

Olsson, Olofsson and the hostages retreated into the bank vault. And what developed was a surprising relationship between the captives and the captors. That bond between the hostages and the hostage-takers would eventually be called “Stockholm Syndrome.”

“The Stockholm Syndrome is traditionally viewed as a psychological phenomenon that develops between a captor and a captive. Under this extreme stress, a hostage can, according to the theory, develop sympathy with the captor, can identify with the captor and form powerful bonds with the captor,” King said.

“So they're in the vault, and the police decide to lock them in the vault,” he continued. “They lock the hostages in with the gunman. So again, they'd better hope. They're gambling that this guy is not going to kill them, so they'd better hope they're right, because they just locked them with him.”

Days went by without any progress made.

“Police have to come up with something else," King said. "All these ideas are proposed on ‘how we're going to end this?’ And eventually they come up with the idea, just drill holes. ‘We're going to drill holes in the vault and gas them.’”

As police began to drill into the vault, Olsson crafted a bomb that ruins their plans and drill. And he's got another trick up his sleeve.

“His biggest plan takes everybody by surprise. In this bag that he had when he came into the bank, he pulls out some rope. No one saw when this was done, but the rope is tied in the form of nooses. So he ties nooses around the hostages' neck, fix it to the safety deposit boxes in the wall, makes them stand up, and tells the police, 'Okay. If you send in gas, the hostages will be the first to die. And it will be your fault,'” King said.

Faced with no good options, the police made a decision and use the gas.

“So they pumped in gas, out of three of the holes at the top. They had sharpshooters at two other holes in case they needed to shoot. And they used lights on the others. And the code word was, 'Turn on the lights.' And that's when the gas started coming into the vault. I mean, you could just hear the screams, the cough. You go down to the floor. Because there was also water on the floor, because water from the drill was drilling in. So you had people going down to the floor, coughing, and screaming, and yelling, ‘We give up.’ It's burning their eyes, burning their skin, affecting the nose, their lungs, respiratory systems. It's not pleasant,” King said.

"At the end, when they do come out of the vault, the police see the hostages ... Some women give the captors hugs. They say, ‘We'll write. Take care.’ And another one is saying, ‘Don't harm him,’” he continued

“If someone threatens your life, threatens to kill you, but yet they preserve your life, they end up securing basic things for you like food, drink, other things like that, these simple kindnesses can be magnified under the stress and under violence,” King added.

Olsson was sentenced to ten years in prison; he was released in the early 1980s.

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