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Quirk of history

The bank robber who seduced his victims

A poster for a 2019 film dramatisation of the heist

Fifty years ago this week, says Roger Domeneghetti in The New European, the idea of “Stockholm Syndrome” was born. On an “overcast and quiet” morning, just after 10am, Jan-Erik Olsson entered one of the city’s largest banks wearing “make-up, a ladies’ wig and a pair of sunglasses”. Inside, he pulled out a submachine gun, fired a round into the ceiling and shouted: “The party starts! Down on the floor!” After a brief shoot-out with police, Olsson took control of the lobby, demanding $4m. By the sixth day of the siege, more than 73% of Sweden’s population were watching live coverage on TV. And the most bizarre part of the stand-off was the “unlikely bond” forged between the criminal and the hostages.

“Random acts of kindness” by Olsson “endeared him” to the captives: he wiped away one woman’s tears and apologised to another for “inflicting trauma that made her take up smoking again”. As they grew increasingly hungry, he shared three hidden pears, dividing them equally between the group. When two hostages were allowed to go to the loo and saw officers offering to help them escape, they refused and instead returned to the lobby. Even as police pumped tear gas into the building, the hostages refused to leave, worried their kidnapper would be gunned down. When Olsson was finally handcuffed, one of the captives followed him out shouting at police not to hurt him. As he was led away, she told him fondly: “We’ll see each other again”.