The Stockholm Syndrome Kidnapper Turned Himself In Years Later, And No One Cared
A couple days ago, we were talking about Stockholm syndrome and the original hostage situation that gave birth to the term — 1973’s Norrmalmstorg robbery. Jan-Erik Olsson and his gang of bandits took control of a Stockholm bank and kept hostages in the vault for almost a week. By the end of it, the hostages refused to testify against their captors and even wanted to leave the bank with them instead of with police. Deprived of all freedom, they’d come to appreciate anything the captors did for them, including letting them walk with nooses around their necks.
In an interview from prison, Olsson seemed to reveal that just as his hostages sympathized too much with him, he’d sympathized too much with them. He regretted not killing any of them, as he was convinced the police would have taken him more seriously if he had and would have given him the transport out he’d demanded. He’d been unable to kill any because he knew too much about their personal lives and felt too close to them. This inverse of Stockholm syndrome is sometimes called Lima syndrome, after a different 1996 case — but really, neither is a proper “syndrome,” just a thing that occasionally happens.
Olsson received a 10-year sentence for his crime, making him a free man once the early 1980s rolled around. He started working for car companies, before returning to crime in the 1990s — not, though, amazing headline-grabbing crime, or the sort that lends its name to famous supposed psychological phenomena. He did stuff like accounting fraud. But it was enough for police to want to take him in, so Olsson fled.
He went to Thailand, a country that can extradite people back to Sweden if asked to in a stern enough tone. But they didn’t take any action in this case. And so, Olsson made a new life for himself. He got married. He had children. He ran a supermarket for 10 years. He converted to Buddhism. And then, all the way in 2006, he came back to Sweden, showing up unannounced at a police station in the city of Helsingborg and turning himself in. It was time to make things right, he said.
More likely, the issue was that his Swedish passport was about to expire, so he was going to get kicked out of Thailand unless he made the first move. The police dutifully arrested and jailed him, but when the time came for his hearing, the judge noted that two of his co-defendants had died over the past decade, so the government didn’t really care about the case anymore. Instead, they let him go. Olsson had escaped punishment, though it took a decade of self-imposed exile in a foreign land, a strategy that psychologists now refer to as Bangkok Behavior.
For more on Stockholm syndrome, check out:
Top image: Jonn Leffmann