Stockholm Syndromve takes its name from a real life hostage incident occurring in Stockholm, Sweden. On August 23rd, 1973, four employees of the Sveriges Kreditbank were taken hostage during a failed bank robbery attempt lead by Jan-Erik Olsson. Swedish Police responded to a silent alarm and a policeman was injured during the initial response. Olsson made demands including bringing his locked-up bank robbing friend Clark Olofsson to the bank, along with 3 million Swedish Kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a fast car.
The incident captured headlines around the world and was broadcast across Sweden as the drama unfolded. While negotiating, the police brought Olofsson to the bank allowing him inside, the money and a blue Ford Mustang with a full tank of gas. Negotiators, however, would not let the hostage takers leave with the hostages.
Meanwhile inside the bank the hostages and captors, while in the bank vault, began to form bonds with their captors. Olsson made multiple gestures towards his captives. He draped a jacket over ones shoulders, while allowing and encouraging another to call loved ones, and allowed another to leave the vault (while still attached to a rope of course). One hostage stated later of Olsson, "When he treated us well, we could think of him as an emergency god." The Police Commissioner was allowed inside to check on the welfare of the hostages. He noted that the captors and hostages had developed a "relaxed" relationship.
131 hours into the incident on the night of August 28th, Swedish Polish dumped tear gas into the bank vault. As the surrender began hostages yelled, "don’t hurt them, they didn’t harm us.” The hostage takers and hostages exchanged embraces prior to surrender. Several captives called out that they would see Olofsson again. No hostage or hostage taker was injured.
The hostages' bizarre attachment to their hostage takers confused police and the public alike. One of the hostages was even investigated as to whether they had plotted the robbery with Olofsson. Psychologists say that Stockholm Syndrome is a traumatic bonding and is automatic and unconscious defense mechanism for hostages. They develop a sympathetic relationship with their captors, due to their total dependence on them and from extreme fear. The inverse can happen as well with hostage takers become emotionally attached to their captives.
A year after the robbery, journalist Daniel Lang interviewed the hostages a year later for the New Yorker. The syndrome still seemed to be in effect. Lang wrote that the hostages talked about being well-treated by their hostage takers and they owed their lives to Olofsson and Olsson.
This psychological phenomenon was originally referred to as the Norrmalmstorg Syndrome by Nils Bejorot, a psychiatrist assisting the police during the incident. It later became known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Psychatrist Frank Ochberg originally defined the syndrome to assist in the management of hostage situations. Altogether the hostage incident at the Sveriges Kreditbank along with the heavy media exposure helped to place Stockholm Syndrome firmly into the American lexicon.