“Stockholm syndrome” they call it — a psychological phenomenon that involves hostages developing positive feelings toward their captors. Of course the occurrence doesn’t seem to make sense considering that the victims were put in danger and often abused by their kidnappers and hostage takers. However, the phenomenon is said to occur in more than 8% of all captives, the attachment said to be a form of traumatic bonding where the abused develops strong emotional ties with the abuser.
In the Stockholm syndrome cases that experts have identified, the degree to which victims sympathized with their captors has varied greatly. Here are seven prominent examples of these said cases:
7. The Norrmalmstorg Bank Robbery Hostages (1973)
There’s no better way to begin than with the incident after which the Stockholm syndrome was named. It happened on August 23, 1973 in central Stockholm when Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson, who was on leave from prison, attempted to rob Kreditbanken bank. After opening fire and injuring a policeman, Olsson took four hostages and demanded that his friend, Clark Olofsson, be made to come in with 3 million Swedish Kronor. In the first ever crime televised live on Swedish television, Olofsson was allowed to enter the bank as a communication link. Shockingly, one of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, later communicated that she felt safe with Olsson and Olofsson, but not with the police, whom she feared could escalate the situation. She further added that she was displeased with the prime minister’s attitude in dealing with the situation and asked him to allow the hostages and the robbers to leave.
Eventually, a gas attack forced the men to surrender, the hostages freed largely unharmed. Predictably, Olsson was convicted, but surprisingly, Olofsson was not and even ended up becoming friends with Enmark and her family. Furthermore, the hostages still repeatedly insisted that they were more frightened of the police than the robbers. In fact, several of them testified in court that they believed Olofsson had done nothing wrong, thus prompting criminologist Nils Bejerot to coin the term “Stockholm syndrome”.
6. Elizabeth Smart (2002)
On June 5, 2002, Brian David Mitchell broke into the Smart home in Salt Lake, Utah and kidnapped 14-year-old Elizabeth after threatening her with a knife. Elizabeth’s 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, saw the abduction but pretended to be asleep out of fear that the kidnapper would hurt her. As a result, it was already close to 4:00 AM when Mary Katherine told her parents and the police were alerted.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was made to walk to Mitchell’s camp in the woods, where Wanda Barzee washed Elizabeth’s feet and made her wear a robe. After that, Mitchell came and performed a ceremony with Elizabeth, then proceeded to rape her — the first of many times that he did. It was after nine months that police finally figured out that it was Mitchell, a contact of the Smarts for employees, who had committed the kidnapping. Mitchell and Barzee were afterwards taken into custody, and it was then revealed that Elizabeth was not truly held captive. She could have actually escaped or asked someone for help, but instead, she attended parties and even refused to reveal her identity when approached by police. In fact, Elizabeth had grown so attached to her captors that she sobbed when she was told that Mitchell and Barzee, who were eventually convicted, were likely to face punishment for their acts.
5. Jaycee Lee Dugard (1991)
In 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard was walking to a bus stop on her way to school when Phillip Garrido shocked her with a stun gun, put her in his car, and had his wife Nancy hold her down. Jaycee was then stripped and taken to the Garrido property in northeast Antioch, California, where she was handcuffed and repeatedly raped.
In 1994, 14-year-old Jaycee bore Phillip a daughter. That was followed by the birth of another daughter in 1997. By that time, Jaycee had been given the name “Allissa” and worked as a graphic artist in Phillip’s print shop. Her daughters had been raised thinking that Jaycee was their sister and that Phillip and Nancy were their parents. Phillip, meanwhile, even had the courage to, with Jaycee’s daughters in tow, pedal his strange theories on religion and sexuality to the FBI, who eventually figured everything out and rescued the captives.
Surprisingly, upon being questioned, Jaycee initially maintained that she was Allissa, and while she eventually admitted that the girls were her daughters, she called Phillip a “great person” and said he was “good with her kids” — statements that were supported by her daughters. However, Jaycee eventually changed her position and sent a damning statement to the court that was trying Phillip for his crimes. In the statement, Jaycee called the father of her children a liar and described his actions as reprehensible. That statement contributed to Phillip being sentenced to 431 years of imprisonment and to Nancy receiving 36 years to life.
In 2010, Jaycee was awarded a $20 million settlement to compensate for the various lapses of the Corrections Department, which was found to have contributed to Jaycee’s continued captivity.
4. Natascha Maria Kampusch (1998)
On March 2, 1998, 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch left her Austrian home but didn’t arrive at school. She had instead been dragged into the white minibus of her kidnapper, Wolfgang Přiklopil, and held in a small cellar beneath Přiklopil’s garage for six straight months. However, after that, Natascha was allowed to spend time inside the main house and at the garden. She was even allowed to leave the house with Přiklopil during her eighteenth birthday, and they also once went on a skiing trip in Vienna. Finally, after eight long years in captivity, an 18-year-old Natascha escaped while Přiklopil was on his mobile phone. Shockingly, despite admitting that she was raped several times by her captor, Natascha was reported to have said, “I feel more and more sorry for him — he’s a poor soul.” Furthermore, Natascha cried inconsolably when she learned that Přiklopil had died, and she even lit a candle for his soul. Nevertheless, Natascha claimed that she understood that Přiklopil was a criminal.
3. Mary McElroy (1933)
On May 27, 1933, 25-year-old Mary McElroy was taking a bubble bath in her father’s home in Kansas, Missouri when brothers George and Walter McGee, Clarence Stevens, and Clarence Click — with Walter McGee as gang leader — kidnapped her. The initial ransom demand was $60,000, but the gang ended up settling for $30,000. After the payment, Mary was allowed to go home after two days of captivity, and the perpetrators of the crime were apprehended by the police shortly after that.
At the trial, Mary was strangely sympathetic toward her captors as she insisted that they treated her well as evidenced by the fact that the gang leader had even given her flowers before her release. Furthermore, when Walter was sentenced to death by hanging, Mary contested the penalty and even wrote to Governor Guy Brasfield Park to plead for a stay in the execution. The governor relented, and eventually Walter’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Mary, meanwhile, suffered from nervous breakdowns in the years after the case. However, she still found time to bring gifts to the McGee brothers while they were in prison. Then finally, seven years after being kidnapped, Mary was found dead in her bedroom after she had taken her life by shooting herself in the head. Her suicide note read:
My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don’t consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now – so – please – give them a chance. Mary.
2. Bobbi Parker (1994)
Is the case of Bobbi Parker one of Stockholm syndrome? A judge who sentenced Bobbi to one year in prison, as well as Bobbi herself, would say that it isn’t — but for different reasons. The judge sentenced Bobbi to a year in prison after finding that Bobbi helped Randolph Franklin Dial escape from the Oklahoma State Reformatory to live with as her husband. Shockingly, Bobbi’s original husband was the deputy warden at the prison. Bobbi, meanwhile, claimed that she had stayed with Dial out of fear rather than love after he had kidnapped her. However, many psychological experts believe that what happened to Bobbi was a classic case of a kidnapping victim falling in love with her captor.
The strange case involved Dial escaping from prison in 1994 and proceeding to live with Parker in a Texas mobile home for eleven years. Both Parker and Dial later claimed that he had bound Bobbi to keep her from escaping and even often beat her with a belt. However, the judge in Parker’s case didn’t believe the story after investigators found sex toys and love letters at the home the two stayed in. Nevertheless, Parker stuck to her claims even after serving half her sentence and being released. In fact, she chose to reunite with her original husband despite the fact that it was publicly known that she had helped nurse Dial back to health after a heart attack. Meanwhile, Dial, who died in 2007, always stuck to his story that he had kidnapped and bound Parker. In fact, he was once quoted as saying,
I’ll do anything see her [Parker] in the clear of all of this. Who cares how many years I get? With my life sentence, who’s counting? Not me.
1. Patty Hearst (1974)
The granddaughter of the late publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, 19-year-old Patricia, was kidnapped from her apartment by a left-wing urban guerrilla group, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), in 1974. The SLA demanded that the Hearst family distribute $70 worth of food to each needy Californian, which would have cost the family $400 million. In response, Mr. Hearst donated $6 million worth of food to the impoverished in the Bay Area, but the SLA refused to release Patricia since they claimed the donated food was of poor quality. Surprisingly, Patricia was documented to have commented that her father could have done better. Even more shockingly, two months after Patricia was kidnapped, she was photographed with a gun while she helped the SLA rob the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. She also gave herself the pseudonym “Tania” and claimed that she had taken up the cause of the SLA.
In 1975, Patricia was arrested by the FBI. As she was being booked in jail, she listed her occupation as “Urban Guerilla”. She further requested her attorney to relay the following statement: “Tell everyone that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there.”
In 1976, Patricia was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, but President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence to two years. In 2001, President Bill Clinton granted Patricia a full pardon.
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