Stockholm Syndrome is one of those unbelievable things that is incredibly difficult to understand, or indeed believe, unless it happens to you. It describes the phenomenon in which a victim warms up to the perpetrators of a crime against them. Most often, it is used to refer to victims who have been kidnapped, held hostage, or otherwise forced to spend time with their captors against their will.
Imagine that you are kidnapped at a young age and forced to live with people who you know are not your real family. You miss your parents, your friends, and your own home. They may even deprive you in some ways, such as by starving you and forbidding you to go outside. They may mistreat you, abuse you, and put you through horrific situations. In this scenario, could you imagine that you would ever grow to love your captors? Would you ignore the possibility of escape? Would you grieve for them after they died?
In most cases, we would say no – those things would never be possible. Once someone has abducted and mistreated you, you would never feel affection towards them. But there have been real cases where these feelings were recorded. The victims did indeed end up loving their captors, and in the cases where they escaped, had even thought twice about doing so.
It’s a crazy thought, but Stockholm Syndrome is real. Here are 15 twisted cases where the victims fell prey to a cruel trick of their minds, which had them feeling affection for those who mistreated them.
15 The Original Stockholm Syndrome
Why is it called Stockholm Syndrome? Because the case which gave it its name happened in Stockholm, in a highly publicized hostage situation. In 1973, an escaped convict went into a bank in Norrmalmstorg Square in the city and took four employees hostage. Things didn’t go according to plan, so he kept them inside the bank vault for more than 5 days. But soon, something strange happened. On the second day, the hostages were on a first-name basis with their captor and seemed hostile to the police who came to check on them. Police eventually pumped tear gas into the vault, allowing them to escape. As they left, they hugged their captor goodbye and prevented the police from getting a clear shot at him. While he was on trial, they banded together to collect money for his defence team. This was such a baffling event that the name stuck within a mere few months.
14 Mary McElroy
Mary McElroy was 25 years old when she was taken from her father’s house by four men in 1933. She was taking a bubble bath, but the men pointed a sawed off shotgun at her and ordered her to get dressed. They took her to an old farmhouse and chained her up before demanding $60,000 for her release. Her father, Henry McElroy, paid a later agreed $30,000 and she was released unharmed. Mary said that they cared for her well and that one even gave her flowers. When the men were captured and sentenced, she publicly sympathized with them and asked that their sentence be changed. She visited the McGee brothers, two of her abductors, throughout their prison sentences. Finally, in 1940, she could take it no longer. She committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a suicide note that stated, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don’t consider me an utter fool.”
13 Jaycee Lee Dugard
The case of Jaycee Lee Dugard was a heart-breaking one. She was taken from just outside her home at age 11, and though her stepfather saw the abduction take place, he could not catch up to the speeding car and she slipped out of his grasp. It was 18 years before she saw any of her family again. Phillip Garrido raped her repeatedly and forced her to live in a shed in his yard, with his wife Nancy also taking part in Jaycee’s abuse and imprisonment. He ended up fathering two children with Jaycee, both of whom were born without any medical help and educated at home by their mother with the aid of educational television shows. She is thought to have left the property and been sighted, though she claimed she never did. Eventually she was allowed to help with the Garridos’ business and answer calls as well as emails, but it was only when police spotted her that she admitted her identity. Even then it took some grilling. She has never spoken about having Stockholm Syndrome, but many believe she used it as a survival mechanism, especially after her daughters were born.
12 Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002, when she was 14 years old. Brian David Mitchell forced her to hike to a campsite where he introduced her to his “wife”, Wanda Barzee. Barzee made her undress, Mitchell performed a ceremony which he said married him to Smart, and then he raped her. For nine months, she was abused, chained to a tree, and turned into a submissive captive who followed orders well. She would go to the shops, to the library, and even talk to police officers without revealing her identity. They lived in California for a while before moving to the East Coast, where Smart decided it was time to convince Mitchell to go back home. Finally, they returned to Utah where they were recognized, and Smart was returned to her family. She did eventually testify against them in court, though she admitted that she did not take the opportunities to escape.
11 The Cleveland Captives
In 2013, Amanda Berry had been missing for 10 years. That was why it was so sensational when she called the police in order to report herself found. She was hidden in a home in Cleveland with Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, all of them captured between 2002 and 2004. Experts have stated they believe that all three suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and wished to stay together, which is why they took such a long time to escape. Ariel Castro was the man who took them; he had fathered a daughter with Berry, and forced Knight to miscarry 5 times by beating her. They were lured into his car and then taken, and he made them bond with him if they wanted to survive. It was their strong bond with one another which eventually helped them to get through the ordeal, which included Knight helping to deliver Berry’s baby with no medical expertise.
10 Natascha Kampusch
Ten-year-old Natascha was snatched in 1998 and then spent 8 years as a prisoner of Wolfgang Priklopil. She was kept in a windowless and soundproof room under his garage, but as time went on, was permitted into the house. He would alternate between treating her nicely and beating and raping her, and told her that the house was rigged with explosives should she try to run. She left voluntarily in 2006, but Priklopil did the unexpected and jumped in front of a train rather than be captured by police. She wept and demanded to sit with his coffin, mourning his death dearly. She even kept a photograph of him in her wallet for years after her escape. She admitted feeling grief at his passing, the only person that she had interacted with for a whole 8 years of her formative life. It was an odd situation, as she clearly wanted to leave but still developed feelings for her captor.
9 Carlina White
Carlina never had a chance to know her birth parents, as she was taken from them when she was just 19 days old during a trip to the hospital in New York. A woman dressed as a nurse simply walked out with her in the early hours of the morning. She turned out to be Ann Pettway, who raised Carlina as Nejdra Nance in Connecticut. White only became suspicious when her “mother” could not provide a birth certificate or any other paperwork for her. At age 23, Carlina – calling herself Netty – was told by Ann at last that she was not her real mother. She tracked down her birth parents and was reunited, but they soon fell out over the compensation money they had been paid by the hospital, and Carlina testified in favour of Ann at her trial. She became estranged from her birth parents but eventually reconciled with them. She now calls herself Netty, as it was the name she chose to be known by.
8 Mackenzie Phillips
The world was shocked when Mackenzie Phillips revealed that her father, “Papa” John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas, had forced her into an incestuous relationship that lasted for a decade – well into her twenties. She was also involved in drug use with her father, and this had a severe effect on her brain. It created a powerful dependency on her father, who was both her abuser and her outlet. It was a unique and highly unusual mix which left Mackenzie unable to fight her way out of the abuse. Her father made her believe that their family was special and operated outside of the normal laws of behavior, an idea that she was not able to let go of until she began to mature. When abuse is committed by figures of love and authority, Stockholm Syndrome may be almost inevitable, and the effect of drug use on a still-forming brain simply added to the mix.
7 Shawn Hornbeck
There is some debate as to whether Shawn Hornbeck suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, but we’ll lay out the facts and allow you to judge. Shawn was 11 years old when he was abducted in 2002 by Michael John Devlin. The man hit Shawn’s bike on purpose, put him into his car, and took him home. He was only discovered after 4 and a half years had passed by, and then only because 13-year-old William Ownby had been kidnapped recently and brought to stay with Shawn. Shawn made an agreement early on with Devlin that he would do whatever he was told so long as Devlin didn’t kill him. He had a girlfriend, browsed the internet, and went out in public often without trying to escape after this pact was made. Was he really too afraid to try escaping even when he was free to come and go? Or was this a case of Stockholm Syndrome convincing him to stay with his captor?
6 Elisabeth Fritzl
Another well-known victim who may struggle for the rest of her life with Stockholm Syndrome is Elisabeth Fritzl. She was trapped in a cellar beneath her home at the age of 18 by her father, Josef Fritzl. He raped her repeatedly, keeping her captive for 24 years. With her family the perpetrators, Elisabeth had no hope of rescue, and so had to rely on staying on her father’s good side to avoid further abuse. She gave birth to seven children by her father, four of whom stayed with her in the dungeon and three of whom lived upstairs in the house with him and his wife. The father-daughter relationship and her utter reliance on him for everything may have caused some deep-seated issues with Stockholm Syndrome, particularly since he is also the father of her children in turn. Those four children kept in the cellar had never even witnessed sunlight, until he sought medical help for a child and was subsequently found out.
5 Colleen Stan
Colleen was 20 years old by the time she was kidnapped in 1977. When a couple with a child in the back of the car stopped to give her a lift, she assumed she was safe. Instead, Cameron Hooker had convinced his wife, Jan, to enslave Colleen for his amusement. She was held captive for 22-23 hours a day in a coffin-shaped box, described as furniture, unlike the young daughter who was doted on. Once, Hooker even asked her to put a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger. She did, only to discover that it was not loaded. In 1981 Cameron took Colleen home. She spent a night with her family and never said a word, preferring to return to her box. It was in 1985 that Jan had an attack of conscience and helped Colleen to escape, finally ending her ordeal – but not by her own choice.
4 ISIS Wives
In places where ISIS members are creeping across the landscape and capturing cities, towns, and villages, they are creating plenty of victims of their own. According to witness statements, they generally prefer to kill or recruit the men of each settlement, before appropriating the women as new wives for their soldiers. Some of the ISIS fighters have multiple wives, and others focus on just one. Rape, beatings, and vile punishments for doing anything outside of the rules seems to be the norm, according to what the few escapees can tell us. It’s clear that this situation is going to create a lot of problems for women with Stockholm Syndrome. They will rely on their “husbands” for everything, including protection from harm, and thus may be so desperate to please them that they end up becoming indoctrinated into their ways. It’s important that some rescue can be made for these women as ISIS is forced to retreat.
3 Battered Women
One of the sub-types of Stockholm Syndrome can be found in cases of battered women. Women who are beaten by their husbands or partners may show misplaced degrees of affection, sometimes even choosing to stay with them when they are offered the chance of rescue. It’s a sad fact that many times, this can result in the death of the woman at the hands of her partner. Just like in the hostage situations or kidnaps, the woman is grateful to her abuser for his love and affection. The periods of violence and abuse simply reinforce the feelings of gratitude when the other side of the coin is shown. They may have emotional dependency on the man, or even believe that it is their fault they are being beaten. This leads them to shift blame from the abuser and even regard them as a saviour for putting up with them.
2 Mariano Querol
Mariano Querol was a 71-year-old psychiatrist from Peru who was kidnapped in 1996 and held captive for 18 days. During that time, he read books with his captors, gave them free counseling sessions, watched TV with them, and even became friends with them. He admitted to having Stockholm Syndrome, and said, “I personally established that the phenomenon also affects the captors, who can be led to sympathize with their victims — something we could dub the Lima Syndrome.” His kidnapping was headed up by Gonzalo Higueras, a 43-year-old businessman who was in debt and used the ransom money to pay his rent and his children’s tuition fees. Mariano ended up referring to Gonzalo as ‘el amigo’. One of the highlights of his time in captivity was reading News of a Kidnapping by Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which they were excited to see describing a situation similar to their own.
1 Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst is perhaps the best-known case of Stockholm Syndrome of all time. She was 19 years old when, in 1974, a group of domestic terrorists broke into her Berkeley, California apartment and abducted her at gunpoint. They also beat up her fiancé, taking her because she was the granddaughter of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, an extremely wealthy man. Her abductors were the Symbionese Liberation Army, who were attempting to go to war with the USA. Then the twist happened. Patty joined the SLA herself, announced that she was a revolutionary, and even helped them in a bank robbery. She was captured in 1975 and claimed that she had been brainwashed. She was jailed for two years and later pardoned, after taking part in a shootout against the LA police which ended with the SLA leader dead. It’s a very odd case, but certainly one of the most interesting examples of Stockholm Syndrome out there.