It is 10:02 in the morning on Thursday, 23 August 1973 when a masked man enters the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm and fires a few shots from his machine gun into the ceiling. His face is painted black, he is wearing a wig and sunglasses and has a big bag on his shoulders. The man then orders everyone in the bank to lie down on the floor, places a radio on the bank counter and tunes in Swedish Radio P3.
The alarm goes on in the bank and the police arrive only a few minutes later. Criminal inspector Ingemar Warpefeldt is among the first who arrive on the scene and enters the bank hall from the floor above. The robber asks the inspector if he is a policeman.
Warpefeldt replies, ‘Yes, drop the weapon!’
‘Everybody down!’ the robber screams and fires two shots at the policeman.
Warpefeldt is shot in his right arm in which he holds the gun and retreats together with two other officers that entered the building with him.
A while later, another inspector Morgan Rylander enters the bank with a pistol under his belt hidden by a leather jacket. From now on he is going to act as a communication link between the robber and the police.
The unidentified robber states his requests, ‘I want you to bring Clark Olofsson here, three million kronor in cash – a half in Swedish money and the rest in foreign currency, a fast car with a full tank, two pistols and a free road for myself, Olofsson and two hostages.’
Clark Olofsson was one of Sweden’s most notorious criminals. At the time he was incarcerated in prison in Norrköping where he was transferred after a failed attempt to escape from Kalmar’s prison. He was present at the robbery in Nyköping in 1966 where a police officer was killed. He was arrested four weeks after the robbery and after shooting at the police he was convicted of an attempted murder and another robbery which took place in Stockholm.
The head of the Division of Violence Sven Thorander enters the hall after Rylander managed to free several hostages. He comes and goes several times as he tries to observe the situation and brings supplies of cigarettes and refreshments for the hostages. Eventually, Thorander gets Olofsson on the phone and lets him speak with the robber. After the call has finished, the police decide to move Olofsson to Stockholm.
In the meantime, the police are observing the situation from a nearby Pressbyrån from where they have eyes on the bank hall. Until the robber decides to move to another part of the hall, that is. Four ambulances are now available outside the bank and two helicopters are waiting at Bromma Airport.
Things are starting to look good for the robber as Olofsson is on his way from Norrköping and a bus with 1.5 million Swedish kronor is sent from Riksbank to Norrmalmstorg. When the money arrives, he is not happy, though. He does not want new bills and does not accept them. A bit later he is given the money in old bills, however. Olofsson arrives in Stockholm just before 3 o’clock.
Olofsson is offered a week’s leave from prison if he accepts to go into the bank and behaves well during the operation. Initially, the police are not willing to let Olofsson in without the robber freeing his hostages but after the life of one of them is threatened, they let Olofsson join the robber in the bank. The authorities are at this point willing to give the robber the money he asked for, Olofsson and a Ford Mustang but no pistols.
Free escape route has, of course, never been under consideration but plans are being prepared for stopping the fleeing robber if he ever gets in the car which is now parked just outside the bank. Apart from that, drugging the robber is being considered as well as exchanging the hostages for other volunteers in case the criminal gets to the car. Overall, the key strategy is to seize any opportunity to shoot the robber and end the crisis.
Friday, 24 August
At this point, another four hundred thousand kronor in foreign currency is waiting for the robber whose identity remains unknown. According to some, the man in the bank is Kaj Hansson – a known criminal on the run from a prison.
A doctor and psychiatric advisor to the police Nils Bejerot suggests bringing Hansson’s brother or his childhood friend who now serves as a police officer in Lund in Southern Sweden to talk some sense into him. They both agree to help and are quickly transported to Stockholm. Once in Stockholm, the plan is for the 17-year-old to get a clear look at the man in the hall and identify if it is his brother.
When he and a few officers try to enter the hall, the robber opens fire so he is unable to see him. After several failed attempts he is too scared to go back again and leaves.
There is also another version of this story which is according to some even more likely. It says that Hansson’s brother got on the phone with the criminal in the bank hall and denied that it was Kaj Hansson.
Interestingly, all three remaining hostages are willing to leave the bank with the robber and Olofsson and get in the car that is waiting outside despite having explosives bonded to their necks.
Saturday, 25 August
The police now want to get the robber to make a mistake. In other words, they want him to show up so that they can shoot him. An officer is sent in to drastically wake the criminal but the plan fails miserably after the officer’s mistake.
Neither one of the criminals nor the hostages have been seen in a while. The police are, therefore, unaware of their exact location within the bank. They presume that the robber decided to move to the customer vault – the outer door to the vault is open but the inner one is almost closed and the officers that moved in are unable to see inside the vault.
Then a policeman comes with a creative idea. He takes a long iron bar, goes to the railing and climbs a chair from which he can reach the door and open it so that they can see inside. Now that they are able to confirm that the criminals and their hostages are in the vault, they decide to close the outer door and lock them inside.
According to Doctor Bejerot, the robber is unlikely to hurt any of his hostages since they have spent some time together and despite threatening them several times he has not hurt anyone yet. On the other hand, he does not mind shooting at the officers. Not only has he proved it but it also gives him a higher status among other criminals.
Based on these observations, the police decide that the safest strategy to free the hostages is to use tear gas to disable the criminals and consequently open the vault and end the scene. The ventilation holes in the vault are not suitable for the job, though, and because of that new holes have to be dug into the vault that can be used to introduce the gas.
The police manage to install a listening device in one of the ventilation holes which gives them the possibility to at least somehow observe the situation inside. Surprisingly, the mood inside the vault seems to be pretty good. The two criminals are telling stories from their past and the hostages are laughing out loud.
Many people and organisations were trying to help solve the situation. They called the police to express their willingness to share their resources or their ideas. Some of the ideas were indeed bizarre. A caller suggested to fill up the vault with table tennis balls so that the criminals could not move. Another wanted to send in a swarm of bees.
Sunday, 26 August
The police are ready to start drilling holes into the vault to pass supplies to the hostages and later rescue them with the help of tear gas. That is when Associated Press informs the Swedish authorities that Kaj Hansson, who was previously thought to be the robber locked in the vault, was seen in Honolulu. Later, he himself calls the police to confirm that he is not the person they are dealing with.
It is Sunday evening when the digging starts while more than 60 police officers are ready to go in action. The ceiling on top of the vault is half a metre thick. Despite that, the operation is successful and several holes are dug into the ceiling of the vault. When they are ready, one of the policemen decides to peek into the vault. The robber is about to shoot him when Olofsson stops him from doing it.
After the holes are covered by a bullet-proof glass, the robber, who is still unidentified, is given an ultimatum to surrender his gun and all explosives.
Monday, 27 August
On Monday, the robber wires his hostages so that they cause an explosion inside the vault in case the police used tear gas. An officer is given the task to shoot the robber through one of the holes. However, he never gets a clear sight at him and because of being afraid of hurting the hostages he does not shoot and the operation is aborted.
Finally, the robber is identified as an inmate who did not return to the Kalmar prison after a leave. His name is Jan – Erik Olsson and he is an established criminal mostly known for non-violent crimes.
It is suspected that other accomplices were meant to join Olsson in the bank during his robbery but something went wrong and he was left there alone. During the hostage situation, there were many anonymous calls to the police threatening to blow up several places around the city. Also, other events occurred that the police suspected were attempts to distract them and get some of the police force from Norrmalmstorg. These attempts were thought to be executed by Olsson’s accomplices.
Eventually, the police decide to move on with the plan involving tear gas despite the known risks. In order to be able to rescue the hostages from the vault in time, they need a picture to see how the criminals blocked the entrance. After a failed attempt, they manage to obtain a picture showing the situation clearly. The door is blocked by two cabinets which now need to be weighed and measured. The police contact an owner of such a cabinet to get information on how hard it is going to be to move them out of the way.
Tuesday, 28 August
On Tuesday morning, Olsson manages to wound another police officer by shooting through the holes in the ceiling. Olle Abrahamsson, the shot policeman, is lucky to be still alive after being shot in an arm and his face. The criminals moreover seem to be pleased with their achievement.
Problems arise when it is discovered that the gas spreader which was meant to be used in the final action is not working. An alternative solution has to be found quickly and therefore the police decide to use keyhole sprays to spread the gas instead. The time for the execution of the final rescue mission is set to 21:05 and the Swedish Radio is quickly afterwards asked not to give any information on the case until then.
The media were sharing detailed information about the steps taken by the police throughout the operation. As Olsson brought a radio with him to the bank he was able to listen to all these news and adjust to the situation. It was only now, on the sixth day of the hostage situation, that the police stopped the radio from providing information on their operations.
At 21:05 the police start spreading gas in the vault while there are around ten armed policemen waiting in the bank hall to enter the vault. They are hearing shots being fired in the vault but wait for the gas to take effect. After a few minutes, it becomes clear that the gas is not working as expected and the entire operation is at risk. But then, perhaps surprisingly, Olsson decides to surrender. He gives up his gun and all explosives through the holes in the ceiling 32 minutes after the gas was deployed.
The police want the hostages to leave the vault first but the criminals are afraid of being shot when the hostages are in safety. Eventually, the police agree to let the two criminals exit first and after six days of occupying the bank, Olsson is the first to leave the vault they have been locked in for the past four days.
When everything is over, 73% of all Swedish residents listen to the speech of Prime Minister Olof Palme broadcasted directly from Norrmalmstorg.
Throughout the story, there are several moments which indicate that the hostages sympathised with their captors. Even years after the events, they used to claim that they were more scared of the police than of the criminals who according to their testimonies did not want to hurt them. These testimonies also helped to clear Olofsson of the charges in connection with the robbery. This behaviour has been known previously but became known afterwards as the Stockholm syndrome defined by Doctor Nils Bejerot who was present at the robbery.
Rönnegård, Eric, 2013. Norrmalmstorgsdramat – den sanna historien.