Why 8% of People Fall in Love With Their Kidnappers


It was late in the spring of 1933 when a gang
of masked men burst into a wealthy judge’s Kansas City house brandishing a sawed-off
shotgun. The judge wasn’t home but it wasn’t him
the men were after; it was his daughter. At the time she was upstairs in the bathtub
lathered in bubbles. “Get out of the bath and get dressed, you’re
coming with us,” said the men, and they explained to her she was going to be held
ransom. She asked how much, and one of the men replied,
“$60,000.” Her actual response to that was, “I’m worth
more than that!” Subsequently she was taken to a house and
chained up in the basement. The gang would eventually get $30,000. Hey, it was better than nothing. The woman was released, but get this, she
later let it be known that she supported the men that had imprisoned her. So, what was going on? How can someone be pushed around, chained
up, held for days like that and then admit she was fond of those guys. They got caught in the end of course, but
even during the trial the woman stuck up for them. Her name was Mary McElroy and she was 25 when
she was put through this ordeal. The kidnappers all received harsh sentences
and the gang leader was sentenced to be hanged, but that was eventually commuted to a life
sentence. When young Mary heard about the hanging sentence
she wrote to the governor, saying, His “sentence has hung as heavily over me as over him. Through punishing a guilty man, his victim
will be made to suffer equally.” It seemed she really took pity on this guy. In fact, throughout the gang’s imprisonment
she would visit them and take them flowers as well as other gifts. If it sounds to you like something was not
quite right with Mary, then you are on the right path. Something was very wrong with her. She was mentally unsound. For several years after her kidnapping she
displayed strange behavior and had multiple nervous breakdowns. She got addicted to opiates and lived with
her father, seldom communicating with the outside world. When he bit the dust she became a recluse,
but she would never relinquish her fondness for her captors. When she was 33-years old she finally gave
up the ghost herself, picking up a pistol one night, putting it up against her head
and pulling the trigger. She had lost her father and it seems the only
other people who meant anything to her – her captors. No doubt these guys were as confused as the
rest of the world following this case. This is what she wrote in her suicide letter:
“My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don’t consider me an utter
fool.” In her mind, these guys were the only ones
who really understood her, while everyone else thought she had lost her mind. The fact is, she kind of had lost her mind,
in a way that has perplexed psychologists and the public for some time. Let us explain. Mary was experiencing something that has been
called Stockholm Syndrome, although at the time there really wasn’t a word for this. That’s what we mean when we say doctors
were perplexed at her behavior; such a condition wasn’t common at all. The term actually came about after something
that happened in…you guessed it, Stockholm in Sweden. This is an absolutely crazy story in itself,
so we think you deserve to hear the details. The opening scene goes something like this:
A Swedish man with a very colorful rap sheet named Jan-Erik struts into a bank in the capital
city. He isn’t there to talk about a loan for
a new meatball business though, he’s going to rob the place. He pulls out a gun and demands the tellers
open the drawers and hand him the cash. He isn’t a particularly bright guy and hasn’t
planned this robbery very well, but in his defense he had at least painted his face black
and donned a wig and sunglasses. You can only imagine how that looked to the
folks in the bank. To make matters even more weird he then pulled
something else out, and it wasn’t another weapon. It was a transistor radio. He placed that carefully on a counter and
then he tuned it in to Swedish Radio P3. Ok, now he had music, what next? Well, unlucky for him, within no time at all
a cop was on the scene. While he was fiddling about with his radio
and trying to find the right channel someone had hit the alarm button. The cop entered the bank, which today might
seem kind of brave. “Drop your weapon,” shouted this policeman,
and naturally the robber’s response was to shoot him. Another cop had entered the bank by this time,
and then Jan-Erik did something else not written in the manual, “Life of Crime Part One:
Bank-Robbing for Beginners.” He told the cop to sit on a chair and ordered
him to sing a song, any song. The cop thought for a while and then started
doing a rendition of Elvis Presley’s, “Lonesome Cowboy.” After this he let the cops outside know what
he wanted, and if his demands weren’t met his hostages in the bank would get it. No doubt he was taken seriously, he was after
all a loon. He asked for three million kronor in cash
– a half of it in Swedish money and the rest in foreign currency. He also wanted a fast car with a full tank
of gas, two pistols and a free road for himself. He then demanded his friend be let out of
prison and join him. He also said he would take two hostages on
the road with him. This friend by the way was a safe-cracker,
so perhaps we were a little harsh saying Jan-Erik was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. His friend did end up in the bank with him,
but he had promised the Swedish government to act as a negotiator. We won’t go into every detail, but the negotiations
went on as the world watched on their TV screens. The hostages would later say Jan-Erik walked
around at times singing Roberta Flack’s, “Killing Me Softly.” That was perhaps not the best song to hear
when you’re being held captive by a man holding a gun. While this story sounds amusing, violence
was used at times. But on other occasions the hostage takers
were apparently pretty friendly. The ordeal went on for six-days, so the hostages
and their captors got to know each other fairly well. They barricaded the hostages in a vault, so
we might say it was cozy. Nonetheless, we’ve seen a photo of the hostages
in the bank vault and it doesn’t exactly look like they are having a fabulous time. Later it was discovered that the men had told
the hostages they were going to get shot, but strangely they didn’t seem to mind. To understand Stockholm Syndrome you need
to know what one of the hostages later said to The New Yorker in an interview. He said of his abductor, “When he treated
us well, we could think of him as an emergency God.” Another hostage later explained how she thanked
her abductor when he told her he wouldn’t kill her… but err…just shoot her in the
leg. He was a compassionate God, you see. The police finally got on top of the situation
and the men said they would give up their hostages. But when it was time to go the two abductors
and those hostages embraced and kissed and shook hands. One of the female hostages told the cops,
“Don’t hurt them.” It sounds like a jolly old time for the hostages
the way we have told it, but at the time their lives were certainly in danger. They had guns to their heads. Some of them had been pushed around; one woman
had had a rope tied around her neck. Was this just another one of those days when
a bank happens to be full of masochists? No, is the answer to that if you need telling. It wasn’t only the cops and the public that
thought captives adoring their captors was perhaps a little strange. Some of captives knew themselves that they
were acting weird. One of them after her ordeal even went to
see a psychiatrist and she reportedly said to him, “Is there something wrong with me? Why don’t I hate them?” They didn’t feel indebted to the cops for
saving them; they felt indebted to the good guys that hadn’t blown off their heads. They wouldn’t let anyone say a bad word
that might taint their captors’ sparkling image and diminish their outstanding generosity. Some of the hostages even went to visit the
guys in prison. The world of psychiatry heard about this strange
phenomenon and wanted to understand it. They decided to call it, “Stockholm Syndrome.” By the way, Jan-Erik moved to Thailand after
his release and wrote a book by the same name. If you’re watching, we hope you’re doing
well Jan-Erik; bit of advice for you, download the Spotify app but don’t use it in banks. So, Stockholm Syndrome in short means sympathizing
with a captor or in some cases being close to your captor. Before we go into detail about why it might
happen, we’ll present to you another case. This one is more controversial for reasons
you will see. In Austria in 1988 a 10-year old girl was
kidnapped and thrown into a van. She was then held captive in a dark room under
a garage for eight years. Her captor might at times be nice, but then
he would just change and become abusive. The girl at the start of her ordeal was never
allowed to leave this room, a room that had no windows and was soundproof. It was like a living hell. She was a tortured bird in a concrete cage. While she later said she despaired at times,
she also said being held like a prisoner had its benefits. She said of her experience, “I spared myself
many things, I did not start smoking or drinking and I did not hang out in bad company.” Perhaps some of you might try that out lest
you fall into certain bad habits. She got a TV and books, but she wasn’t exactly
spoiled for food. The girl later said that she was so thin and
weak she could hardly move, and then at times the guy would beat her so badly she sustained
injuries that made it hard to stand up. Later on her captor would let her out and
take the girl, now a teenager, on trips. She never tried to escape, although she said
she sometimes thought about it. When she was 18 she finally escaped. She told authorities who she was, and shocked,
looking at this girl who had hardly grown in height while in captivity and was emaciated,
they took her in. The hunt was on for the captor, but he decided
that life was short and jumped in front of a speeding train. What did that girl say about her ordeal, the
beatings, the starvation, the confinement, the mental torture? She said, “I feel more and more sorry for
him—he’s a poor soul” That was before she knew he’d killed himself. “I mourn for him,” she said in another
interview after she found out. She got a lot of hate mail from the public
for saying stuff like that. She said while she was imprisoned she had
to delude herself as a way to cope. She had to somehow create a world which was
not constant horror. She told The Guardian in 2010, “In situations
when I was being bathed. I pictured myself being at a spa. When he gave me something to eat, I imagined
him as a gentleman, that he was doing all this for me to be gentlemanly. Serving me.” She was well aware when she became a teenager
that he was crazy and her situation was terrible, and she did try and take her life at least
one time, but she also kind of understood her captor. Just before her escape she told him, “I
really am grateful to you for not killing me and for taking such good care of me. That is very nice of you. But you can’t force me to stay with you. I am my own person with my own needs. This situation must come to an end.” And end it did. So, one part of Stockholm Syndrome might be
adapting to your situation, and in fact the girl we just talked about has denied being
mentally ill and said in a way she just made the best out of a bad situation. She said this to the BBC, “If you spend
a great deal of time with that person. It’s about empathy, communication. Looking for normality within the framework
of a crime is not a syndrome. It is a survival strategy.” In the case of the hostages at the bank, their
lives were in the hands of their captors, so psychologists say they developed powerful
feelings for these guys. Those men were the ones who were going to
let them live and so they were kind of Gods to them. And they did let them live, so hey, they were
benevolent Gods in the end. Anyone in captivity for a while might at some
point show gratitude towards their captors for even the smallest act of kindness. After a longer period of time the captive
person becomes reliant on the captor for everything and so they might become like a child to that
person. One psychologist wrote, “They experience
a type of infantilization – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go
to the toilet without permission.” There have been situations when the captive
person was told that life without their captor is dangerous and they believed it, to the
extent of not even trying to run away when they had the chance. So, first a person might feel utter terror,
but as a survival mechanism they might even begin to empathize with the person who has
them locked up. It’s a coping mechanism, and somewhere in
the mind a switch might get flicked and the person might start liking their captor. It’s the only way to get through it. They submit to their God and when that God
doesn’t exhibit its wrath this becomes an act of kindness. This submission, importantly, isn’t a conscious
choice, in that the victim doesn’t think, “Hmm, I better be nice to this dude.” They actually just become nice to him. In some cases they might even help their captor
evade the authorities. The FBI once said that 8% of kidnapping victims
had shown signs of Stockholm Syndrome. There is so much grey area, though, because
every situation is unique. Like the girl we talked about, some victims
will tell you they are not suffering from anything. Stockholm Syndrome is not actually recognized
as a mental illness or as an official psychiatric diagnosis, but it’s a term used to describe
what victims might be experiencing. You wouldn’t say, he’s got Stockholm Syndrome,
but you might say he’s experiencing something like Stockholm Syndrome. At least now you all now know something else
that came from Sweden besides IKEA and meatballs. Can you imagine being kidnapped and this happening
to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so let
us know what you think in the comments. Now go watch “These Missing People Were
Mysteriously Found Alive.” Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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