The strange phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome for crime
It’s easier to believe that the person victimising you is also a victim
‘Crooks are hip, whereas the police are square.’ So wrote Norman Mailer in his collection of essays, Advertisements for Myself, and didn’t he believe it.
Mailer thought crooks so hip that in 1981 he even helped to get a convicted killer called Jack Abbott released early from prison. Abbott became a darling of the literary scene in New York, invited along to fashionable parties and swooned upon by intellectuals, despite — or perhaps because of — his bad behaviour. It was all going so well until this new literary enfant terrible stabbed to death a complete stranger, an innocent 22-year-old actor and playwright called Richard Adan, then working as a waiter. Very hip. The following day, before news of the killing leaked, a review of Abbott’s book appeared in the New York Times.
‘Culture is worth a little risk,’ Mailer told reporters after Abbott was captured. Thanks again to his author friend, who urged the court to be lenient, the killer received the minimum sentence for this murder, of 15 years.
Adan was one of 1,826 people murdered in New York City that year, 1981, a five-fold rise since the start of the 1960s, despite the population having fallen by 800,000 people, an exodus driven by horrendous levels of crime and incivility. By the end of the 1980s the city’s homicide rate would break through the 2,000 barrier, peaking at 2245 in 1990, almost a ten-fold increase since the early 1940s when J.D. Salinger was a young man Adan’s age.
Mailer wasn’t the only author at the time with a thing for criminals. Novelist William Styron was so impressed by death row convict Benjamin Reid that he got him paroled and then in 1970, upon Reid’s release, arranged to have the felon live at his house and accepted into college. Again, it was all turning out to be such a heartwarming story until Reid abducted a woman and her two children and raped her. Definitely not square.