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A Unique Case in Denmark: Hypnotized into Robbery and Murder

Can one person take control of another’s mind and compel them to commit a crime through hypnotic influence? Here’s the story preserved in the annals of justice.

At the age of 28, Danish resident Palle Hardrup had never been in trouble before. The pistol in his coat pocket felt cold and bulky. Four times he passed by the bank, as if in a trance, gripping the pistol with one hand and clutching the collar of his coat around his neck, for March 29, 1951, was chilly in Copenhagen.

For his crime, Palle chose a small bank, or rather, a small bank was chosen for him. Time and again, the hypnotist implanted in Palle the suggestion to take the pistol and go to the bank. And now, in a daze, he hesitated at the door with the pistol in his pocket.

His mind still struggled against the will of another when Palle, stumbling, entered the bank and approached the nearest window. Cashier Kai Moller smiled at him, but the smile froze on his lips when he saw the strange, mad fire in Hardrup’s eyes.

Palle couldn’t remember if he demanded money, and Kai Moller would never tell, as the gun pointed at him fired twice, and Moller fell dead.

Other bank employees fell to the floor behind their counters, visitors fled through the main entrance, and only Hans Wisbom, the bank manager, looked the robber straight in the face. For his bravery, he paid with his life, sprawling on the floor with a bullet in his head.

When Palle stood trial, he recounted a strange story of how he was subjected to hypnosis by a certain Bjorn Nielsen, who repeatedly, three times a week for three months, instructed him to rob this bank and shoot the cashier if he refused to hand over the money.

Under such constant pressure, Palle told the jury, he became nothing more than a zombie, losing control of his will, thus the crime could not be avoided.

Though the jury accepted Nielsen’s statement that he wasn’t present at the crime scene when it occurred, they believed Palle Hardrup’s testimony that he was simply a robot, controlled by Nielsen’s evil will through hypnosis. Nielsen was charged with planning the robbery and inciting murder.

Such a charge was unprecedented, and the Danish court had to prove that Nielsen deliberately coerced Hardrup against his will to commit the crime by repeatedly subjecting him to hypnotic suggestion. Proving such was not easy.

The trial was sensational in many respects. As expected, Palle Hardrup was found guilty of double murder and attempted bank robbery. He was sentenced to treatment in a mental hospital with release after two years if he was fully cured by then.

Palle’s treatment prolonged, and he was not discharged from the hospital until 1967 (after another court hearing). After all this, the man changed his name to Palle Wishman and tried to forget everything that had happened to him. He didn’t even tell his last companion anything. Palle passed away in 2012.

The case with Nielsen was entirely different. Here, experienced experts with convincing evidence were needed to persuade even the criminal himself. The main witness in the case was Dr. Paul Reiter, head of the psychiatric department of the Copenhagen city hospital.

He testified that at the time of the crime, Hardrup acted against his normal desires and impulses. In fact, he acted in a painful, semi-conscious state, devoid of his own will by repeated hypnotic suggestion. A volitional impulse sent from outside led him to the criminal act.

Bjorn Nielsen was sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned after a review of the case in 1967. It was decided that there was no evidence conclusively proving that his “subject” Palle was under hypnosis during the murder. However, the story left an indelible mark on Nielsen’s psyche, and in 1974, he committed suicide in his apartment by taking cyanide.


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