Escapism: fugitives caught

Sweden awoke on Wednesday morning to the news that Tony Olsson, serving a life sentence for murdering two policemen in 1999, had escaped from Hall prison in Södertälje just after midnight. He was joined by three other prisoners. All four men have now been recaptured.

The drama began at 11.45pm on Tuesday when a prisoner called for help, saying he was sick and needed medicine. Two female prison officers went to investigate but were met by Tony Olsson, who was out of his cell and carrying a pistol. He forced the guards to hand over their keys and released the three other men from the cells.

They locked one of the guards in a cell and took the other one with them to a visiting room, where they fired a number of shots at a window. But the window did not break and the men threatened to kill the guard unless she let them out.

Outide the prison a red Saab 9000, which had been stolen from a car park at Kungens Kurva outside Stockholm on Monday, was waiting for them with a driver.

On Wednesday morning the car was found abandoned near a lake, Grindsjön, around 30 km from Södertälje. The police search focused on the immediate area of the lake and at 5.30pm on Wednesday the first of the prisoners was recaptured.

He was Alfred Sansiviero, 35, who was serving an 11-year sentence for serious drugs offences and robbery. According to Svenska Dagbladet he was spotted in the grounds of Sweden’s defence institute (FOI). Staff called the police who arrived fifteen minutes later and Sansiviero “sat under a fir tree while a police dog tracked him down”.

“He was somewhat reluctant,” said Conny Hellqvist, a police spokesman. “But the arrest was undramatic.”

At around 10am on Thursday a second prisoner was caught in the vicinity of Grindsjön. 29 year old Mahmoud Amaya, who was serving three years for assault and serious robbery, was arrested by police officers who were checking buildings in the area. He was walking down a sidestreet when he was seen by the police, and gave himself up calmly.

Then on Thursday afternoon the third of Olsson’s accomplices was caught. Daniel Maiorana, 27, said to be one of the country’s most dangerous criminals, was serving seven years for robbery. This was his third prison escape, having broken out of Hall in 2002 and Kumla prison earlier this year.

He was found under a bridge, also near Grindsjön, by a combined team from the elite SWAT unit, NI, and a Stockholm police dog patrol.

Earlier suggestions that the most sought-after of the four, Tony Olsson, had already left the country appeared to be dismissed late on Thursday as the police focused their efforts on the area where the first three were captured.

“We are continuing to work on the theory that the fourth fugitive is still in the forests,” said Lars Nylén of the National Police Department, “but naturally we’re also looking for him in other places.”

When asked by the media where those other places might be, Nylén replied “everywhere”. While that was perhaps not meant to be taken literally it was an indication of the level of resources being committed to finding Tony Olsson.

Olsson himself was described by various papers as “one of the country’s most well-known prisoners”. At the age of 18 he was sentenced to a year and a half in jail for threatening to shoot the foreign owner of a pizza restaurant and on his release he joined a Nazi organisation in Örebro, later becoming its leader.

On 28th May 1999 Olsson and two others stole 2.6 million crowns from a bank in Kisa, in Östergötland. Two policemen, Olle Borén and Robert Karlström, stopped the robbers on a main road in Malexander, 25 km from Kisa. But when they tried to arrest the three men, the officers were overpowered and shot dead with their own weapons.

Two days after the murder, Olsson fled to Costa Rica, aided by his fianceé. But a week later police caught up with him in his hired villa outside the capital, San José, where they found a million crowns in cash.

In January 2000 Olson and his accomplices were found guilty of murder, attempted murder and serious robbery. and sentenced to life imprisonment.

How he came to be outside his cell and armed with a gun late on Tuesday night is unclear, but there is no shortage of scapegoats. Thursday’s Stockholm City observed that the escape can only have been possible with the assistance of staff at Hall, while according to DN the head of the prison, Tomas Berger praised the institution’s security but admitted that part of the responsibility for its failure lay with him.

Meanwhile, Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the Moderate Party, seized the opportunity to call for the justice minister, Thomas Bodström, to resign.

“When Tony Olsson can stroll right out of a Swedish prison, anyone else can escape,” he told Aftonbladet. “Thomas Bodström must take responsibility. He can’t carry on with his teflon tactics, pretending he’s new in the job.”

There have been a number of high profile escapes in recent years and Reinfeldt criticised the “typically Swedish” attitude that allows mistakes like this to be repeated.

“We have a culture of explanation instead of a culture of responsibility,” he said. “It’s a recurring technique used not least by Thomas Bodström.”

But an explanation may suffice once again. At 9.45am today, Friday, Olsson was found hiding in the loft of an old building near Tegelvreten, 4.5km from where the car was abandoned.

He was armed but police arrested him without a shot being fired.

“It feels good,” said a police spokesman.

Now the attention turns to the staff at Hall prison – some of whom may find themselves on the other side of the bars before too long.