Criminal Hypnosis: the case of Palle Hardrup/Hardwick

Thanks to the arrogant bragging of a criminal hypnotist Bjorn Nielsen, his manipulation of Palle Hardrup (also Hardwick) in Denmark in the 1940s to rob a bank and murder a teller and bank manager was witnessed by numerous people and corroborated by a police investigator, resulting in Palle’s acquittal – unfortunately, only temporary.

Nielsen was a street-smart, self-taught con man who bragged in prison about having developed a “perfect” crime, in which someone else would take the fall.

Palle Hardrup had been a serious, spiritually-minded teenager when he was recruited – for three months which he said ruined his life – into the Nazi party and then was sent to prison after the occupation along with other Nazis.  There, he was recognized by prison staff as a “polite…well-behaved…young idealist,” though Palle wrote in his journal about his depression and despair over his relationship with God.

Nielsen befriended Palle with stories of his spiritual mastery and, because Nielsen had daily access to Palle on the prison workforce, he was able to slowly convince him to let him be his teacher, though Palle initially resisted.  Yoga and meditation exercises eventually led, when they became cellmates, to trance states and hypnosis.  After daily contact for most of two years, Palle and Nielsen were both released.

Nielsen was able to convince Palle to marry a woman he did not love in order to get him out of his parents’ home, and then tried, less successfully, to make his wife another hypnotic subject, but he didn’t spend as much time with her.

He also filled Palle with ideas of a national revolution for which Palle would be the instigator, and for which Nielsen had Palle draw up organizational charts and badges for members while he was under hypnosis, to support a story he’d have Palle tell as an explanation for why he needed the money, should he be caught.

After two more years of hypnotic conditioning, Palle robbed the first bank and gave all the money to Nielsen, but felt confused when his wife asked him questions that hadn’t been covered by his hypnotic instructions.  His phone calls to Nielsen calmed him but aroused his wife’s suspicions.

Two years later, when Nielsen’s money was running out, he tapped Palle again for another robbery.  This time, the teller hesitated and Palle, in hypnotic trance, shot the teller and the bank manager dead.

When an alarm went off, which had not been covered by hypnotic suggestion, Palle became suddenly wide awake, confused, and panic-stricken.  Nevertheless, when he was captured, he followed his programming and claimed to have robbed the bank entirely alone without any accomplice.  Nielsen had chosen to be out of the country at the time.

When news of the robberies and murders was published, fellow prisoners began to come forward, including one who told investigators that Nielsen had made Palle “virtually a slave, giving up all his personal possessions and even much of his prison food to him.  The code, or trigger sign which always sent Hardrup into a deep trance, was the sign of an X, and Nielsen had so conditioned his subject that whenever this sign was made, he went straight into a state of somnambulance.  The informer insisted that although Hardrup had carried out the raid, Nielsen’s was certainly the mind controlling him at the time.”  (police investigator notes)  Released prisoners and those still in prison all told authorities the same thing:  Palle was Nielsen’s hypno-puppet.

Palle, however, continued to protect Nielsen, claiming to have committed the robberies and murders to fund his revolution, and the first doctor to see him diagnosed him as having a “psychotic-like condition” caused by subjection to prolonged, intensive hypnotraining.

Police decided to question Palle again with Nielsen in the room, during which they noticed that Nielsen sat “forward with elbows on knees, arms crossed and hands on his shoulders, thus making a clear X sign.  When told to sit properly, he changed his position for a more upright one, but immediately crossed his legs.  For the duration of the interrogation, a matter of some three hours, he stared intently into Hardrup’s eyes.  It was observed that whenever Nielsen made an X sign, Hardrup renewed his own confessions and protestations of Nielsen’s innocence.”

While Palle was in jail, Nielsen sent him daily letters with innocuous content, always signed with an X.  Another prisoner told authorities that Nielsen had paid him to draw X marks on walls where Palle was sure to see them.

Nielsen was defended in court by the best attorneys money could buy, while the police called in Dr. Paul Reiter, one of Denmark’s foremost hypnosis experts, a lecturer at the University of Copenhagen on psychotherapy and psychosomatic medicine, and an expert on criminal psychiatry.  Until meeting Palle, he did not believe that criminal hypnosis was possible.

Over a period of months, Reiter was able to break through Nielsen’s programming to program Palle instead to begin chronicling his relationship with Nielsen over the years, in careful detail, only what he knew was absolutely true with no embellishment.  With Nielsen’s communications broken, Palle began to write about and finally come to understand his four years of hypno-programming by Nielsen.

In court, the police seated Nielsen and Palle next to each other, and witnesses claimed to overhear Nielsen remind Palle of his duty to X, after which it took Reiter ten days to return their hypnotic rapport to what it had been.

Unfortunately, Nielsen’s defense team was able to have Palle’s attorney dismissed from the case and replaced by a new attorney who had only two weeks to prepare to argue one of the most technically unfamiliar and complex legal cases to ever enter the Danish court system.

At trial, Palle and Nielsen were again seated next to each other, where Nielsen murmured about what X wanted.

Toward the end of the trial, both Nielsen and Palle were given one week to read Reiter’s report on Palle, and Reiter was not allowed to see Palle during this time.

Reiter’s report reflected his clinical strategies, tightly focused on winning the case by proving that Palle could indeed be hypno-programmed – but it was not written with what might have been a therapist’s concern for a client’s sensibilities on reading about his own victimization.  Despite the fact that Palle had written down memories of what Nielsen had done to him, he had not yet fully processed the emotions.

Reiter pleaded with the court to delay this move, to let him prepare Palle for the shock of what was in the report and its clinical and legal style, but that request was rejected, as Nielsen’s lawyers were demanding the report immediately.  The court denied Reiter permission to see Palle until two days before the next court date.

So Palle was handed Reiter’s report and told he had a week to read it.  Until he read it, Palle had believed his autobiography had been his own idea, he hadn’t remembered much of his sessions with Reiter, and he had believed he’d fallen in love with his wife on his own and had allowed Nielsen to have sex with her of his own will – for which he had felt terribly guilty, and now was filled with grief and anger.  He writhed in shame as he read the clinical report and had no one to talk to about it.  Crafted for the judge and jury, of course, the report didn’t give any impression that Reiter even liked him.  Palle’s lack of sleep and mental distress led to nightmares about X.

Two days prior to trial, Reiter was able, with effort, to reestablish his benevolent control over Palle and suggested that Palle have no more nightmares, which worked the first night, but not the second.

When Palle appeared for court, he was exhausted and very ill-at-ease.  Reiter needed to demonstrate that Palle could be hypnotized (defense asserted that he could not be) and then demonstrate that Palle’s obedience to X was really obedience to Nielsen.  Palle, in a hypnotic state induced for the court audience, struggled against a dark angel who threatened to throw him in the abyss for his disobedience, which distracted Palle from Reiter’s attempts at demonstration.  As Palle fell into his imaginary hell, he was on the verge of healing himself from all hypnotic spells, during which he saw X and Reiter come together into one!  Both had indeed forced their way into his susceptible mind; both had made him do things he was not aware of; and in that moment there was no difference to Palle.  And in that moment he woke up – on his own accord, and then burst into violent sobs.

When Reiter tried to induce him again, it did not work.  Instead, he jumped up with such agitation that two guards immediately jumped forward to protect Reiter, followed by six more.  Palle could not be restrained and broke away from all eight officers, but paused in the hallway and allowed Reiter to calm him.  Reiter sedated Palle on the stand, where he demonstrated that even with the narcotic, he was no longer hypnotizable.  Palle explained to the court the edge of the abyss of damnation he’d been on, his struggle with X, his falling, and the merger of the X and Reiter figures.

Reiter, at first, could not believe it and asked Palle to agree it was not logical.  Palle agreed.  “It’s not logic but my soul that’s speaking, my soul which is in shreds.  It is my unconscious part…and that has nothing to do with logic.”  Dr. Reiter could never hypnotize Palle again.

This was only the trial preliminaries.  Palle’s new lawyer stayed on the case for the next two years, during which time Nielsens’s defense team set out to prove that Palle was insane and/or a liar, and they worked to deprive Palle of legal and psychiatric aid.

Even though Nielsen’s attorney’s employed a medical expert witness who asserted the dogma of “moral integrity,” stating that no one will do anything against their will under hypnosis, the judge and jury found Nielsen guilty of robbery, attempted robbery, and manslaughter – having determined that serious criminal acts could be caused by a criminal hypnotist’s manipulations of a somnambulist subject.

Unfortunately, the jury also found Palle guilty and sentenced him to life in an institution for the criminally insane.

Palle began writing another autobiography, often expressing grief for the sorrow he caused his parents and wife and child:  “what a blight it must have cast over their life…to see how I slowly drifted away from them in a strange way that they could neither understand nor do anything about.”

Reiter negotiated to have Palle released from the institution for the insane to a regular hospital, but two days before he had the confirmation, Nielsen’s attorneys  submitted new information to open the case.

Rather than face another trial, Palle, not knowing he was soon to be a “free man,” secretly sent a letter to Nielsen’s attorneys, admitting to all crimes and denying that Nielsen had anything to do with them.  Then he sent a letter to his own attorney asking that the word hypnosis be removed entirely from the case.

Palle’s lawyer asked the court to once again provide a psychiatric hypnosis specialist, which so infuriated Palle that his attorney quit.  The new lawyer meekly accepted Palle’s new request.

The appeals court now had to determine which of Palle’s three confessions was the true one.  Nielsen, too, began writing letters to the court, referring to the “poor psychotic fellow” and writing letters again to Palle, which the court allowed!

Palle appeared on the stand “aggressive, cynical, impudent, reticent, dishonest.”  Reiter, an observer now, wrote, “His artificially created secondary personality was now plainly dominant.”

Dr. Sturup, the head doctor at the Institution for Psychopaths, where Palle was confined testified that at the hospital Palle was well-behaved, always quiet and appropriate, and curiously different from his courtroom behavior.  He also said that Palle rarely spoke of his case, but when he did, it contradicted his statements in court.  For instance, in the hospital he told the doctor, “Of course, hypnosis played a part” in what was going on, and “Anyone ought to be able to see all that is in Reiter’s report can’t be wrong.”  He and many other observers noticed the affect Nielsen’s presence had on Palle and his continuous making of X gestures.

After calling Reiter to testify (but still not allowed to speak with Palle), the court agreed to stop communication between Nielsen and Palle, but another prisoner had just previously been brought in to Palle’s unit who began giving Palle instructions from X, resulting in Palle turning over his parents’ full inheritance to this new resident, who escaped, was captured, and confessed all.

The Court of Appeals issued a preliminary report in May 1957, evaluating Palle’s mental state as “an artificially established, induced psychosis, created and developed through the influence of another person…making use of all the ways and means at his disposal…including hypnosis.”  It concluded that “induced impulses (post-hypnotic suggestions) had been used by Nielsen to exploit his control over Palle with criminal intent.”

Unfortunately, a month later, the same court concluded that Palle’s second confession best matched the evidence, finding him guilty, and refused further appeals.  Mercifully, he only spent a few more years in prison.

Nielsen’s attorneys, however, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided in Nielsen’s favor.

Reiter’s book about the case also reviewed expert research and opinion from the 8th and 19th century European hypnotists.

This case is usually misrepresented by American writers, especially by Aaron Moss, ironically an expert on disguised hypnotic induction!  Several American research hypnotists have quoted Moss as being the final word on Palle’s case.

Reiter has opined that these strident denials of the possibility of unethical hypnosis in the face of so much evidence amount to simple dogma:  “… the growth of this dogma was due to very human motives, not the least on the part of a number of professional hypnotizers…who understandably enough wished to reassure a public likely to be alarmed by the dangerous potentialities of hypnotism.”  (Reiter, 1958, pp 38-39.)

This article is a summary of “Case History:  Palle Hardwick,” a chapter from Secret, Don’t Tell: The Encyclopedia of Hypnotism, by Carla Emery, which covers five cases which made world history, a partial history of CIA mind control research, trance phenomena, induction methods, and legal and therapy issues in criminal hypnosis.  Carla Emery is most known for her classic Encylcopedia of Country Living, a best-seller since the 1960s.

When I spoke with Carla before she died, she told me that she’d been motivated to do this research when a friend began to struggle to understand and heal her government mind control programming.   I hope to summarize more from the book.

If you want to buy it, please do not buy from Amazon, but from – a small bookstore site operated by her former husband with old-fashioned checks in the postal mail.  Alternatively, go to if you need to purchase online.

3 thoughts on “Criminal Hypnosis: the case of Palle Hardrup/Hardwick

  1. Jean Eisenhower

    I’d suggest checking more carefully. He had been programmed to claim it was his own action, but the evidence – the testimony of many witnesses over years, a doctor, a police investigator, and judges – indicates that his one (maybe two) confessions were programmed. But someone should research it further. His having been programmed resonates with me and my own experiences.

    Thanks for writing. It’s good to ask questions, but sometimes it only leads into a rabbit hole, and then we have to go with our guts.

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