The real life serial killer who inspired Night Driver

Fritz Haarmann (1879-1925)

See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“You won’t kill me; I’ll be back – yes, I shall be among you for all eternity.”
FRITZ HAARMANN (1879-1925)

The serial killer in Night Driver is inspired by the real life murderer Fritz Haarmann. Here he is after his arrest in 1924.


Fritz Haarmann was born in 1879. He remains Germany’s most famous murderer, and has been described as a vampire or werewolf due to his predilection for  biting his male victims to death through the jugular vein. He chopped up his victims in his tiny room, and allegedly sold the meat to local restaurants and threw the remains in the river Leine.

It’s estimated he killed over forty young men in the years 1918-1924, although he was only formerly charged for twenty-four murders. As he worked as a police informant (and passed himself off as a detective) this made the case extra shocking.


This picture of Hans Grans is telling. Devilishly handsome and assured, he became Haarmann’s regular lover despite being twenty-one years younger and a pimp more interested in women. They worked together as con men selling old clothes and cheap meat. Hans probably helped Haarmann procure young boys and more…

Hans meant everything to Haarmann, but Grans had three female lovers who often hung out in Haarmann’s room and prostituted themselves there. It must have been intense. This was the story I wanted to tell: jealousy, rivalry, betrayal.


Over the years Haarmann has become a sympathetic figure in Hanover. We know he was mentally ill and not given a fair trial. Nearly a hundred years later the enduring interest in his case makes him an ambiguous figure. In the last ten years in Germany there have been numerous books about him, a graphic novel, a play, a documentary and even a musical! Why all this interest if it was an open and shut case?


Lots of things about the real life case are intriguing. When you see a photo of Haarmann’s tiny room – which had no running water – just how could he have killed so many people without his live-in lover Hans Grans knowing?

And what about Hans’s three girlfriends who often had tea with Haarmann? The idea that he could have killed and butchered a man (at one point every one and a half weeks) in secret is absurd.


If you were a serial killer, what kind of friends would you have? And if they knew about your weakness, how would this affect your relationship? To reveal the inner world of the murderer I had to get close to his circle of intimates…

Historically not much is known about Hans Grans’s girlfriends: Dora Mrutzek, Elfriede Zwingmann and Emmi Schulz, so I set the story in the modern day to avoid historical inaccuracies. Dora was especially good friends with Haarmann and the idea that she must have known was explored in the German film The Tenderness of Wolves (1973).

“When crime is an occupation, each character, no matter what they’ve done, must ask themselves how far they are prepared to go.”