In Hungary, Richard Hoffman's family had been the manufacturers of Hoffman's Rose Water, a product which was used at that time for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Hoffman's mother drank the rose water for her indigestion, and his father used it to scent and cool his groin after exercise. The servants rinsed the Hoffman's table linens in a cold bath infused with rose water, such that even the kitchen would be perfumed. The cook mixed a dash of it into her sweetbread batter. For evening events, Budapest ladies wore expensive imported colognes, but Hoffman's Rose Water was a staple product of daytime hygiene for all women, as requisite as soap. Hungarian men could be married for decades without ever realizing that the natural smell of their wives' skin was not, in fact, a refined scent of blooming roses.

Richard Hoffman's father was a perfect gentleman, but his mother slapped the servants. His paternal grandfather had been a drunk and a brawler, and his maternal grandfather had been a Bavarian boar-hunter, trampled to death at the age of ninety by his own horses. After her husband died of consumption, Hoffman's mother transferred the entirety of the family's fortune into the hands of a handsome Russian charlatan named Katanovsky, a common conjurer and a necromancer, who promised Madame Hoffman audiences with the dead. As for Richard Hoffman himself, he moved to America, where he murdered two people.