The Real People Behind the Cast of Characters
Many of the characters in the Kopp Sisters novels are based on real people. These biographies were compiled with the help of family members, newspaper accounts, and genealogical records. Find out more about Constance Kopp’s world here. Click each image for a higher-quality version.
Constance was born in Brooklyn in 1878 and was thirty-five years old when Henry Kaufman ran his automobile into her buggy. According to newspaper reports, she was six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. Over the years she had tried to study to be a nurse or a lawyer but her mother discouraged it. She also spoke French and two dialects of German. She once told a reporter that she had no interest in marriage which, in those days, would have almost certainly meant staying home. She said, “Some women prefer to stay at home and take care of the house. Let them. There are plenty who like that kind of work enough to do it. Others want something to do that will take them out among people and affairs. A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.”
Norma was born in Brooklyn in 1883 and was thirty-one at the time of the accident. Sadly, no pictures seem to have survived of Norma (and she is not to be confused with the light opera singer of the same name!). According to family, she was not the easiest person in the world to get along with. She was stubborn, highly opinionated, and had a mind like a steel trap. Her obituary described her as a “huntswoman very capable with guns” and “fearless.”
Fleurette was born in 1897 and was sixteen when this story began. She was a very talented seamstress who always made her own clothes. She stood about five feet tall and, according to family, was always very well-dressed. Like Norma and Constance, she spoke fluent French and German. As a teenager she was involved in theater and entered a few singing contests around Paterson. Her family remembers her as an excellent driver, but the record shows otherwise: There are several newspaper articles about Fleurette getting into car accidents as a young woman! In later years, she sewed patterns for Vogue, and worked as a private tailor, making entire wardrobes for well-to-do women.
Francis was born in 1875 and married Bessie Debaun in about 1908. Bessie, born 1880, worked as a teacher before she married. No photos survive of Francis. According to his family, his work as a basket importer sent him all over the world, including to China, and he always made sure to send something beautiful home to Bessie. Their son Francis was born in 1909 and Lorraine was born in 1918. Photo courtesy of Dennis O'Dell.
Because his name was so common, it’s difficult to confirm the details of Henry Kaufman’s life or to locate a photo of him. Based on census records, it appears that he was born in Germany in 1870 and immigrated in 1893, at the age of 23. He worked a variety of odd jobs in the Paterson silk industry in the early 1900s. By May 1914, just before the collision with the Kopps, he was in business with his brother running a silk dyeing factory in Paterson. His wife, Rebecca, filed for divorce that month. They had three children. It looks like Henry left town after his trouble with the Kopps, and Rebecca stayed at their home in Paterson and worked as a bookkeeper and stenographer.
Robert Heath was born in Hackensack in 1878. His father, Milward Warren Heath, was born in South Carolina and fought with the Confederates in the Civil War. In Hackensack Milward served as a judge, fire chief, druggist, and dentist. Heath’s mother, Sarah Gamewell, was the daughter of the inventor of the Gamewell fire alarm system. Robert Heath was one of ten children, five of whom died in childbirth. In 1900 he married Cordelia Gertrude Westervelt, daughter of Frances Westervelt, who was a librarian and prominent local historian. The Heaths had three children, born 1907, 1910, and 1913. Heath served as undersheriff from 1911-1913, and was then elected sheriff of Bergen County.
John Ward was born in Paterson in 1880. He attended Columbia and then New York Law School. He married his first wife, Clara Vanderburgh, in 1908. They divorced and he married Flora Roberta Nettleton in 1916. Ward started his career in his father’s law firm, then formed Ward & McGinnis with Peter McGinnis, who served in the state senate from 1912-1914. They handled a variety of civil cases and many divorce suits, as well as some high-profile criminal cases. In 1907 he defended Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani against charges of inciting riots in Paterson during a 1902 silk strike, resulting in a hung jury and winning Galleani his freedom. He was less successful in defending Joseph Mustol, who was convicted in 1908 of murder. Mustol was part of a crime family involved in the high-profile Cortese mail bomb case of 1907. Photo courtesy of Patricia Mott Meckley Becker
John Courter was born in 1869 and married Emma Louise Quackenbush in 1889. Two years later they had their only child, Bertha. Courter was working as a farmer in 1900, and by 1910 he was serving as deputy sheriff. He was working for the county prosecutor’s office in 1914-1915, but he had bigger plans. (Stay tuned!)
Doctor Reverend Baron Herman Albert von Matthesius (yes, he really went by all those names!) was, according to newspaper reports, a German doctor who went to medical school in Berlin before serving in the Panama Canal Zone and on the Mexican border, around El Paso, during the Mexican Revolution. He then went to southern California for a time, to work in a "nervous institution," before coming to Rutherford, NJ, where he was arrested for wrongdoings at a sanatorium he ran there. This is a very early style of mugshot, from the days when photography was only just becoming a regular part of law enforcement work.
Because of some discrepancies in the historical record, it's hard to know for certain whether this passport photo of Edna Heustis belongs to the real Edna Heustis of MISS KOPP'S MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS. However, it's quite likely. In real life, Edna Heustis was born in 1898 and lived her entire life in Passaic County, NJ. Her father was Charles Heustis (or Huestis, records differ) and her mother, according to newspaper records, was Monvilla, although Census records suggest it might have been Catherine. She had a half-sister, Agnes.
Freeman Bernstein was born in Troy, NY in 1873. He entered the amusement and entertainment business in 1900 and married May Ward in 1906. He was a legendary con man who--believe it or not--even tried to hustle Hitler. For more on Freeman Bernstein's astonishing career in vaudeville, don't miss the biography written by his grand-nephew, Walter Shapiro, called Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer. (Image courtesy of the University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Libraries Special Collections)
May Ward was born in New York in 1881 as May Southward. She got her start on the stage in Chicago in 1897. By the time she married Freeman Bernstein in 1906, she was a minor vaudeville star. She went on to star in a few early moving pictures and returned to the stage many times through the 1920s. By 1929, she'd made her last stage appearance and lived a quiet life in East Rockaway until her death in 1936. She and Freeman had a tempestuous marriage: for more about them, please do read Walter Shapiro's biography of Freeman Bernstein, Hustling Hitler.
Beulah Binford (featured in Kopp Sisters on the March) was born in Virginia, probably Richmond, in 1892. Her parents appear to have been separated, and Beulah and her sister were raised by her grandparents. In 1906, at the age of thirteen, Beulah began to live what would have been called a "disreputable life" in Richmond's red-light district. Her involvement with a wealthy young man nine years her senior led to her name being attached to a scandalous crime that shocked the nation. She appears to have moved to New York in 1911 or 1912. After that, her trail is harder to follow. It's possible that she married and changed both her first and last name.