Monday, October 12, 2015

Constance Kopp and the Story Behind "Girl Waits With Gun"

Constance Kopp and the Story Behind "Girl Waits With Gun"
Written by Amy Stewart

I live in Eureka, CA, which is exactly 3,027 miles away from Bergen County. But for the last three years, I’ve spent most of my waking hours thinking about Wyckoff, Hackensack, and—eight miles closer to home—Paterson.

It started with a single newspaper clipping from 1915. I was doing research about something else entirely, but—like so many Internet searches—I took a wrong turn and ended up reading about Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp, three sisters who lived in Wyckoff and found themselves on the receiving end of some criminal mischief. The criminal in question was Henry Kaufman, owner of a silk dye factory in Paterson. He ran his car into a buggy they were driving and refused to pay for the damages. The conflict escalated until they were getting kidnapping threats, shots fired at their house, and all kinds of harassment and intimidation.

The oldest sister, Constance, went to Bergen County prosecutor John Courter for help. He wasn’t interested in the case, but Sheriff Robert Heath was. Heath issued revolvers to the sisters, and they went after Kaufman together.

It’s a remarkable story, one that seemed worth chasing after, even if it meant flying across the country over and over. Every time I go, I drive around in complete amazement, following the footsteps of these three women I’ve been writing about, searching for some bit of their story that might still be around.

I knew nothing about the silk strikes when I started my research. But given the fact that Kaufman was a factory owner, I knew the strikes would play a role, even though they ended just before the Kopp’s run-in with Kaufman began. I read everything I could about them and was especially moved by the photos of the striking workers’ children being sent off to live with sympathetic families in New York until their parents got back to work and could afford to feed them again.

To tell that story, I wove in a fictional character, Lucy Blake, whose baby was lost during the children’s evacuation. Constance couldn’t help but get involved, and—well, you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest.

I hope you’ll visit my website to see more photos and background on these remarkable Bergen County women, and come out to one of my book tour events if you’re in the area. And if you happen to have an interest in Bergen and Passaic County law enforcement and crime-fighting in the 1910s and 1920s, please get in touch, because I am still doing research!

About the Book
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

About the Author
Amy Stewart is the author of seven books. Her latest, Girl Waits With Gun, is a novel based on a true story. She has also written six nonfiction books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers: The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She lives in Eureka, California, with her husband Scott Brown, who is a rare book dealer. They own a bookstore called Eureka Books.

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