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Novel Brings 100-Year-Old Wyckoff Crime To Life

In this historical fiction account of a true crime story, three Wyckoff sisters have a run-in with a crooked Paterson silk mill owner. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart Photo Credit: Delightful Eye Photography
A newspaper artists rendition of the Kopp sisters in 1914. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Amy Stewart
The Bergen County Jail (pictured in the early 1900s) played a prominent role in the story. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Amy Stewart

WYCKOFF, N.J. — A century-old true-crime story about three Wyckoff sisters who became the target of death threats from a powerful Paterson silk mill owner hit bookstores this month as historical fiction.

In “Girl Waits With Gun,” best-selling author Amy Stewart resurrects Paterson and its surrounding communities in the aftermath of the 1913 silk strike through the true story of Constance Kopp and her two sisters, Norma and Fleurette.

The action begins in 1914, when the Kopp sisters’ horse drawn carriage is hit by a motorcar in Paterson.

Constance tries to recover $50 in damages from driver and mill owner Henry Kaufman, and the Kopps end up receiving receive death threats at their Sicomac Avenue farmhouse.

They seek the protection of Bergen County Sheriff Robert Heath and news of the “Black Hand threats” becomes the fodder for local and regional newspapers. (The novel’s title comes from an actual headline in the Philadelphia Sun.)

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, "Girl Waits With Gun" includes a mix of real life and fictional characters and locations in Wyckoff, Hawthorne, Paterson, Ridgewood and Hackensack.

Stewart tapped local resources including the Bergen and Passaic County history societies, the Hawthorne Historical Society and libraries in Ridgewood, Paterson and Hackensack.

She also consulted local history and genealogy experts Maria Hopper and Jonathan Rapaport and researched dozens of news articles.

“One thing I thought was very interesting was the sheer number of local newspapers in circulation at the time, and how delightfully, hilariously partisan they were!" Stewart told Daily Voice.

“Today we accuse the media of being biased, but in those days, there was no shame in having a very deep and stubborn bias,” she added, noting the Hackensack Republican constantly sniped at Heath, a Democrat.

"They mocked him and made fun of him in such a marvelously sharp, witty way," Stewart said. "The Bergen County Democrat folded, unfortunately, in 1912, and I'm sure life in Bergen County got a little bit more dull when one side of the rivalry went away.”

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