In Book Series, These Sisters Seek Justice

Author Amy Stewart breathes new life into the real-life tales of the Kopp sisters in her books "Girl Waits With Gun" and "Lady Cop Makes Trouble."

Photo by Terrance McNally

By the time the writer Amy Stewart made a research trip to the Bergen County Justice Center in Hackensack in 2015, she already had an idea what the center’s abandoned, 100-year-old jail looked like. She also knew about Robert Heath, the jail’s original sheriff, and one of his protégés, Constance Kopp.

Kopp, in fact, had “kind of taken over my life by then,” says Stewart, who lives in Eureka, California.

Stewart is the author of 2015’s Girl Waits With Gun and its sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, out this month (both from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Both are loosely based on the adventures of Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the country. Girl Waits With Gun tells the story of Constance and her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, who lived in near poverty in the North Jersey town of Wyckoff. One fateful day in 1914, on an errand to Paterson, the powerful real-life owner of a local silk factory, Henry Kaufman, collided with their horse-drawn carriage.

In the novel, Kaufman is pioneering in his efforts to give New Jersey drivers a bad name. He refuses to pay damages for the accident, and his negligence incites Constance to pursue him until he offers restitution. By the end of the book, Constance’s sleuthing and fearlessness earn her a badge.

In Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Constance trails a scheming escapee from justice who leads her through old-time Rutherford. Knowledgeable readers will recognize Dr. Williams, who helps her piece together clues, as the famed poet William Carlos Williams, who once practiced medicine in Rutherford.

Stewart is already writing a third installment to the series; she expects to keep going. “The Kopp sisters had a really interesting 15-year run in New Jersey,” says Stewart. “It’s going to take me several books to get all the way through.”

Making the publicity rounds, Stewart has found readers all over the country with Jersey connections. “I’ve talked with people whose grandmothers were part of the Paterson silk strikes, and I’ve heard from a relative of Sheriff Heath’s,” she says. “It all comes back to Jersey.”

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