If they seemed like just another pair locked in the familiar Manhattan boss-assistant microdramas, that all changed on the night of October 30, when Mandy, Stein’s youngest daughter, discovered her mother’s body face down in the living room of her Fifth Avenue penthouse in a pool of blood. The hood of Stein’s sweatshirt had been pulled over her head. Police thought she might have fallen, but then they pulled the hood back. Someone had hit her with something heavy, the medical examiner would later determine, as many as six or seven times. There was no jewelry missing, no sign of a sex attack. The untidy, brutal method of the killing suggested it wasn’t premeditated but a crime of passion. It didn’t take long for the police to come to believe what many of those closest to her had suspected right away—that Linda Stein had finally, perhaps inevitably, pissed off the wrong person.
The last person to see her alive, police said, was Natavia Lowery.
Linda Stein was a proud member of a generation whose parents had struggled to get ahead for the sake of their children, only to see them rebel—first with rock and roll, then with the entire design of their lives. Born Linda Adler in 1945 in Manhattan and raised in Riverdale, she was teaching fifth-graders in the Bronx when she found her ticket out of a dreary middle-class existence. She was fixed up with Seymour Stein, the uncle of one of her students and a music-industry prodigy who had worked at Billboard as a teen, helping to create the first Hot 100 singles list, and knew the personalities in the Brill Building inside and out. Seymour’s life had a Phil Spector–like arc—he was a kid from Brooklyn who’d made it big in the city. He had started his own production company, Sire Records, on West 74th Street. When he met Linda, she was a neighborhood girl who loved rock and roll as much as he did and was looking to enter the same world he’d already begun to master.
In 1971, Linda and Seymour married and set up house in a nine-room apartment at the Kenilworth on Central Park West that he stocked with Deco long before anyone else was collecting it (the auction at Sotheby’s in 2003 was called “The Collecting Eye of Seymour Stein”). They threw parties for others like them in the music world, former outsiders who’d found a home in the business. They traveled the world with friends like Reginald Dwight, whom Linda and Seymour met in San Francisco in 1970, before he became Elton John. And Bob Dylan, with whom she’d famously tell people she had phone sex. The Steins had two daughters, Samantha and Mandy, but that didn’t appear to slow them down. Linda spent much of the early seventies traveling around the world with her friend Elton, onstage with him at Dodger Stadium, at his side when he dined with Princess Margaret. Samantha, Linda loved telling people, crawled out of her crib to find Iggy Pop rolling a joint on the living-room floor.
In 1974, she met one of her closest friends, Danny Fields, who had signed Iggy and the Stooges to Electra in the late sixties. “She was like all the girls I was friends with growing up,” Fields remembers. “Tough, sassy, smart. She was like the girl in Hairspray. She loved everything about rock and roll.” Fields was already a rock-and-roll eminence, and had been friends with Warhol, too, giving Fields a certain street cred Stein’s husband lacked. To Seymour, the Stooges were respectable but an afterthought—they’d never even had a hit. But to Linda, they were the next big thing. Linda and Fields instantly connected. “We always knew that she was a girl from the Bronx and I was a faggot from Queens. There was a bonding there—this outer- borough-to-Manhattan combination. That’s the same river the Ramones crossed. That’s the hardest river to cross.”
Tommy Ramone had been calling Fields constantly, begging the guy who had discovered the Stooges to come hear his band. When Fields finally saw them at CBGB in 1975, he offered to manage them on the spot. Then he called Linda. “You’ve got to see them,” he said. “Bring Seymour. We need him, now.” Seymour signed the Ramones to Sire, but Fields needed Linda, too, to help manage the band as it plotted its assault on Europe. “I couldn’t handle the workload alone,” he says, “and she knew all the international businesspeople. And she was married to the president of the company.”
Fields and Stein both remembered their time with the Ramones as Dionysian—drugs, parties, and, of course, sex. “Oh, Dee Dee!” Fields says of the deceased Ramones bassist. “Everybody fucked Dee Dee.” (Including, he says, both him and Linda.) Stein’s closest friends always seemed to be gay men: Elton, then Fields, then Bob Feiden, her regular escort to Studio 54. A friend says Linda shared some of the traits of the stereotypical seventies gay swinger: “She rode that roller coaster of someone without any regulator on her appetite or ambition. It was nihilism—party nihilism.” Whom she slept with was another matter. “She was attracted to powerful men” like Seymour, says Fields. “But whoever she was having an affair with, she was crazy about. There was usually some cool gorgeous boy, like a bartender at Studio 54. She liked sex. She was like those girls in high school who amazed you because they actually liked sex.”