The first two names to surface as possible suspects were Stein’s ex-boyfriend, Francisco Arena, and the broker who had spurned her, Raul Garcia Bernal. But they were apparently cleared within days. Then there was Lowery. Police interviewed her the day after the murder and released her. Although they told no one in those early days, police knew Lowery appeared in the building’s security footage leaving at about the time of the murder carrying a bag and checking the soles of her feet. Could she have been checking for blood?
When Lowery first met with detectives, her lawyer, Gilbert Parris, says he asked police not to question her without him present. She was permitted to go. But police spent the next several days searching for physical evidence in Stein’s apartment. They took the bathtub apart, complete with part of the drainpipe; removed living-room carpet fibers and clothing; and even took a section of Stein’s apartment door that apparently had a smudge on it.
Days passed without any apparent movements in the case. But someone may have decided Lowery deserved further scrutiny, because on November 7, her sealed identity-theft arrest from last year was made public in the pages of the Daily News. Reporters set up camp outside Lowery’s building in Williamsburg, and the next day, police say, she called the police to complain. Detectives Kevin Walla and Antonio Rivera met her without her lawyer—first at Kellogg’s Diner in Williamsburg, then in a precinct house on the Lower East Side. By 6 a.m. the next day, police say, they had their confession.
In a press conference on November 9, Commissioner Ray Kelly said that Lowery explained she’d been oppressed by Stein in any number of ways—physically, racially, and especially verbally. It was the harangues that seemed to get to her the most. “She was constantly yelling at me,’’ she reportedly said, adding that Stein wouldn’t stop and that she couldn’t take it anymore. In her confession, police say, Lowery said things came to a head that day, when Stein started blowing pot smoke in her face and cursing at her as she worked on the computer—“Get the fucking e-mails! How can you be so fucking slow!”—all the while waving a four-pound strength-building yoga stick at her.
Lowery “would not smack a fly on her forehead,” an ex-boyfriend said. Another friend called her “a pathological liar.”
Police say Lowery said she tried to do as she was told, getting the e-mails, and that Stein offered to buy her lunch, perhaps to make peace with her. “I’ve got my own money,” Lowery is said to have admitted replying. Then, police say, came what Lowery said was the final straw. “Black people don’t have any money,” police say Stein snapped. “Save your money and I’ll buy you lunch.” In her confession, Lowery is said to have admitted she grabbed the weight and hit her boss in the head six or seven times before fleeing.
But Lowery, police suspect, didn’t leave without covering her tracks. She cleaned the apartment, they say, and they believe she left with the murder weapon, which is still missing. Stein’s head was covered. Lowery even answered Stein’s cell phone, telling a caller she couldn’t come to the phone, and left the apartment and then came back, returning the phone before Mandy arrived. That night, police say, she used Stein’s ATM card and pin number to withdraw $800. “Linda wouldn’t have had her arrested if she stole $1,000 or $2,000,” says one friend, “which makes it sad, even worse.”
Lowery’s family is bristling under instructions from her lawyer not to talk, but in brief comments on the phone, they say their daughter loved Stein, that Stein’s family had fingered Natavia as the murderer from the beginning, and that they believe her confession was coerced—that she begged for the chance to call her family. “They took her in the room and told her her mother would be filling out a missing-persons report if she didn’t confess,” Julia Carrow says.
On the phone from Rikers, Lowery has told her aunt that the pot-smoke story is fiction. “That didn’t happen,” Carrow says. “She said she did not do that.” She goes on to say Lowery was incapable of doing what she’s allegedly confessed to. “My niece is not even big enough to beat Linda,” she says. “This is a person who was enraged. My niece doesn’t even fight. She’s afraid someone’s going to get her hair messed or snap one of her little nails.”
Carrow says it would have made no sense for Lowery to have killed Stein. “Natavia was there when Linda’s daughter called her, saying she was going to be coming in that night,” she says. “Who would kill somebody knowing she was on the phone with her daughter and her daughter was coming in?” The answer, at least according to police, is a young woman so angry that she simply snapped.