Death of a Broker

Linda Stein in her Fifth Avenue penthouse in April.Photo: Michael Nagle/Redux

‘Don’t you think it’s lonely as you get older?” Linda Stein asked a friend last month.

As always with Stein, it didn’t sound like a question as much as a pronouncement, emanating in that Bronx rasp from that bright-red-lipsticked mouth atop that tiny, five-foot frame. Existential doubt had never been much of an issue for her: The punk-rock pioneer turned broker to the stars had stormed her way up from middle-class Riverdale to become something of a star herself. In 1975, she’d taken one look at the Ramones, decided they were the future of rock, and helped launch their incendiary ascent. A fixture at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and Studio 54, she leveraged her friendships in the eighties to become the first and greatest celebrity real-estate broker, selling to Madonna, Sting, Donna Karan, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. There were moments, many of them, when her personality upstaged her considerable accomplishments: She was a couture-clad Jewish Auntie Mame to her children, a vicious competitor to her colleagues, a heavy drinker and rampant pot-smoker with a volcanic temper she’d unleash even on her friends, and a compulsively profane guru to her entertainment-business clients, who were desperate for someone to guide them through the gilded briar patch of exclusive Manhattan real estate. “If she doesn’t say fuck twenty times a day,” her daughter Mandy, then a teenager, said in 1991, “she’s repressed.”

Lately, though, Stein hadn’t been herself. She had never fully bounced back from two radical mastectomies in the nineties, and last year, doctors discovered something new: a benign brain tumor that didn’t require surgery but did call for a cocktail of mood stabilizers and other drugs that weakened her to the point where she couldn’t lift her hair dryer. Her right arm was also numb—a lasting side effect of chemo. “She could pick up a glass, but she wouldn’t feel it when she did,” a friend says. A yoga nut since long before it was fashionable, she now needed yoga training just to comb her hair. She had sworn off vodka, more or less, though she still chain-smoked joints like they were cigarettes. She was going to AA, but she was no true believer. “We made fun of meetings,” her old friend Danny Fields says. “I’d say to her, ‘Linda, you can always leave,’ but she’d say, ‘I couldn’t! I was sitting in front of blah-blah-blah. She has seven rooms on East 73rd. She could be my next client!’”

There was always work, but the trophy properties she specialized in were harder to come by and sell. She had two particularly high-profile deals she was having trouble with—photographer Peter Beard’s house in Montauk, listed at $26 million, and Sting’s duplex at 88 Central Park West, asking price $24 million. Both were big exclusives, and she’d go into apoplectic fits about them every few days. She fantasized about leaving town, moving to Rome or Paris. But she’d tell friends, ‘Let’s face it. I am not retiring. I don’t know what I’d do.’”

For some years now, she’d sensed the world was passing her by. The Linda Stein of everyone’s imagination was decades younger—still physically whole, and in every way indomitable. “She set very high expectations for herself,” says a friend. “She felt if she didn’t do a huge deal all the time that she wasn’t living up to her own expectations.” At 62, she was in competition with her own iconhood.

What she really wanted, friends say, was a boyfriend. She would never say it like that; that would make her seem too needy. Instead, she’d let out a trademark Linda moan: “I really need to get laid!” She hadn’t had a serious relationship in several years, and her one recent flirtation, with a suave younger colleague, had ended with her feeling played, then having the guy fired. “She was a big one on getting people fired,” says one of her closest friends.

There was someone new in her professional life, however—an assistant whom Stein’s employer, Prudential Douglas Elliman, had sent in over the summer to replace the one she’d fired in June. Natavia Lowery was 26 years old, a lithe, quiet African-American woman with a pretty smile who had grown up in a Harlem housing project and now lived with her parents in a middle-class high-rise in Brooklyn. For months, no one really knew much about her, or talked much about how she and Stein were getting along, though it was understood that Stein grated on everyone around her. And this wasn’t a typical temp job. What kind of assistant has to line up AA meetings for her boss, go jogging with her, do her boss’s hair? Lowery, according to people close to her, was unnerved by the forced sense of intimacy. Stein, meanwhile, may have recognized something of herself in her new assistant: The girl was an outsider looking to break into a world of wealth and privilege, just as Stein herself had once been. When she was young.

Police escort Natavia Lowery out of the 7th Precinct in Manhattan. She’s charged with second-degree murder.Photo: Gregory Mango/Polaris

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.”

Linda and Seymour Stein with Elton John and the Ramones on New Year’s Eve 1977, in London.Photo: Danny Fields

Her marriage to Seymour had been unwinding for years. They argued about freewheeling spending—“buying those shampoos she couldn’t get in the Bronx,” as Fields puts it. They argued about who had first claim on certain celebrity friends. Their lives became more and more separate, and the marriage ended in 1979. Twelve years later, they were still hammering out the fine print, but they were also, amazingly, still friends. She and the girls stayed in the Kenilworth. “Oh, we had Champagne the day the divorce papers were signed,” Fields says. Linda and Fields dissolved their partnership, too, not long after the Ramones moved on to new management. “I would leave the office in a rage,” Fields remembers. “It was like a marriage. The secretary became her secretary. There was a lot of addressing 5th-birthday-party invitations. We fought. She always said she knew better because she’d been married to Seymour Stein.”

Soon after she and Seymour split up, Linda earned a finder’s fee for bringing an apartment to the attention of Edward Lee Cave, who was in charge of Sotheby’s real-estate division. The apartment belonged to Seymour Stein. He’d toss her three more commissions in the years to come.

It takes a certain kind of person to make a study of the rich and famous and to learn to cater to their unconscious needs without it seeming as if that’s what you’re doing. To have a real-estate broker who can speak confidently with a star about such things, without flinching or cringing or sucking up, Linda Stein came to realize, was a highly marketable skill. “People in the public eye, they can sense when you don’t know how to react to them,” one friend says. “But Linda had a knack for that.”

When newlyweds Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were looking for a place to live, Stein found them two apartments at 88 Central Park West, and the couple joined them into a 7,000-square-foot duplex. When they divorced, Stein helped them sell the place to Sting for $4.8 million. In the eighties and nineties, she helped buy or sell apartments for Andrew Lloyd Webber, Madonna, Bruce Willis, Jann Wenner, Michael Douglas, Steven Spielberg, and her old friend Elton John. In March 1990, when Stein moved from Cave to Douglas Elliman, she signed a deal guaranteeing her a 65 percent share of commissions, not the usual 50-50, a private office, a personal assistant, and a chauffeured BMW. She appeared in “Page Six” eight times that year. When her daughters left the nest, she bought the penthouse on Fifth Avenue. By the mid-nineties, she hit $25 million in sales three years in a row, an enormous sum for the time. Her secret was to treat her clients like children, she said. “Stars and fifth-graders,” she said, laughing, “it’s all the same.”

Stein became an extreme example of a certain kind of character who thrives in the upper echelons of New York real estate. As it was often said, she didn’t have the looks or the money, but she had the force of will. Like the best of the superstar brokers, she dominated clients, told them what to think—yelled at them, cursed even—about how they’d never get past a co-op board on Fifth Avenue and they’d be better off buying a condo on Central Park West. And if there was a co-op board to deal with, watch out: She once snapped at Angelina Jolie to get that fucking vial of Billy Bob’s blood off from around her neck before it cost her a deal.

Her bulldozing didn’t charm everyone. She lost Madonna as a client after she was photographed showing her around co-ops, likely annoying the boards. Patrick McCarthy, the editor of W, demanded his deposit back when she blabbed about a deal of his to this magazine. Sotheby’s fired her when she was quoted in the Times saying, “It’s amazing these guys can ever make a business decision,” referring to businessmen who buy expensive townhouses and then elect not to move in. She repeatedly demanded to her bosses, wherever she worked at the time, that certain colleagues be fired. Many of her peers kept a wary distance. “She was kind of a cheat for small amounts of money,” says one person who did business with her in the nineties. “You had to watch her all the time. She’d beat the dog-walker for $20.” One prominent broker knows “a lot of people at her company who were promised 25 percent or whatever, and when the time came, she just never paid. In her defense, maybe it wasn’t in writing and the person never did any work. But if it happens so often, why don’t you start putting it in writing?”

Linda with Joey Ramone, David Bowie, Dee Dee Ramone, and Danny Fields (standing), in 1979.Photo: Bob Gruen

Her temper often cost her not just deals but friendships. Even her daughters weren’t exempt from her fury. “I’m not talking to that bitch today,” she’d often say about one or the other. But she defended them to others, like any mother would. “Everything concerned her,” a friend says. “Where are they going to live, can they pass the board? And, in the middle of it, ferocious fights. I’d cower in the corner.” She even severed her friendship with Danny Fields over one of her daughters. He’d allowed Mandy to use 60 of his photos in a documentary she produced about the Ramones and, the day before the premiere, he still hadn’t been paid. When his lawyer complained, Fields got a certified check the next day and a phone message from Stein: “Have a nice life.” They didn’t speak for months, he says—over $13,000 that wasn’t even her daughter’s money to pay.

Then there was her cancer. In 1994, she had her first mastectomy and breast reconstruction. The second mastectomy came in 1996. She threw herself into fighting the disease; in some ways, it came to define her. Her theme song, Mandy said at the funeral, was “I Will Survive.” She joined the board of Evelyn Lauder’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation and got Elton John to perform for it in 2001. But she was still Linda. After one event she co-chaired, she called Lauder, furious that the photograph about the event that appeared in the paper didn’t have her in it. “She said, ‘I want to resign from the board,’” Lauder says, but she talked her down from the ledge. “You’re not resigning, and that’s the end of it!” she told her. She now recalls, “I learned you had to talk to her the way she talked to you.”

Stein became an extreme example of a certain kind of character that thrives in the upper echelons of New York real estate. As it was often said, she didn’t have the looks or the money, but she had the force of will.

Her last known lover, a 68-year-old Italian contractor named Francisco Arena, did several renovations for Stein—he helped her through her latest bout of surgery, and they remained close after breaking up. In 2005, she started spending more time with 49-year-old Raul Garcia Bernal, her sales assistant at Elliman. Her friends called him “the Cuban.” “She felt hurt by him,” one friend says. “She definitely wanted more of a relationship than there ended up being.” The final straw came last year, when he walked away from her at a $5,000-a-plate breast-cancer benefit she’d paid for him to come to so that he could work the room. It became clear, friends say, that Bernal only wanted her for her contacts.

This past summer, Stein had been seeing a doctor about her brain tumor while renting a house in East Hampton, paid for, she said, by her bosses at Elliman. “It was definitely below-grade for Linda,” says a friend—on the correct side of the Montauk Highway but with fixtures that looked like they came from Home Depot. “She hated that house. She would call it ‘the horrible rental.’” She made the best of it by visiting with new friends like Jamie Drake, the interior designer, whom she asked to fix her up with any eligible men, and old friends like Paul Morrissey, who for several summers loaned her a cottage on the beach at Eothen, his estate in Montauk. She’d decided to return to Montauk next summer. There were ghosts from those years, like Linda McCartney, with whom she bonded over cancer. But Montauk, she believed, was the answer. It spoke to her of a younger self, one more alive and potent. “This is for me,” she told Morrissey. “I’m gonna be in Montauk again.”

A few weeks before she died, Robby Browne, a friend and broker from Corcoran, saw her at an event at the Sherry-Netherland. “I hugged her really tight. I was worried about her over the summer.” Browne pressed against Stein’s reconstructed chest.

“Well,” Browne said, “your boobs feel good, so you must be doing all right.”

“Yes,” she said. Pretty terse, for Linda.

“And your brain-tumor thing?” he asked.

“That’s all right, too.”

Stein was questioning everything. She told people she was leaving Elliman because she’d didn’t like the people there. She suggested to an interviewer in the spring that boldface names didn’t matter to her the way they once had, that it was possible the fame of her clients was actually an albatross for her, something that kept her from getting deals done. “The press has been extremely detrimental to my career,” she said. “Basically, people of great wealth do not want it discussed by anybody. Discretion, discretion, discretion!” For Linda Stein to wave off the press was a little like Joey Ramone’s renouncing leather.

Natavia Lowery had her own rivers to cross in life. She was born and raised in the Grant projects on Amsterdam Avenue and 125th Street, the only child of a housekeeper and a maintenance man. Her father died when she was a baby, and until her teen years, she lived with her mother, aunt, and uncle in a three-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor. When Lowery was in junior high, her mother, Lottie, met and married a man named Daniel Walsh, and the family moved to a twentieth-floor apartment about a half-mile from the Williamsburg Bridge, in Brooklyn. The goal for her family had always been to lift her up. “Our family worked very hard to get this child through school,” says her aunt, Julia Carrow. “We had no trouble with her. No teenage pregnancy, no drugs, no alcohol. This child is not a violent child.”

Lowery’s aunt says the family saved to send her to Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, a Catholic school, but reports have her being kicked out of that school and finishing at Murry Bergtraum High, a public school in Manhattan. She ran track and studied criminal justice. She liked styling hair and thought about modeling, and she couldn’t wait to go away to college, to live on her own. She had wanted to attend college in Atlanta with one of her friends but ended up at North Carolina State University after reportedly temping for a year at the PR firm Rogers & Cowan. In college, she was a member of a modeling troupe called Black Finesse. She took out loans to go there but never finished. Instead, she earned a business degree at Hunter College. “When she got out of school, she wanted to be an entrepreneur,” her aunt says. She lived in Virginia for a time, then moved home to Brooklyn to live with her parents.

Here, competing portraits of Lowery have emerged: the sweet daughter and girlfriend who “would not smack a fly on her forehead,” as an ex-boyfriend told one reporter, or a scheming opportunist with larceny in her heart. She was sued in Virginia last year for not paying $515 in rent. (Her stepfather says that she told him that a roommate had left and stuck her with her share.) A high-school friend named Harolena Grant has also accused her of using her name to open up a $300 T-Mobile account and a $300 Target account. “She’s a pathological liar,” Grant told a reporter, “and blamed it all on the boyfriend she was seeing at the time.” Police eventually dropped the misdemeanor charges against her—because, Lowery’s aunt insists, she hadn’t done anything wrong to begin with.

Back in New York, Lowery found work at a temp agency called Axion, which placed her in a clerical job with Planned Parenthood; soon after, she came to work for Linda Stein. Some of her duties were ordinary—work the phone, type up contracts, track listings and appointments—but the job quickly became personal. “She would go out jogging with her,” says her aunt. “Linda would talk to her about things. She used to also do her hair, washing this lady’s hair every day.”

You would think the stage would be set for a culture clash—the Brooklyn black girl and the brassy, often nasty Jewish doyenne. But one friend who worked closely with them remembers Stein having no complaints about her new assistant. He says Lowery was the sort of assistant who blended in—energetic but not overeager, not lunging for the phone but not ignoring it, either. Stein’s yoga teacher even said Stein had complimented Lowery, said she was doing a good job. At times, Stein was flat-out kind to her. “She flew the girl’s boyfriend into town and put him up in a nice hotel for her birthday,” says a source.

Still, “Linda had her way of talking to people,” a colleague says. “It was not like The Devil Wears Prada. It wasn’t ‘Get me three lattes and be back three minutes ago.’ But it wasn’t ‘Please be more careful next time,’ either. It was ‘What the fuck happened here?!’ There’s millions and millions of dollars involved and sometimes if you miss an e-mail it can really be costly.”

Lowery apparently never told her family that Stein had ever lashed out at her. But she did tell them how badly she could treat others. “She said every time she turned around, she was yelling at people,” says her aunt. “She said she was a cancer survivor, but she still drank and smoked reefer all day long.”

The situation may have been more fraught than she let on. All boss-assistant relationships are loaded, and this one had special complications. Stein could be brutal, and certainly profane; anyone would bristle at that kind of treatment. She may have been especially hard on Lowery. Heavily invested in her own legend, now practically incapacitated by illness and medications, Stein may have been resentful, even furious, perhaps, about her dependency. The personal tasks Lowery was charged with were intrusive and arguably demeaning. And at the very least, Stein was patronizing. “Every time this girl would comb Linda’s hair, she’d tip her,” a source says. “Natavia was badly paid, and Linda was tipping her all the time.” However nice Stein may have thought she was being, what ambitious black woman getting slipped tens and twenties all day on Fifth Avenue wouldn’t walk away feeling diminished? Or even enraged?

It was 10:30 p.m. the night before Halloween when Mandy Stein discovered her mother’s body. It says something about the world of high-end Manhattan real estate that Linda helped create that in those first hours, when reports surfaced that a superstar Realtor had been murdered, people wondered which one. “We were hoping it was Dolly,” one high-end broker says with a giggle about Dolly Lenz. Even Lenz herself oddly insists she got twenty calls from people, including her son.

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.

Stein’s friends have said they have no memory of her ever making racist comments like the one Lowery allegedly talks about in her confession. This was, after all, the same woman who counted Jay-Z and Damon Dash as pals and clients. The pot-smoking in Lowery’s face also puzzles them. “She’d go into a different room to smoke,” a colleague says. “She did the kinds of things that a cigarette smoker would do around nonsmokers. Open windows, go into rooms. It might as well have been a cigarette.” But there is a possibility that Stein really wasn’t herself that day. Her older daughter, Samantha, has said that her mother’s medication could have caused even worse mood swings than Stein already famously had.

A grand jury voted to indict Lowery for second-degree murder last Wednesday. Her lawyer is fighting the arrest, claiming the confession was coerced. Some criminal-law experts say a confession like Lowery’s, brought in without a lawyer, could well be ruled inadmissible in court. Even the Stein family’s lawyer, Ed Hayes, has told reporters he thinks that’s possible. The family hopes the D.A. has more evidence—lab-test results from the crime scene, for instance. If not, police may well have found the culprit, they fear, only to lose her again.

Dozens had to be turned away from Linda Stein’s November 2 funeral at Riverside Memorial Chapel. Whoopi Goldberg made it in, as did Jann Wenner, Brett Ratner, Paul Shaffer, Clive Davis, Warner Music chairman Lyor Cohen, the rock-and-roll photographer Bob Gruen, Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh, and Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler. Elton John and Madonna issued statements mourning the loss. Everyone agreed that Linda would have adored the attention—even better, some whispered, than just dying of cancer.

Seymour Stein said in his eulogy that he’d called her cell five times after she died, just to hear her voice. Mandy laughed about stealing her VIP-access card to Nell’s as a teenager and then cried when she said her mother “opened up doors that we’d never dreamed would exist.” Samantha, speaking next, took a more strident turn, explaining that it took three hours to make her mother’s face presentable for her and Mandy to view one last time.

“I had to see what this bastard had done to her,” she said, channeling some of her mother’s rage. “We stood there and we promised, ‘Justice will be served.’ We won’t stop until justice is served.”

Standing in the doorway was Natavia Lowery, a week before her arrest, dressed in black, in tears.

Death of a Broker