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A Realtor to the Stars Is Found Bludgeoned to Death in Her Luxury NYC Penthouse
One detective's keen sense of observation helped the N.Y.P.D. find who murdered Linda Stein, an A-list realtor who rubbed elbows with the likes of Madonna and the Ramones.
New York’s finest were forced to sift through a long line of suspects when a well-known and wealthy woman was murdered in her Upper East Side home.
Linda Stein, 62, was found dead by her daughter on October 30, 2007, face down on the living room floor of her luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment. According to N.Y.P.D detectives Kevin Walla and Pete Panuccio, the location of the woman’s death — one of the country’s most affluent and sought-after areas — immediately made it a headline-grabbing case.
Media outlets were already on the scene when investigators arrived at the 18-story building. And upstairs, there appeared to be no signs of a break-in.
“The apartment was nice; well-maintained,” N.Y.P.D Det. Angelique Loffredo told New York Homicide. “[There] wasn’t really any kind of upset in the apartment, no mess. Nothing was in disarray or anything like that.”
Detectives observed that Stein had her hoodie over the back of her head, was surrounded by a pool of blood, and there appeared to be small tears in the sweater’s fabric. But a murder weapon was not found at the scene.
Soon, detectives began questioning neighbors and staff within the building, wondering who might have wanted Stein dead.
According to Stein’s daughter, Mandy (the one who called 911 to report her mother’s death), her mother was well-known as being a realtor to some huge-hitting names, selling N.Y.C. homes to the likes of Steven Spielberg, Bruce Willis, Better Midler, and more.
Born to a Kosher caterer in the Bronx, Stein was first introduced to fame and fortune upon marrying Warner Bros. Vice President Seymour Stein in the 1970s. Mr. Stein founded Sire Records, which served as the music label for music’s elite, including Madonna, Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, and many others.
Mrs. Stein was active with her husband’s rock and roll business, even being the first to sign and manage The Ramones after seeing them perform at New York’s C.B.G.B. club, a staple in the 1970s punk rock scene and beyond. Though the Steins amicably divorced a few years later, Linda Stein would start her own real estate firm and use her connections to create a successful business, according to friends like Marc Benecke.
“Linda Stein was a force of nature,” Benecke told New York Homicide.
Friend Steven Gaines agreed.
“She was only five feet tall, but when she spoke, this big booming voice came out of this woman, and if she was angry? That voice, you could hear it down the block,” said Gaines. “And she also had a vocabulary like a sailor.”
Detectives began their investigation by speaking with Mandy, a film producer from Los Angeles staying with her mother temporarily until the Thanksgiving holiday. Mandy said she tried calling Stein earlier in the day, but a woman named Natavia Lowery, whom Stein hired just a few months earlier to be her personal assistant, answered the phone.
“Natavia told her Linda was out running,” said Det. Walla.
Mandy told detectives she discovered her mother’s body at around 10:30 p.m. after taking the semi-private elevator to a vestibule that led to the entrance of Stein’s apartment, according to Walla. The findings of a post-mortem examination would also reveal Stein was killed earlier in the day, for which Mandy had an alibi.
“It was determined that Linda received around 10 blows to the head, she had a broken spine, and her neck was fractured,” said N.Y.P.D. Detective Tony Rivera. “She also received lacerations to the face and ear.”
Meanwhile, police had an uphill battle before them, due to the case’s high publicity, according to Sgt. Panuccio.
“I’m going to get a cup of coffee, and I have reporters chasing me up the street,” Sgt. Panuccio told New York Homicide. “People have an enormous appetite for news; it becomes a circus.”
The pressure was on, and police turned their attention to Lowery, Stein’s assistant, hoping to glean more information from the last person to see the victim alive. According to Lowery — described by police as a “very friendly girl” in her early- to mid-20s — the employee walked back and forth between Stein’s real estate office and Stein’s apartment on the morning of the murder.
Because Stein had issues with her hands, Lowery regularly helped Stein with daily tasks, such as doing her hair and buttoning her clothes. The morning went as planned, though when Lowery went to the apartment for a second time that day to drop off some paperwork from the office, Stein wasn’t home. Lowery said she left the paperwork with a doorman.
At around 1:00 p.m., friend Marc Benecke attempted to call Stein to confirm they were having drinks later that evening to celebrate Benecke’s birthday. However, Lowery said her employer went for a stroll in the park.
At around 5:00 p.m., Lowery said she walked once again from Stein's office to the apartment, but she found the door locked and went home.
N.Y.P.D. detectives began speaking with some of Stein’s coworkers at Douglas Elliman, surprised to learn that a former employee — and former romantic interest — might have had motive to kill Stein.
“There was a man from the real estate agency that I think she was trying to get him fired,” said friend Steven Gaines. “And everybody said, ‘This must be the guy.’”
Despite several people pointing the police toward the former employee, he was quickly ruled out as a suspect. Then the case twisted in a new direction when Stein’s building manager, Ed McQuade, provided video surveillance for detectives. It showed the daily ins and out of about 30 to 40 construction workers making repairs to the building.
“Normally, we would shut down jobs in the building at 4:00, and a couple of days before she was murdered, I had given [the worker] permission to stay back a couple of hours,” McQuade told New York Homicide. “Linda came in, and it was probably around 5:30, 6:00, and the guy was still there, still working. She was very annoyed that the construction man was still working after 4:00.”
Detectives wondered if Stein’s short fuse prompted a worker to lose their temper.
A look into the workers’ backgrounds yielded a few minor arrests, though nothing screamed suspicious to detectives. They also learned none of the workers had accessed the 18th floor where Stein lived.
In the week following Stein’s murder, Det. Angelique Loffredo and her colleagues pored over the surveillance footage. As expected, they saw Stein’s personal assistant, Lowery, and the roofers, but the one person they don’t see was Stein herself.
“She never left,” said Det. Walla. “She never came back.”
“I went through the footage myself and I kept rewatching it,” said Det. Loffredo. “I just felt like that video was going to have a tell, and until I found what that tell was, I kept looking at it over and over again.”
Thanks to Loffredo’s keen sense of observation, she discovered a moment when Natavia Lowery entered the building with money in her hand. While the small detail might not have rung any bells to those living outside the city, Loffredo realized it could indicate someone just exiting a taxicab.
Upon further observation, detectives could just make out the reflection of Lowery arriving to Stein’s building in a taxicab, which contradicted Lowery’s previous statements to police that she walked to and from the real estate office several times that day.
Surveillance video further showed Lowery was the only one to visit Stein’s home on the day of the murder.
Lowery agreed to talk with detectives Walla and Rivera down at the precinct.
“She kind of looked surprised,” Det. Rivera recalled. “She was getting more nervous. And then, finally, we said, ‘We don’t believe your story. You have to tell us what really happened.’”
When confronted about being caught exiting the taxicab, Lowery said she forgot to mention it. Lowery told Det. Walla that she needed to de-stress after Stein had gotten on her nerves, and so she took a drive around the city to clear her head.
Detectives didn’t buy the story, which soon changed to Lowery confessing that once — while in college — she allegedly blacked out and "choked" a roommate, according to Walla. But then Lowery recanted the statement in favor of yet another story.
This time, Lowery said an unknown male called her on her phone and demanded Lowery leave Stein’s door unlocked. Lowery said she did so, under threat of violence, before a man clad in black entered the apartment and beat Stein to death.
However, the surveillance footage showed no such person.
“It was only Natavia and no one else,” said Det. Rivera. “No one wearing black, no one leaving. We believed Natavia made this story up, but she was getting to the real story.”
Detectives pressed on with their interrogation until Lowery finally confessed to what actually happened. According to Lowery, she was triggered by Stein’s badgering and snapped, claiming she didn’t mean to kill her employer when striking her with a nearby yoga stick.
The confession was taped on video, as seen in New York Homicide. Lowery said Stein provoked her for no reason.
“She’s just like yelling and screaming and cursing,” Lowery said, in part. “I just hit her with it.”
Still, investigators believed Lowery was holding back information, but thanks to Stein’s friend, Benecke, police finally had their motive.
“The night before Linda was murdered, I was in Linda’s apartment,” said Benecke. “She asked me, ‘What would you think if someone was stealing from me?’”
Benecke suggested Stein confront the potential thief, which is what investigators think happened when Lowery murdered Stein. Following that line of inquiry, detectives learned Lowery was pretending to be Stein in order to open credit cards in Stein’s name.
“I believe that Linda Stein was going to call the police and make a complaint,” said Det. Rivera. “But Natavia didn’t want that to happen, and she just freaked out and murdered Linda.”
Natavia Lowery was found guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny and sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars.
“Linda Stein is an intrinsic part of this city,” said friend Steven Gaines. “Somebody who was with it, and knew everybody, and lived on a penthouse in Fifth Avenue, and had a marvelous sense of humor. She was an enchanting character to me, and I was so pleased and so lucky to know Linda.”
Watch all-new episodes of New York Homicide on Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.