At around 10:30 on the night before Halloween, 34-year-old film producer Mandy Stein rode on the subway from an evening business meeting to her mother’s co-op at 965 Fifth Avenue. She took the elevator, hand-operated by an attendant, to the 18th floor, and entered the apartment to find her mother lying facedown on the floor in a pool of blood.
The elder Ms. Stein, who had recently battled breast cancer and survived, was dead at 62. (At press time, investigators still had no suspects.)
Later on the evening of her death, staff from the medical examiners’ office pulled back the hood of the sweat-jacket Linda Stein was wearing when she died, and found that it had concealed a series of wounds that were the result of an intensely violent bludgeoning—later still, police would reportedly hypothesize that the weapon was a hammer.
That Friday, mourners at Riverside Memorial Chapel remembered the woman to whom the epithet “realtor to the stars” was perpetually applied in the past 20 years. “Her greatest asset was her chutzpah,” the victim’s ex-husband, Seymour Stein, the Sire Records founder, said there.
The next day, while loved ones sat shiva, Mandy Stein spent two hours with investigators and representatives from the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The previous four days had been filled with tabloid coverage of the ready-for-Law & Order mystery. In Stein’s building, all visitors are announced; the apartments above are accessed by way of that hand-operated elevator; video cameras film visitors coming in and out of the lobby. How, with all of that surveillance, could investigators still have no suspects in the case?
From the beginning, some have been quick to point out the construction work going on in the building. Could one of the nine men who had been working at 965 Fifth (work that had resulted in complaints from Stein) have gotten into the apartment undetected? There were no signs of robbery or forced entry. Stein was slight, and a cancer survivor. What motive could require such a violent attack?
The tabloids are working the same beat. In them we have read that there was a former lover, a “handsome Romeo type” according to one account, 68-year-old Francisco Arena; there was her estranged former assistant, Raul Garcia Bernal, a protege whom she had fired. But, by Monday morning, the tabloids were just as quick to withdraw the innuendoes: Not only did police sources tell reporters the two both had alibis, but neither turns up in that scrupulous security footage.
Sixteen years ago, the celebrated magazine photographer Harry Benson snapped Linda Stein for a profile in New York magazine in a double-breasted blazer and a pinstripe miniskirt showing legs up to there. ‘The Rap on Linda,’ the headline reads.
In an interview this April with The Observer in her Fifth Avenue living room, she talked openly, if often off the record, about her life. She drank red wine from a little glass, which she shared with this reporter (while recalling her client Billy Joel’s “sad liquid problems”); she mused about the days she co-managed Sire’s iconic punk band the Ramones; she showed off pictures of Elton John and of her 3-year-old granddaughter Dora; she called Bob Dylan by his first name. And when she told an old story about her daughter crawling over to Iggy Pop rolling a joint, in this version Paul Simon and Mr. John were in the room too.
The rap on Linda: Linda Adler was born in Manhattan to a kosher caterer in 1955. She grew up in Riverdale, went to college in Buffalo, got her master’s at Columbia and then taught fifth grade in the Bronx. A former student set her up on a blind date with Seymour Stein, the student’s uncle, who had made himself rich as a music producer. His label, Sire Records, was not a blockbuster yet, but their best band, the Ramones, was becoming huge. Those years were boisterous.
“As far as her being a punk rocker? She was a mother. … She was a school teacher,” Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh told The Observer. In the late 1970’s she traveled in a bus with the Ramones and Talking Heads on a tour of Britain: “We were all sleeping, and I turn around, and I thought I knew everybody that had been on the bus, I didn’t think anybody new came on,” Mr. Leigh said. “And Dee Dee”—the bassist—“was making out with some woman, and when they broke their embrace, I said, ‘Holy shit, it’s fucking Linda!’”
By 1980, she had divorced Mr. Stein, but joined the voluptuous Studio 54 universe.
“She was in those music circles, and that crowd, so when she went to her career in real estate, she just took clients from people she knew,” said Dottie Herman, Prudential Douglas Elliman’s president and CEO.
Stein was mentioned in the press around 20 times a year from 1987 (when the film Wall Street featured a broker based on her) to 1991, when her New York profile ran. But publicity was not always good for her. In 1996, Stein was reportedly fired from Sotheby’s the day after making a crack to The New York Times about businessmen billionaires like David Geffen. “But that’s Linda telling stories, being a great entertainer,” said Sotheby’s broker Roberta Golubock. “She had this thing, this rock ’n’ roll aspect, and nobody else had it.”
Now you can’t swing a cat on the Upper East Side without hitting a real estate broker who pretends to have a personality. It’s all a pastiche of the personality Stein made famous: You’re loud, you push, you’re open and brazen and casual and frenetic all at once. But it’s all imitation—Stein was the genuine article.
“She was very creative, she was a marketing genius,” said Dolly Lenz, a colleague of Stein’s at Douglas Elliman.
This is the kind of client she had: When Ms. Lenz was listing Barbra Streisand’s penthouse at 320 Central Park West, Stein suggested the place to Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. “There was always something that didn’t work for Trudie,” Ms. Lenz said. “[Stein] probably showed her 14 times, she said, ‘You’ll fix this, you’ll fix that.’”
That deal didn’t happen, although Sting and his wife bought the two 88 Central Park West apartments Stein once sold to Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley.
“Sting, I have him crazy now!” Stein told this reporter in April, when she was listing that old 88 Central Park West duplex of his yet again, this time looking for a $24 million buyer. “I have him looking for very wealthy Orthodox Jews that are Sephardic, so they can walk to the [nearby] synagogue on the Sabbath.”
“I like to see the reaction when I say, ‘Well, sir, the truth is, you do have to come up with another million dollars,’” Stein said in that interview. “I want to hear a gasp, a breath, a curse.”