Doris Payne, who claims to be an international jewel thief, poses in her cell at Clark County jail in Las Vegas on Sept. 23, 2005. Payne was convicted of stealing an $8,900 ring from a Macy’s in San Diego in 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Doris Payne allegedly stole merchandise from a Walmart with a value of $86.22 — a dollar for every year she’s been alive.
Payne, 86, was arrested Monday in Chamblee, an Atlanta suburb, on four counts of stolen pharmaceutical and electronic goods.
After Payne was hauled off by police, they discovered a piece of electronic gear she was carrying: an ankle monitor from a probation charge from nearby DeKalb County, where she was convicted of stealing a diamond necklace from a department store last December. Both police departments were not available for immediate comment.
Payne’s shoplifting career didn’t begin there, or in 2015, when she was accused of pinching $690 Christian Dior earrings at a Saks Fifth Avenue store, only to be deemed too sick for trial. For six decades, Payne has been accused of robbing stores across the United States and abroad, from Paris to suburban Walmart, with more than 20 arrests and years of jail time.
Theft in Payne’s golden years have been so numerous — with an estimated grand total of $2 million in jewelry lifted in her lifetime — that she has earned the nickname ‘Granny Gem Thief.’
Her lawyer Drew Findling downplayed allegations Tuesday.
“This is a sharp contrast to all the cases in the past. We’re not talking about high-end jewelry,” he told the Associated Press. “We’re talking about what an 86-year-old woman needs to survive on a day-to-day basis, food supplies and medical supplies.”
[German police are searching for a stolen gold coin. It’s the size of a manhole cover and worth $3.9 million.]
Payne was born in 1930 in Slab Fork, W.Va., a rural town with a current population hovering around 200. She told the Los Angeles Times her first diamond heist was in her 20s, committed in an effort to earn enough money for her mother to leave an abusive husband.
But then she was hooked, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, and studied the cuts and terminologies found in Town and Country magazine to spot especially valuable stones. The paper reported her early motivation was to even the scales of racism and poverty in the Deep South.
There was the time when she stole a $33,000 engagement ring in North Carolina.
And her smooth talk that she said netted a gigantic 10.5-carat diamond ring in Monte Carlo.
Payne developed charm and fast thinking as her greatest weapon, retired Denver Police detective Gail Riddell told the AP.
“She is very good at what she does,” said Riddell. “She has the style.”
Her occasional lawyer Gretchen Von Helms said that even her victims were impressed.
“I understand that the shopkeepers have a different opinion, but they all agreed she was charming and friendly and nice,” Von Helms told the Journal-Constitution.
Authorities have rounded up at least 22 aliases Payne has used over the years, forcing the Jeweler’s Security Alliance in the 1970s to deploy bulletins warning jewelers to stay vigilant about her, the AP reported.
If her life sounds like a movie, it may someday be one. A film starring Halle Berry as Payne has been in development since 2009, and the documentary “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne” was released on 2013.
Even the documentary filmmakers might have gotten taken for a ride. The crew following her appear to take stories of her adventures at face value, Variety said. At one point, her parole officer calls them and suggests Payne used their time with her as a phony alibi after she was questioned by police.
In the documentary, Payne’s friend Jean Herber describes a woman with a bright smile brimming with ulterior motives.
“Her horns are holding her halo up,” Herber says.
Payne appears less conflicted about her legacy.
“I don’t have any regrets about stealing jewelry,” she says in the film.