WE STILL LOVE HER
America’s Oldest Jewel Thief, Doris Payne, Arrested Again
Doris Payne has been stealing high-end jewels for decades—but an alleged spree at a local Walmart could land her in prison.
“No shopping trips,” a judge in Dekalb County, Georgia, told Doris Payne in May. And so the elegant 86-year-old agreed to stay away from the county’s retail centers, as part of her probation agreement for a jewel heist at a local mall last December.
But Payne couldn’t stay away, police say. One of the country’s most accomplished jewel thieves, Payne has been swiping treasures for decades, a pastime that made her the subject of a 2014 documentary, an Interpol investigation, and warrants in the U.S. and Europe. And on Monday, while on probation for the theft of a $2,000 necklace, the 86-year-old allegedly lifted $86 worth of groceries and electronics from a Georgia Walmart.
That small-time heist might pose a serious threat to the infamous jewel thief, who has largely avoided prison time over her decades of crime.
Payne is open about her livelihood. “I am a thief,” she told NBC News after she was arrested for stealing the $2,000 necklace from a Georgia mall in December. Her exploits range from high-end earrings in Manhattan to a 10-carat diamond ring worth over a half million dollars, which she swiped from Monte Carlo during a European trip in the 1970s. In the latter heist, French investigators detained her for nine months before giving up, unable to find the jewel she had stashed in her girdle, as she previously told The Daily Beast.
Her reputation grew so notorious that at least one jail listed her occupation as “jewel thief.”
Payne’s work has earned her a long rap sheet, but limited jail time. When she was arrested for stealing the $2,000 necklace in December, she pleaded guilty and received probation on the condition that she would stay away from Dekalb County’s retail centers.
But on Monday, a Walmart employee allegedly spotted Payne lifting products from the store’s pharmacy, electronics, and grocery departments. She has been charged with multiple misdemeanor shoplifting counts, Atlanta’s Fox 5 reported.
Now, the alleged theft at the Dekalb County store might land Payne in prison.
Jackie Patterson, an Atlanta attorney who has previously commented on Payne’s case, said the Walmart arrest constitutes an “automatic violation of her probation. When you’re on probation, committing a new crime is an automatic violation of your probation,” Patterson told The Daily Beast. “The fact that she got arrested means she is subject to going back to court and getting her probation revoked.”
Payne was wearing an ankle monitor during her Monday arrest. But for decades, her hallmark has been stealth and an impeccable fashion sense. Born to a West Virginia coal miner, Payne charmed her way to fur coats and Chanel shoes. Store clerks saw the well-dressed woman as a customer, not a thief. Sometimes it would take days for them to remember the fashionable woman who had come into the store around the time their jewels had gone missing.
Payne discovered her gift for shoplifting in her early teens, she told The Daily Beast last year.
“I used to go in stores, slip something into my pocketbook and give it back,” she said of her earliest thefts. “It was all in fun.”
But despite 70 years dodging store clerks and Interpol agents, Payne allegedly has yet to retire.
“I don’t have any regrets about stealing jewelry,” she said in a trailer for the documentary on her life of heists. “I regret getting caught.”