NOTE: This story was a lot of fun to write. I wanted to do Doris “justice” by fleshing out her career and demonstrating that she was no run-of-the-mill thief. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to get all the details researched and correct, but I think going that extra mile made the story more entertaining and informative for my readers.
When Atlanta police arrived at the Saks Fifth Avenue inside Phipps Plaza on Sunday in response to a shoplifting call, they had no idea that they were about to arrest a notorious thief who has a rap sheet that dates back to the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
On Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m., a store loss prevention officer observed on surveillance camera footage an elderly woman slip a $690 pair of Christian Dior earrings into her pocket and quickly walk out of the store and back into the anonymity of the mall crowd, an Atlanta police report states.
The loss prevention officer told police that the suspect, Doris Payne was later detained while still inside the mall, and mall authorities discovered the earrings in her pocket, the report says.
According to the report, Payne was charged with shoplifting an item over $500. Authorities in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina have also charged Payne with theft for the alleged theft of a $32,000 engagement ring from a Charlotte-area mall, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Though two charges of jewelry theft may seem daunting to the average crook, Payne’s Buckhead arrest is simply the latest in a long and infamous career that’s taken her from the glitz and glam of Monte Carlo to numerous stints in federal prison and back again.
Payne, 85, was first arrested in 1952 and has built up a legendary reputation, with thefts all over the United States and Europe. Payne said in a 2005 interview with the Associated Press that she began her career in crime by asking sales clerks at luxury jewelry stores to show her a dizzying array of merchandise, all while chatting them up and usually dressed in the finest clothes. Only after walking out of the store did the clerk realize a high-priced piece of merchandise had disappeared.
The career criminal took her act to Europe in the 1970s and she claims responsibility for the theft of a 10-carat, $545,000 diamond ring in Monte Carlo in 1974. She was detained by customs agents in Nice, France, but Payne later told the AP that she used a pair of clippers and a sewing needle to pry the diamond off the ring, sew the diamond into her girdle, and toss the setting into the Mediterranean. Detectives couldn’t find the ring, so they let her go.
In 1998, Payne traveled overseas after making off with a $57,000 ring stolen from Colorado. While she was gone, FBI agents raided her home and found $10,000 in cash and several different passports containing some of the 22 aliases she’d used during her career up to that point, the AP said.
An April 2015 article from the Orange County Register says that Payne has stolen some $2 million worth of jewelry in her career, but was eking out a meager existence in Long Beach, her ill-gotten gains long ago spent.
Payne has become a celebrity of sorts, featured as the subject of a 2013 Netflix documentary called “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,” and was even going to be portrayed by Halle Berry in a Hollywood movie that never came to fruition.
Far from the bright lights of Hollywood and the warmth of the French Riviera, her glory days long past, Payne is being held on a $2,500 bond inside the Fulton County jail.