Legendary 83-Year-Old Jewel Thief Arrested Again

Doris Payne, the famed “grandmother” thief who has been filching jewelry for more than six decades, has been arrested for allegedly stealing a $21,000 diamond ring from a California jeweler.

According to the Riverside County Sheriff’s department, on Oct. 29, Payne was arrested for a jewelry theft that happened eight days earlier. She is charged with felony larceny and being held on $45,000 bail. 

Raju Metha, manager of El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert, Calif., believes Payne came into his store earlier in the month, and spent 45 minutes looking at items. After she left, employees discovered a $21,000 diamond ring was missing, he says. 

“I have been in retail for years, and never had anything like this happen,” he says. “You don’t suspect because she is elderly. I have to give her credit: She is excellent at what she does.”

Payne’s recent rap sheet includes arrests in 2011 and 2005, and she has claimed to have stolen more than $2 million in jewels from dozens of stores from Japan to Monte Carlo. According to a 2005 Denver Post article, she has escaped from custody twice, in 1968 and 1987.

Her long, fabled criminal career inspired a recent documentary, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, and there have been reports of a movie of her life starring Halle Berry.

“She has got to be, by far, the most long-lasting jewelry criminal we have ever had the opportunity to know,” says Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John J. Kennedy. “It is extraordinarily rare for someone to keep doing this. Her rap sheet is like a book.” 

“She disarms people because of her age,” continues Kennedy. “People don’t think she’s a criminal and they let down their guard. And she’s not afraid to go to jail. She typically gets short sentences because she is elderly. Prisons and jails don’t like to keep elderly people because there are health problems and it gets expensive.” 

Adds Mehta: “I hope I’m her last victim.”

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JCK News Director