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79-year-old jewelry thief, subject of Halle Berry movie, arrested at South Coast Plaza

Lanow.doris
In the decades she spent honing her craft, Doris Payne employed classic elegance, refined taste, Southern charm and a sleight of hand that could earn the envy of a talented magician.

Like the best illusionists, she had a knack for making things disappear.

Payne's life as an international jewel thief is the subject of an upcoming movie, "Who Is Doris Payne?" starring Halle Berry. But given the latest events in Orange County, the filmmakers may want to consider a new ending.

The 79-year-old was arrested on a rainy Friday afternoon on suspicion of grand theft after security guards at the Saks Fifth Avenue store at South Coast Plaza accused her of taking the tags off a Burberry trench coat valued at $1,300 and walking out without paying, said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Mark Manley.

Now in custody without bail for a parole violation, Payne is expected to make her first court appearance today. Though she has had high-end tastes, the allegation that she took a coat is a departure of sorts for Doris Marie Payne, who began life in 1930 in a small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, W. Va.

In a 2008 story in The Times, Payne told a reporter she stole her first diamond in her late 20s, hoping to raise money to help her mother leave an abusive husband. From there, she never looked back.

Payne said she had no idea how many jewels she had stolen but that her career as a thief had spanned the globe from New York and Las Vegas to London, Paris, Monte Carlo and Tokyo.

The formula was simple, she said. Pick a fine store and look like she belonged there. Tell a great story. And, make sure she had pockets, deep pockets, with whatever she wore.

"A clerk would present her with at least five pieces of jewelry, usually emeralds and diamonds. When she decided which to take, she would place it on her finger, making sure the clerk saw it there," wrote Times staff writer DeeDee Correll. "Then she would begin her distractions, discussing other rings on the counter, then asking the clerk to bring more jewelry. Meanwhile, she would slip the ring from one hand to the other. 'I'm going to make sure he sees this hand I had it on is naked.' "

Eventually, improvements in security, helped by technology, caught up with Payne.

In 1999, she was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison after stealing a 5-carat diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus in Denver.

While on parole in Colorado in 2005, she visited other states, taking an $8,500 ring in Nevada and a $31,500 three-stone diamond ring with a platinum band from a Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto, The Times reported. When police interviewed her, Payne admitted stealing the ring, giving them her occupation as "jewel thief."

She was eventually sentenced to two to five years for pawning the stolen Palo Alto ring in Las Vegas, as well as stealing a ring in Nevada.

In the spring of 2008, Payne completed her prison sentence in Colorado and returned to California, where she was released on parole until her arrest.

-- Andrew Blankstein 

Photo: Doris Payne is shown during her incarceration in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. She is now being held at the Orange County Jail. Credit: Nathan W. Armes / For The Times

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Comments () | Archives (37)

hey "bigdad", hollywood has made movies about real-life thieves and criminals for as long as movies have been made (maybe you missed all those films about dillinger, "bonnie and clyde" from 1967, and others too numerous to name. but go ahead and continue to play the race card as you see fit.

Why do we allow Hollywood do make a theif's life a sensation....when it is not...hey folks...we ultimately pay ($) for crimes people like this women commit.....fans of Doris Payne ....why not let her come into your house and steal whatever she wants and then reward her for it?!?!?!? How stupid is that!?!?!?

ok everyone lets glorify the thief thanx for making things more expensive for everyone else

Razzle dazzle. That'll make for some exciting movie. Put it on a finger, when the clerk looks away put it on the other hand. Make sure the clerk sees the naked finger. Oh well, if it ain't on that finger she must not have it. WOW what a jewel thief. lowlife shoplifter.

She looks good in the picture I love her Cartier glasses too. Mayne they should check the serial number on them

"Is this the best African-American female that Hollywood and Halle Berry can think of to make a movie about? A thief? A shop-lifter?"

Was Henry Hill the best half-Irish, half-Italian male that Hollywood and Scorsese could have thought of to make a movie about?

Reassuring how she shows such fear of the criminal justice system.

I figured out a long time ago. Stealing things, conning others,etc.
-not worth one day in jail. How much does one value their freedom,
anyway? Ask any jailbird, if he/she'd give it all back in 2 sec..
Even a homeless man can still stand up straight, look you in the
eye,and never hide from any man.

I am so amazed at this story until I am not mad at her. She looks elegant and there would be no way I could believe that she was a "jewel thief". My goodness.

~Shar

"Is this the best African-American female that Hollywood and Halle Berry can think of to make a movie about?"

Was the one jewel thief among all the pink panthers really the best one that Hollywood could have chosen to glorify? I put it to you, sir: was it?

Can we make a movie about an African American woman who did something to be proud of? Between "Monsters Ball" and "Sword Fish" I guess Halley has a problem choosing rolls that would make women of color proud. And before someone blames it on the Hollywood Machine, Ms. Berry has enough money to Produce her own films now. There are several African American Female Hero's worthy of a Big Screen Movie, I know of several I'd like to see on screen.

Doris Marie Payne "hit" my jewelry store a number of years ago in Virginia Beach. She entered in a light blue Chanel suit, gorgeous hat, and what I was told were $400 shoes. Cleverly she spotted my college age niece who was helping out for the summer; asked to see a few things, and then requested that Jamie take her jewelry (which turned out to be fake) to the back for cleaning.
At that time she grabbed what added up to be $46,000 in merchandise and disappeared. We eventually caught her due to a similar theft in New England. Interestingly enough at her trial she came dressed like a rag ladyand bowed and thanked the jurors for their support. She was convicted and spend time in the Virginia system.

 
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