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80-year-old jewel thief cased Neiman Marcus jewelry counter while awaiting trial, officials say


An 80-year-old woman who authorities said spent decades as a international jewel thief faces more than five years in state prison after she was convicted of stealing an $8,900 diamond ring from a San Diego mall.

And a surveillance tape of her examining a department store jewelry counter may have prevented her from being released on bail while she awaits sentencing.

Doris Payne was convicted Wednesday of grand theft and burglary by a San Diego County jury in connection with the Jan. 2 theft of the ring from a Macy's department store. She later told detectives she sold the ring for $1,800, officials said.

Defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms unsuccessfully argued for the release of her client on bond pending sentencing after Deputy Dist. Atty. John Pro presented evidence that while awaiting trial in the San Diego case, Payne was captured on surveillance video at a Scottsdale, Ariz., Neiman Marcus store examining the jewelry counter.

Von Helms argued at trial that Payne's arrest in connection with the San Diego theft was a case of mistaken identity and that the culprit was a copycat.

"It's a case of reasonable doubt given that another women who looked very similar to her [Payne] who was filmed in the Macy's two days after the fact," Von Helms said.

But Pro argued that the defendant's chosen career path -- as well as her own words on the subject -- spoke volumes.

"The defendant literally has spent her life doing nothing but stealing high-end jewelry," Pro said. "She said it herself. That's what she does, and that's what she did it in this case. It's a classic life of crime."

Payne, whose life was to be the subject of movie starring Halle Berry -- and who was being filmed by a documentary crew -- is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 9. She faces more than five years in state prison.

Born in 1930 in a small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, W. Va., Payne stole her first diamond in her late 20s, hoping to raise money to help her mother leave an abusive husband, according to an interview with the Los Angeles Times' DeeDee Correll.

She said she had no idea how many jewels she had stolen but that her career as a thief had spanned five decades. She said she honed her craft from New York and Las Vegas to London, Paris, Monte Carlo and Tokyo.

The targets were always the finest stores, she said, then she would blend in, tell a great story and take advantage of deep pockets in the clothing she wore.

In time, improvements in security technology caught up with Payne.

In 1999, she was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison after stealing a five-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, telling them her occupation was "jewel thief," officials said.

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 sentence in Colorado and was returned to California, where she was released on parole.

A year ago, Payne was arrested 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.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Doris Payne is shown during her incarceration in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. Credit: Nathan W. Armes / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (24)

please send madea back to jail

People look at her and think, "she's a little old lady and she won't do it again". And yet here we are. Multiple thefts should put her behind bars until she dies. If it were you or me, we would be in jail for more than 2 years. She's NOT a productive member of society and shouldn't be treated with kid gloves.

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

Yup - sympathy for the devil, eh California? Should have thrown the old bag in jail.

crooked, absolutely, bloody entertaining..hell yes..

....her foto makes her appear to be a laconic figure...i am sure if she opened up she would have a great story to tell how she was able to pull-off her thefts plus her life....a good movie, perhaps.....

So why is this criminal allowed bail? Oh that's right...she's a member of TWO protected minorities.

While Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank et al rob us of trillions, they give her 5 years. Steal small go to jail; steal big you're celebrated and toasted.

They're making this criminal a hero? She needs to be in prison!

A movie deal? Documentary?? We shouldnt be glamourizing thieves like this. She's a failed shoplifter, what more is there left to say?

When is this going to be a Halle Berry movie?

Why would one expect her to change her way of living? IF she got off on that charge, see needed to get back to work, so why wouldn't she "case" her next job?

Pretty lady. Maybe they could team Halle (or the pretty chick from Undercovers) up with George Clooney in a film similar to To Catch A Thief. That would be cool.

How the hell did this person steal so much high-end jewelry? Doesn't the clerk stand and watch while the customer inspects the merchandise?

I know she not hurting anyone by stealing these high end jewelery, but really she should be shot on sight, making a ruckus in our prison system.
Its a mockery for society to let her be released.
this goes to prove you cant take the thief out of jail but you cannot stop a natural born thief







Why can't repeat criminals be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay?

Arcadian: Shot? That's your guys answer to everything.

Wasn't a 9 year old girl, a Congresswoman and a judge enough for you?

Doesn't she qualify for the three-strikes law?

LMAO...this is hilarious! Look at her picture, she doesn't have a care in the world. I can't wait until the movie comes out. It sounds interesting already.
I'd love to travel the world as she has. Man I bet she has some wonderful stories to tell. She'll probably get a book deal, too. Wish she was my grandma.

lol California's updated version of "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" gogranny gogranny gogrannygo

Why would the Times glorify a common criminal?

"So why is this criminal allowed bail?"

Learn to read. She was DENIED bail:
"Defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms unsuccessfully argued for the release of her client on bond pending sentencing"

"Unsuccessfully" means "was not successful". Sheesh. She's not "out and about" so I guess you can sleep peacefully.

She is no common criminal. That's why the LAT article and movie deal. I am anticipating the movie.

keep this professional criminal in jail, permanently.


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