INDIO, Calif. — An 83-year-old jewel thief with a long history of using age and guile to swipe valuables has confessed to her latest crime, the theft of a $22,000 ring from a ritzy jewelry store in Southern California.
Doris Payne was sentenced Monday to two years in prison and two years of mandatory supervision in a Riverside County Superior Court. Prosecutors objected to the deal but were overruled, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.
"We objected to the plea and sentence, advising the court of what we believe to be numerous aggravating factors," Hall said. "Those include a criminal history dating back to 1952, crimes having being committed across the United States as well as internationally, that she used her age to gain the trust of victims, a previous failure to successfully complete probation and parole, and that she was on parole when she committed the crime charged in this case."
Payne was born to a poor family in Slab Fork, W.Va., where she began stealing watches as a teenager. She moved to Cleveland with her mother in her early 20s then began stealing to support a lavish lifestyle that had been out of reach as a child.
Thievery became the only life she knew. She sustained it with cunning and feigned innocence, never needing to turn to guns or violence, said Matthew Pond, who produced a 2013 documentary about the career thief.
"It was a game she started as a young girl and she realized she had this ability to deceive people," Pond said. "It morphed into something else that was in many ways glamorous."
Payne's latest theft Oct. 21 targeted El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert, Calif. Payne introduced herself to the sales staff under the fake name "Audrey," then said she was planning to use a $42,000 insurance check to replace jewelry she had lost in a theft.
The store manager showed her a few pieces of jewelry, and when the manager wasn't watching, Payne walked away with a ring. She sold it a few hours later at a nearby mall.
Payne's lawyer, Gretchen von Helms, said Payne's trial would have been an "uphill battle." The case was clinched in December when an employee from the Westfield Palm Desert mall identified Payne as the woman who re-sold the stolen ring.
"If she had elected to (fight), obviously I would have defended her at trial," von Helms said. "But it would've made sense for her to do what she did."
Raju Mehta, owner of El Paseo Jewelers, said association with the Payne brought a new level of notoriety to the store, and he believes the recovered ring will now net a higher sale price as a result.
Since 2009, Payne has been convicted in California of four thefts — including three pricey rings. Before that, she was tied to thefts in Colorado, Nevada, New York, France, Great Britain, Greece and Switzerland.
She has been known to steal jewelry just to prove she could, then trash the loot.
Payne's career of theft was the subject of a 2013 documentary, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne. According to the film's website, the documentary explores how a "a poor, single, African-American mother from segregated 1930s America winds up as one of the world's most notorious and successful jewel thieves."
The documentary was showcased at a March film festival in Palm Springs, just 15 miles from the jewelry store where Payne swiped her latest prize. Payne's lawyer said the documentary would have made it hard to find an impartial jury.
In the movie, Payne says she doesn't regret becoming a jewelry thief.
She just regrets getting caught.
Colin Atagi and Brett Kelman also report for The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun.
Doris Payne, international diamond thief, has been all over the world and to lavish areas all to steal high-profile jewelry. However, she's not your typical thief. The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun