Talk of the Town

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Octogenarian jewelry thief Doris Payne arrested again in Atlanta


As far as criminals go, Doris Payne isn't the greatest, but the aging jewelry thief could be the poster woman for recidivism.

Payne, 86, was arrested at Perimeter Mall on Tuesday evening after she allegedly stole a diamond necklace from Von Maur department store, Dunwoody police said Wednesday in an incident report .

Dunwoody Police said Payne concealed a $2,000 necklace in her back pocket and attempted to exit the store. It has been just over a year since she was arrested for shoplifting at Phipps Plaza.

Read More: Jewelry thief Doris Payne strikes again at Saks in Atlanta

In October 2015, she spent several days in Fulton County jail on a charge of theft by shoplifting greater than $500 after she stole a pair of $700 Christian Dior earrings from Saks Fifth Avenue.

At the time, she also had an active warrant in North Carolina for similar charges which kept her under a hold in the county jail, said Shawn McCullers, her attorney.

“We called and talked to [officials in North Carolina] and they decided they wouldn’t extradite her which is often the case for a bunch of reasons. We voiced our concerns about the frailty of her health,” said McCullers in a 2015 interview with the AJC.

Payne has a storied history as an international jewelry thief, having stolen about $2 million worth of goods. A documentary, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, chronicles her exploits which have spanned the globe from California to Monte Carlo. But Payne has spent most of her golden years in and out of courts and jails and has said she has no money.

Over the decades, Payne has developed a pattern of serving short sentences, getting out for good behavior and getting right back to her next heist.

Those who know her describe her as charming, but without remorse.

“I don’t have any regrets about stealing jewelry. I regret getting caught,” said Payne in the 2013 documentary about her six decades as a jewelry thief.

Payne's path to Atlanta began after she served jail time in California for stealing a one-and-a-half-carat diamond ring from a Macy’s store in San Diego.

She served two and a half years of a five-year sentence before returning to probation in Los Angeles. Then she picked up another shoplifting case in Palm Springs, pled guilty and got four years, said attorney Gretchen Von Helms who has represented Payne on several occasions.

Payne got a split sentence — some jail time in local jail and some time served under supervision, then in July 2015 she racked up another shoplifting charge at David Yurman in the Southpark area of Charlotte where she was believed to have stolen a $33,000 engagement ring.

When officers took an arrest warrant to her home in California to pick her up, she was too sick and they wouldn't take her in, Von Helms said. The warrant was outstanding when she was arrested at Phipps Plaza last year.

It's unclear what has brought Payne back to Atlanta or if she has other warrants. What is clear is that she does much better when she is being monitored.

“She seems to do very well when she is being supervised and when she is tracked," said Von Helms to the AJC in 2015. "Would a monitoring system be appropriate? That’s a question to be asked of someone who is charged with punishing her.”


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.