Doris Payne, 80, the notorious “grandmother jewel thief” implicated in dozens of thefts whose career stretches back decades, was convicted on Jan. 12 for stealing an $8,900 ring in connection with the January 2010 theft from a Macy’s department store, according to the San Diego district attorney’s office. 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.
“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 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.
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