Notorious jewel thief Doris Payne, 86, caught shoplifting, police say

Last Updated Jul 18, 2017 8:59 PM EDT

CHAMBLEE, Ga. — A notorious 86-year-old jewel thief tied to a string of thefts since the 1950s has struck again, police say.

Doris Payne, who has been the subject of a documentary and casually said during a 2016 interview with The Associated Press that “I was a thief,” was arrested Monday after allegedly stealing items from a Walmart in Chamblee, Georgia. The charge is a misdemeanor.

Payne was seen stealing several items in various departments throughout the store by a loss prevention officer, according to CBS affiliate WGCL-TV. As she tried to exit the store, she was apprehended.

She had a total of $86.22 worth of items inside her purse when she was caught. She was also reportedly wearing an ankle monitor from a previous arrest for shoplifting.

Payne was most recently accused in December of stealing two $2,000 diamond necklaces from a department store outside Atlanta. After she missed a March 6 appearance, a judge issued a bench warrant for Payne’s arrest. She was later taken into custody on March 13.

Authorities have said Payne has lifted pricey baubles from countless jewelry stores around the world in an illicit career that has spanned six decades. Payne’s first arrest was in 1952 and her largest known alleged theft was reported in the 1970s, when she was caught stealing a diamond ring worth $500,000, the station reports.

The legend of Payne’s alleged thefts has long fascinated the public and media, with countless news stories and a 2013 documentary film, “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,” detailing her feats. 

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“There’s never been a day that I went to steal that I did not get what I went to do,” Payne says in the documentary.

When asked about her exploits in a 2016 interview with the Associated Press, she said simply: “I was a thief.” Speaking to CBS affiliate WGCL after a 2015 theft arrest in Atlanta, Payne said she freely admits to her crime if she’s caught.

“Ask any officer — have I ever been arrested and lied?” Payne told the station.

Authorities have said she has used at least 22 aliases over the years and probably gotten away more often than she was caught, though she has done several stints in prison. The Jewelers’ Security Alliance, an industry trade group, sent out bulletins as early as the 1970s warning about her. 

Payne told the AP she realized a simple distraction could make it easy to slip out with a fancy trinket in hand after a friendly store owner let her try on watches as a child and then forgot she had the jewelry on. Her career was born in her 20s when she got the idea that she could support herself by lifting jewelry. 

WGCL reports she’ll often ask clerks to try on multiple pieces of jewelry in the hopes that they won’t notice one of the items missing.

Payne, who appeared effortlessly elegant and spoke with calm deliberation during the interview with the AP, nevertheless grew cagey when asked about her methods. 

“I don’t dictate what happens when I walk in the store. The people in charge dictate what happens with me when I walk in the store,” she said. “I don’t tell a person in the store I want to see something that costs $10,000. They make those decisions based on how I present myself and how I look.”

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