85-Year-Old: 'I Was a Thief. I'm Not Too Ashamed of It'

Jewelry pilferer Doris Payne opens up on longtime career
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 31, 2016 1:32 PM CST
In this Jan. 11, 2016 photo, Doris Payne poses for a photo in Atlanta. The 85-year-old has managed to walk off with pricey jewels in countless thefts around the world.   (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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(Newser) – Doris Payne exudes an effortless elegance, her white hair neatly smoothed back and gold hoops dangling from her ears. She speaks calmly and deliberately, inspiring the kind of trust that would ease any jewelry store employee eager to make a high-dollar sale. And that's exactly how cops say the 85-year-old has managed to walk off with pricey jewels in countless thefts around the world over six decades. Asked about her exploits, she speaks in broad terms laced with insinuation, refusing to give specifics of how she selects a target or what she says. "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," Payne recently told the AP. "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."

Asked about jewelry she's said to have stolen, Payne interrupts the question. "I've never, ever walked out of a jewelry store with a piece of stolen merchandise in my purse, in my pocket," she said. "Never. I've never, ever concealed." Police would dispute her claim. She was arrested in October and accused of pocketing a $690 pair of earrings from a Christian Dior boutique in a Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Atlanta. Payne was raised in West Virginia and moved with her family to Ohio when she was a teenager. After high school, she worked in a nursing home on and off for about four years. That's the only "real job" she ever had. "I could have been more than what I was," she said. "I'm aware of that." Asked to describe what she's been in her life, she's quick to answer: "I was a thief. You know that," she said with a chuckle. The legend of Payne's thefts have long fascinated the public and media. And while she said she doesn't have an ego, she wouldn't mind seeing a movie made about her life. Her pick to star: Kerry Washington from Scandal. "If it should happen, I hope I'm around long enough to make sure it happens right," she said. "I know what I've done. I'm not too ashamed of it." (Read more jewelry theft stories.)

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