Atlanta Police Capture 85-Year-Old International Jewelry Thief

International jewelry thief Doris Payne, who was the subject of a 2013 documentary about her criminal career, has been arrested in Atlanta. The 85-year-old was caught stealing a pair of Christian Dior earrings costing $690 inside Saks Fifth Avenue at Phipps Plaza.

“I think these officers just thought it was a run of the mill shoplifting, said Sgt. Warren Pickard, with the Atlanta Police Department. According to the police report, an employee reported seeing her slip the earrings into her pocket on the store’s surveillance video. “She put them in her pocket and politely walked out of the store,” Pickard said. “They took the woman into custody and short time thereafter they get notice that another jurisdiction had a warrant for her and she was an international thief.”

The Guardian wrote a detailed profile of Payne:

The daughter of an illiterate coal miner, Payne was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia. When she was 23, she walked out of a Pittsburgh jewellery store with a diamond valued at $22,000, kicking off a criminal career that would land her behind bars multiple times, including a nearly five-year prison stint in Colorado, she told The Associated Press in 2005.

She developed a winning strategy — dressing nicely, carrying a designer handbag and arming herself with a detailed story — that she used to charm jewelry store employees.

Faced with a well-to-do woman with money to spend, store employees would relax their rules and bring out multiple high-value pieces at once, and Payne would quickly slip the expensive baubles on and off until the employee lost track and she could easily leave with one in hand.

Payne is believed to have committed countless thefts over six decades in the United States and Europe, but ten years ago she swore she was done with her life of crime. That didn’t seem to be the case as other arrests followed; she is currently suspected of stealing a $32,000 David Yurman engagement ring from a North Carolina mall in July.

This kind of lifelong commitment is not common in the criminal world. As John J Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, noted, “It’s extraordinarily rare for a criminal to have that lengthy of a career. Usually they either stop because they have enough money and they don’t want the risk anymore, or they’re dead.”

Payne’s lawyer noted that there were health concerns given her age, but he did not elaborate further. “We would look forward to obtaining her release and having her medical needs addressed as soon as possible,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “When that has occurred we can make a determination on how to proceed.”