ATLANTA — An 86-year-old jewel thief who has kept jewelry sellers on their toes since the 1970s has struck again, police say – this time by slipping a $2,000 diamond necklace into her pocket.
Doris Payne, who has been the subject of a documentary and casually said during an Associated Press interview earlier this year that “I was a thief,” was arrested Tuesday at a Von Maur department store outside Atlanta.
Payne was arrested after she put the necklace in her back pocket and tried to leave the store, Dunwoody police spokesman Mark Stevens said in an email. She faces a shoplifting charge.
Online jail records did not show any bond information, and it wasn’t clear whether Payne had an attorney who could comment.
Attorney Shawn McCullers, who represented her last year when she was accused of pocketing a $690 pair of earrings from a Saks Fifth Avenue department store at a mall in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead neighborhood, said in an email Wednesday that he was not currently representing her in the latest arrest.
Authorities have said Payne has lifted pricey baubles from countless jewelry stores around the world in an illicit career that has spanned six decades. The legend of Payne’s alleged thefts have 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.
When asked about her exploits in the interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, she said simply: “I was a thief.”
Court papers in Atlanta reference six cases prior to the alleged theft last year, mostly in southern California, dating to 1999.
Payne was raised in West Virginia and moved with her family to Ohio when she was a teenager.
Authorities have said she has used at least 22 aliases over the years and probably got 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.
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.”