By Rob Bates
After six decades of thefts, notorious octogenerian jewel filcher Doris Payne may have grown too famous for her line of work.
The 84-year-old, famed for her grandmotherly demeanor and doorstop of a rap sheet, was recently arrested for trespassing, and was thwarted in a purported visit to a San Francisco jewelry store.
According to the SFGate.com, Payne was nabbed on Feb. 9 for trespassing at a San Francisco department store and was held on a 33-year-old warrant, which was dismissed at a court appearance the next day. She was released at 10 that morning.
That afternoon, Payne, who has admitted to dozens of thefts and was last nabbed for stealing a diamond in 2013, is believed to have visited local jeweler Manika.
Manika owner Peter Walsh tells JCK he had a brief talk with an elderly African-American woman. While he didn’t know about Payne and her history, something about her was a bit off.
“She was at the front of the store, and said she was looking for an 18k gold chain,” he says. “I could see she was mostly interested in me taking her somewhere and opening up the case. It was kind of a tip-off.”
Otherwise, though, the woman was “very polite, dressed nicely, she looked like she was well-to-do,” he says. “She is an elegant lady. I could see her being a client.”
Walsh told her he didn’t have what she wanted and recommended some other stores. Just then, Gigi Gruber, who runs Atelier Gigi, a custom design store within Manika, recognized her as Payne. A few days earlier, she had received an email from a friend, warning her that Payne could be in the San Francisco area.
“After I got that email, I looked her up on the Internet, and saw there was this documentary about her, that Halle Berry was maybe going to star in a movie,” says Gruber. “So I had her in the back of mind.”
After Gruber spotted her, she checked online to make sure it was her.
“As she was walking out, I walked up to her and said, ‘Are you Doris Payne?’ ” she recalls. “And she said no. But she kind of had a little smile on her face. And then I wagged my finger, and said, ‘Yes you are.’ And then she winked and smiled and turned on her heels and walked away.”
John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, says the incident underscores the importance of information sharing among local jewelers.
“We have been putting out bulletins on this lady since the 1970s,” he says. “She wins the prize for the longest-existing jewelry criminal. She is never going to stop.”
Kennedy notes that jails don’t want to lock up someone Payne’s age, as they would have to foot the bill for her health isssues.
Among the charges Payne has incurred in her now-legendary crime career, according to The Denver Post: a 1975 charge for stealing an emerald ring worth $15,000 in France and escape from custody in 1968 and 1987. According to ABC News, she has five different social security numbers and has used 20 different aliases.
Walsh is just happy he wasn’t her latest victim. “This shows what happens when the jewelry community works together,” he says.