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Jewel thief Doris Payne, 83, knows her 'craft,' store manager says

Doris Payne, 83, an international jewel thief who has been in and out of prison for decades, is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in Indio.

Payne, who is the focus of a recent documentary "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne," was arrested Tuesday in Los Angeles County eight days after she allegedly walked into a Palm Desert jewelry store and stole a $22,000 diamond ring.

On Oct. 18, a veteran detective at a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Palm Desert alerted authorities after recognizing Payne from a 2010 theft and arrest, authorities said. Saks' loss prevention system kept details of Payne’s skills, noting that she would ask to see multiple items at once, causing the sales associate helping her to forget how many items she was looking at, according to her arrest warrant.

Three days later, authorities said that's exactly what happened at El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert. She told a clerk that she had received a $42,000 check from her insurance company to cover losses from a jewelry theft and that she wanted to buy a necklace.

Police said she asked to see a dozen or so different necklaces, then left without buying anything. 

She came back a little while later and asked to look at some other jewelry, including a ring. She said she would come back the next day with a cashier's check.

"I've got to give credit to her craft," store manager Raju Mehta said. "She knows what she's doing."

He said he had been doing retail for "a very long time and it's never happened that someone stole right in front of me."

Riverside County sheriff’s Lt. Roy Grace said authorities viewed YouTube videos of Payne and figured out they had a renowned jewel thief in custody.

Payne was “very cooperative” when arrested, Grace said: “She’s not a fighter or anything like that that you normally deal with.”

“I think the only surprise for me is that you don’t generally have people in their 80s committing crimes like that, especially a female at that age. That’s a little surprising,” Grace said. “That’s not the norm. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s not normal.”

John Kennedy, president of the New York-based Jewelers’ Security Alliance, said over the decades, his organization has sent “innumerable bulletins” about Payne to its members and law enforcement agencies. What makes the now 83-year-old unique, he said, is the length of her criminal career.

“I mean, there’s nobody that has a 50-year career in crime,” he said. “It’s like, either you’re dead or get arrested or you go to jail or you stop. … To be doing this from the '60s to 2013 is highly, highly unusual and almost unprecedented.”

It takes a “certain amount of skill” to distract jewelry sellers as Payne does, Kennedy said: “She knows something about jewelry. She’s able to talk to people and get them comfortable.”

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Twitter: @katemather

kate.mather@latimes.com

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