‘Notorious’ career jewel thief Doris Payne, 83, arrested again

Doris Payne looked comfortable - regal, really - in her pale blue jumpsuit in an Indio courtroom Thursday morning.

But then the octogenarian with a jewelry theft rap sheet so savory it became a documentary has done this all before.

At her arraignment for a recent alleged heist in Palm Desert, she wore her white hair combed neatly back and a metal chain around her small waist.


When Superior Court Judge Randall White called her name, she stood up slowly. He asked if she was being represented by a public defender.

“No, I’m not,” she responded stoically.

He agreed to push her arraignment back to Nov. 5 since she plans to get her own lawyer.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she smiled just enough for the fluorescent light to catch her high cheek bones as she was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Over the years, Payne has had a fair share of prominent lawyers, who struggled to stop her from talking about her life of crime.

“Doris is an extraordinary woman who has lead an extraordinary life,” said Blair Berk, a Los Angeles criminal attorney who typically represents the rich and famous but has represented Payne in the past and has kept in touch with her over the years.

“I think it would be quite foolish to presume anything about this new matter, except to presume her innocence unless and until proven otherwise,” Berk said.

Retired FBI Special Agent Paul Graupmann, who once captured Payne in Ohio in the 1980s after she escaped from federal custody during a hospital visit, said he isn’t surprised by the latest arrest.

“She cannot help herself,” Graupmann said. “She is a career jewel thief. She thinks she is best. She’s become notorious ... and that isn’t always good because she gets caught over and over again.”

In the latest case, police said Payne walked into El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert and told a clerk 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.”

She walked out with a $22,000 ring - and Mehta didn’t notice it was missing until much later.

“It’s never happened that someone stole right in front of me,” he said.

Graupmann said tales of her globe-trotting capers - including diamond smuggling in Monte Carlo - are real.

“In her youth, she was quite beautiful to go along with her charms. I see why Halle Berry wanted to make a movie about her life.”

Payne’s crimes have captured extensive media attention over the years. Most recently, she has been the subject of a documentary, “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne.” The documentary is currently on the film festival circuit.


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Twitter: @katemather