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A thief, yes, but far from common

Elegant and well-spoken, Doris Payne knew people could be made to forget, even about diamond rings.

July 06, 2008|DeeDee Correll | Times Staff Writer

The beginning of the end came 10 years ago when she stole a five-carat diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus in Denver. Captured several months later when a security guard recognized her at a mall in Pennsylvania, she was convicted in 1999 and was sentenced to 12 years.

By 2005, she was on parole in Colorado. She began slipping away on jaunts to other states. In Nevada, she stole an $8,500 ring. In California, she walked out of a Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto with a $31,500 three-stone diamond ring with a platinum band, police records show.

Store officials suspected that the well-spoken stranger was Payne. Over the years, they had lost a lot of money to a woman who fit her description.

Two days later, she was spotted in the Las Vegas Neiman Marcus, filling a bag with $2,700 worth of clothing. When she walked outside, authorities stopped her, according to police reports.

When police interviewed her, Payne admitted stealing the ring in Palo Alto and described how she had done it. On her booking sheet, she gave her occupation as "jewel thief."

Sentenced to two to five years for pawning the stolen Palo Alto ring in Las Vegas, as well as stealing a ring in Nevada that year, she spent the last two years in a Nevada prison.

This spring, Payne returned to Colorado to complete the prison term interrupted by her other adventures. By the time she gets out, she'll be 81. But the law won't be done with her then -- she must return to California to face charges for the Palo Alto theft.

At the Denver prison where she has traded leather heels for work boots with "inmate" stamped on the sole, one of the jewelry industry's more persistent headaches says she's done stealing. "I could kill myself in here," she said. She just wants out so she can live the rest of her life free.

"She's not going to steal anymore," said her son, who hopes to offer her a home.

Even if she wanted to go back to her old ways, Ronald said, she could hardly get away with it.

"There's not a jewelry store in this nation that doesn't have a picture of Doris Payne in the back room with her gray-haired self," he said. "She's through."

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deedee.correll@latimes.com

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