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International thief is arrested at South Coast Plaza

Doris Payne, 79, whose life of crime is the subject of an upcoming Halle Berry film, is suspected of stealing a $1,300 Burberry trench coat at Saks Fifth Avenue.

January 27, 2010|By Andrew Blankstein
  • Doris Payne remains in custody without bail because of a parole violation.
Doris Payne remains in custody without bail because of a parole violation. (Costa Mesa Police Department )

In the decades she spent honing her craft, Doris Payne employed classic elegance, refined taste, Southern charm and a sleight of hand that could earn the envy of a talented magician.

Like the best illusionists, she had a knack for making things disappear.

Payne's life as an international jewel thief is the subject of an upcoming movie, "Who Is Doris Payne?" starring Halle Berry. But given the latest events in Orange County, the filmmakers may want to consider a new ending.

The 79-year-old was arrested Friday on suspicion of grand theft after security guards at the Saks Fifth Avenue store at South Coast Plaza accused her of taking the tags off a Burberry trench coat valued at $1,300 and walking out without paying, said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Mark Manley.

She remains in custody without bail because of a parole violation. Although she has had high-end tastes, the allegation that she took a coat is a departure of sorts for Payne.

In a 2008 article in The Times, Payne told a reporter that she stole her first diamond in her late 20s, hoping to raise money to help her mother leave an abusive husband. From there, she never looked back. Payne said she had no idea how many jewels she had stolen but that her career as a thief had spanned the globe from New York to London to Tokyo.

Her formula was simple: She would pick a jewelry or high-end department store, try on several ornaments, then distract the clerk as she slipped a ring or bracelet into deep pockets.

Eventually, improvements in store security and surveillance caught up with Payne.

In 1999, she was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison after stealing a 5-carat diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus in Denver. While on parole in 2005, she stole an $8,500 ring in Nevada and a $31,500, three-stone diamond ring in Palo Alto.

She eventually was sentenced to two to five years for the crimes. In the spring of 2008, Payne completed her sentence in Colorado and returned to California, where she remained on parole until her arrest.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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