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Octogenarian jewel thief nabbed in Calif. ring heist

An octogenarian jewel thief with a criminal past said to stretch five decades is in custody in California on suspicion of swiping a ring worth more than $22,000 from a jewelry store, police said.

Doris Marie Payne, 83, was arrested Tuesday for felony larceny in connection to a burglary at a Palm Desert jeweler, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

The self-proclaimed international jewel thief has said her exploits include heists in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo and the theft of a 10.5 carat diamond in Monte Carlo, according to a documentary released this year titled “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne.”

“It seems like she has a real history,” said Deputy Julio Oseguera, a spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

Oseguera said it was a shock when he learned the extent of Payne’s criminal history.

“It could be the nice old lady from next door who turns out to be something else,” he said.

Payne's latest alleged misdeed came Oct. 21. Police said Payne walked into El Paseo Jewelers around noon and told manager Raju Mehta that all of her jewelry had been stolen and she was hoping to replace the items with a $42,000 check from an insurance company. She told the manager her name was Audrey.

“It doesn’t cross your mind that someone is there to rip you off," Mehta, 54, said.

Mehta showed a variety of pieces to the woman, who said she wanted a pinky ring, neck piece and earrings. After about 40 minutes, the woman said she would return the next day with a cashier’s check to purchase several of the items.

But when the jewelry store employees counted their merchandise that evening, they noticed one ring, valued at $22,500, was missing.

As Mehta waited for the woman to return the next day, his employer called him over to his computer.  

“Her picture was there with the detail that there’s an international jewelry thief on the loose,” Mehta said, adding that he was completely shocked and furious at the discovery. He called police.

“She was dressed very nicely and was so sophisticated and so well spoken,” he said. “She really knew how to get you.”

Payne has been charged with jewel theft several times in the state of California and currently is on probation for convictions stemming from the theft of a $9,000 diamond ring in San Diego and a $16,000 ring from a store in Santa Monica.

She is in custody in Riverside, where she awaits arraignment on the new charges.

Mehta said that he was happy with the police’s response to the situation, and was comforted by the fact that at least he was duped by one of the best in the business.

“In this store, we attract celebrities, and this time we attracted a celebrity thief, also,” he said.