CMPD: International jewel thief, 84, targets SouthPark store

Published: Jul. 18, 2015 at 11:25 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2015 at 11:25 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Jonathan McFadden/The Charlotte Observer) - Police say an octogenarian, international jewel thief, credited with a decades-long career in locales like France and Monte Carlo, stole a $33,000 ring from a SouthPark Mall jewelry store this month.

Call her the "Golden Girl" of crime.

Doris Payne, a convicted, 84-year-old jewelry thief whose criminal record dates to the 1950s, stole a diamond-studded platinum ring from the David Yurman store on July 11, according to an email CMPD sent to jewelers in the area. The Observer obtained a copy of the email.

Now some members of Charlotte's jewelers community are on alert, safeguarding their inventory against a woman who CMPD said has stolen jewelery from retailers in Great Britain, France, Switzerland and other countries.

"I'm sure Charlotte is just a blip on the map for her compared to Paris, Tokyo and Greece," said Dovy Klarberg, vice president of Diamonds Direct Southpark, across from the mall. "Certainly, her age and her persona...would never lend you any hints that she was a world-famous jewelery thief."

'She is very good'

Payne is infamous in the jewelery industry, and so are her tactics, Klarberg said.

Posing as a well-to-do woman with money to spare, she walks into a jewelery store and asks to see a diamond ring, according to a 2005 Associated Press story. Personable and charming, she engages the clerk and asks to see an assortment of pieces.

Then, after confusing employees with the number of expensive jewelry items out of their cases, she casually slips one on her finger and leaves the store.

In Charlotte, it was sometime before 12:30 p.m. when she walked into David Yurman, a luxury jewelry retail chain, and allegedly took an engagement ring decorated with a platinum band and several small diamonds positioned in a halo, according to a police report.

"She uses the 'sleight of hand tactic,'" CMPD wrote in the email. "Basically, she will have employees pull jewelry out of a display case. Once the employee is distracted, she quickly conceals them...She is very good. She fooled the manager at David Yurman."

CMPD officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Employees at David Yurman referred questions to the corporate office in New York, where no one could be reached for comment.

"My guess is that Doris is long gone," said Klarberg, of Diamonds Direct. "What makes her successful is that she's kind of flying under the radar. She doesn't have that typical smash-and-grab, hectic, violent jewelry heist tactic that you may be more familiar with in movies."

Originally from West Virginia, Payne is believed to have stolen up to $2 million in jewels over the past 60 years, including a 10-carat diamond from Cartier in Monte Carlo, according to the New York Post.

Last year, Payne pleaded guilty to one felony count each of burglary and grand theft for stealing a 3.5-carat, $22,5000 ring from a California jeweler while on probation for stealing another ring in Los Angeles, according to USA Today.

She was sentenced to four years in prison but was to serve half of her time in jail and the other half under mandatory supervision. Payne was released three months later due to jail overcrowding.

She was arrested again last September when she failed to report to probation authorities, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. She was released in October after persuading a judge she was confused about the reporting requirements.

In 2013, her life and proclivities were chronicled in a documentary, "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne."

"She is not a spring chicken but she knows what she's doing," Klarberg said of Payne. "Though it's criminal, Doris is someone kind of to be admired in a strange way. She's very slick. She definitely has a talent."