The Life of a Career Jewel Thief

One 75-year-old woman's remarkable career - as an international jewel thief


She looks tired as she runs her hand across her lips and rests her thin fingers on her forehead. Her dress these days is a blue jail uniform.

Doris Payne is again behind bars, this time in Las Vegas' Clark County jail on charges that she stole a diamond ring from one of her old haunts - a Neiman Marcus store, this one in Palo Alto, Calif. - and sold it in Las Vegas. She also faces charges of stealing another ring from a Las Vegas jewelry store, violating parole in Colorado and skipping town while out on bail from a previous Las Vegas theft at a Neiman Marcus.

She doesn't dwell much on the past: "I've had regrets, and I've had a good time."

It's been a long journey. It was fun dressing up, fun forging this career all on her own. It was never about making money or spending it. It was about the game.

Once, she swears, she threw a ring in the trash. She didn't want it. It meant nothing.

She stole diamond rings, she says, because "they're easier than everything else." She, herself, wore simple gold earrings. She never much cared for diamonds.

"I don't know," she said in a rare moment where she considers her criminal past. "I think the whole thing just got out of hand. It kind of went amok."

She says she is done with thievery. No more, she says.

But the men and women who tracked her just laugh. "If she's alive, she's going to be still stealing," Kennedy said.

Jean Herbert, a longtime friend, asked Payne about her future: "I said, 'You're in your 70s, you cannot wear the bars of the jail out.' I said, `Aren't you tired?'"

She never got an answer.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - This story is based on interviews with Doris Payne, prosecutors, detectives, FBI agents, friends, jewelry store employees and court records. Angie Wagner is the AP's Western regional writer, based in Las Vegas.


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