The Notorious Granny Gem Thief: 15 Shocking Facts About Doris Payne

The birth, life, and criminal record of Doris Payne, is nothing less than extraordinary. For someone who was born to a coal miner, she certainly didn’t get stuck in the rural town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, doing something small townish, this woman became an infamous, international jewel thief.

Doris has used 20 different aliases and has been arrested over 20 times in several countries around the world. Payne started out by stealing watches when she was just a kid and soon graduated to being a full-blown criminal. She has had a pretty successful criminal career that has spanned more than 60 years of her life. For whatever reason, it seems as though Doris has been arrested for theft more often in her 80s than any other decade in her life. Her age may be a huge factor in it, she just might not have what it takes to get away as often as she once could. She once hid a $500,000 ring from authorities in her clothing! She got away with it too!

Some of these interesting facts are pieces of information that are well known since her story has been broadcast by news programs all over the world. To top off Doris Payne’s notoriety, there was even a documentary about her life with the discussion of making a biopic about her as well. Other facts listed here are lesser known details of this jewel thief's life yet are still just as shocking as all the rest.

15 Her Birth

When you hear of some people’s humble beginnings and you find out what they grow up to become, the results can be shocking. It is more interesting when they are cold blooded killers or complete psychopaths, but seeing where jewel thieves come from can be very interesting as well, especially when you’re talking about Doris Payne. She was born to humble beginnings in Slab Fork, West Virginia, a town so small, it currently only has a population of 202 citizens. Doris’s mother was a Cherokee Native American and her father was a coal miner. The woman that would come to be known as an international jewel thief was born here on October 10th, 1930. Since she went from rags to riches, at least for a time, she’s living proof that your birthplace doesn’t define you.

14 A Criminal At 10

There are some reports and accounts of Doris Payne’s life that say her crime spree didn’t start until she was in her 80s, but the first time she stole anything, she was just a child. At the young age of ten, Doris stole her first item while distracting the store’s owner with charm; it was a watch. It’s rather unfortunate that she got her first taste of crime at such an early age since younger children are much more impressionable than people who are older and more capable of making better decisions. Instead of growing out of this “thieving phase,” Doris only embraced it. As each year passed, she was able to get away with more dangerous heists and had developed her criminal career into a craft of her own. By the times she hit her 20s, she was a full-blown thief. In an interview, Doris says that she began stealing watches to save her mother from an abusive relationship, but by the time she had reached her 20s, she was doing it to maintain her lavish lifestyle.

13 Her Modus Operandi Works

The term “Modus Operandi” refers to a particular method, or way, of doing things, especially if it is a method that is well established. Doris Payne’s method used one thing in particular: her charm. She would groom herself to take the guise of a classy lady and she would enter her targeted store. Upon seeing a nicely dressed, well-educated woman in their store, the last thing the store’s owners and associates would be thinking was that she was a hardened criminal. As she charmed the staff with fanciful stories of faraway places, she would ask to see several high-end pieces of jewelry. As the employee was distracted with the stories and such, Doris would casually pocket a piece or two from the store’s collection. No matter how many warnings were sent out to jewelry stores worldwide, Doris still seemed to manage to get inside and charm her way into finer jewels.

12 She Is An International Jewel Thief

It is one thing to be called a jewel thief, it’s even more infamous if your name is known across the country. What’s absolutely shocking is this jewelry thief is in the international category, which of course means that she’s been hawking jewelry all over the world. Well, not ALL over the world, just the United States and France. At one point this lady had warrants for her arrest in two countries at once! She’s also had 20 arrests in different countries including France, Switzerland, Britain, and Greece! This leads us to believe that she could have possibly added jewelry to her constantly growing collection from these places as well, even though she might never have been caught for the specific crime. She was putting in work, just not the good kind.

11 Her Criminal Career Spans More Than Six Decades

Six decades is a long time, and Doris has been a criminal longer than that. Some reports claim that her criminal record dates back to 1952, while others claim that she really got things going beginning in the 70s when she allegedly stole a $500,000 ring. This “Granny Gem Thief” got busted this last time about a week ago while in a Walmart, but we’ll cover that in more detail in a second. Before her latest bust, she was arrested for stealing two diamond necklaces. A year before that, she stole $690 earrings and it was discovered that she was wanted in North Carolina for stealing a $33,000 ring. Before that, she stole a $22,000 ring, and in 2011 she was sentenced to five years for stealing a $8,900 ring. Her criminal rap sheet is so long, you could write a movie about her. In fact, someone did.

10 She’s Bold

Remember that Walmart theft we just mentioned that happened about a week ago? Doris Payne was a bold thief when it came to that heist. Not that she took things worth a lot of money, but for the fact that she was actively wearing an ankle bracelet, from her previous arrest! She only had to wear the ankle monitor for a short two weeks before she was allowed to have it taken off. What’s even more shocking about the whole situation isn’t just that she was still under probation for her other crimes, let’s face it, a lot of criminals still do crimes while under probation, but Doris violated hers over $86 worth of stuff, from Walmart. Oh, how the mighty has fallen.

9 There’s A Documentary About Her Life

Doris is such a renowned jewelry thief that a documentary was made depicting her life; it is called The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne. The film features, of course, Doris Payne, throughout her life. This documentary is interesting since it includes exclusive interviews with not only herself but with her son and daughter as well. The film was finished and first distributed in 2013. In 2014, the Doris documentary was a featured film at the Film Festival in Palm Springs, California. It was fully released in 2015, and you can watch it for yourself either on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, or Google Play. It is definitely a movie to see if you have interest in one of the most notorious jewelry thieves in the world.

8 She Once Escaped Federal Custody While At A Hospital

Although we weren’t able to find specific reports regarding this particular incident, it’s shocking that anyone would be able to pull off such a feat. Yes, it may have been the 80s, and we have much better law enforcement and security measures now, but it seems a little crazy that a person could escape federal custody, in any decade. The story we got was that she had claimed to need medical attention and she along with the federal agents that were guarding her took a trip to the nearest hospital in Ohio. At some point, Doris was able to give her keepers the slip and made it successfully out of federal custody and she was free. Although she did get away, her freedom was short lived and she was arrested shortly after her escape.

7 Halle Berry Was Going To Portray Her

The gorgeous Halle Berry was supposed to play the part of the infamous Doris Payne in an up and coming biopic, however, it seems like that project is currently on hold for unknown reasons. For those of you who don’t know what a “biopic” is, it’s a biographical movie. What’s the difference between a biography and a documentary? A biography is a nonfiction story about a specific person, while a documentary is about an issue or an event. Although the deal seems to be off the table for Halle playing her in the biopic, Payne has mentioned that she hopes that Scandal actress Kerry Washington plays her sometime in the future. Regardless of which of these leading ladies portray Doris, the part will be well played.

6 She Has Used Over 20 Different Aliases

Most days it feels overwhelming keeping track of one person’s details and personal information. Add a few kids and a significant other into the mix and you’re soon forced to remember too much for your brain to be able to both handle and function at the same time. That’s why they made coffee. If you think remembering the personal details of just a few different people would be hard, just imagine trying to keep 20 different identities straight. On top of using over 20 different aliases, Doris has also been accused of using ten social security numbers as well as nine different date of births. Who did she steal all this information from? She certainly wasn’t able to file that many birth certificates and what not. The amount of crimes this woman committed is insane.

5 They Never Found The Diamond From Her Most Famous Heist

According to many reports, Doris Payne’s biggest or most famous heist happened in the 1970s. She distracted the sales employee and made off with a 10-carat diamond ring worth $500,000 from a Monte Carlo jewelry store. When it was found that the prized ring had been stolen, a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was able to get the ring out of the store and seemed free and clear but she was arrested in Nice, France, where she was sent back to Monte Carlo to be prosecuted. Doris was then held by authorities for nine long months before they had to let her go. They couldn’t charge her with the theft because they never found the stolen ring. In the Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, Payne relished in the fact that she had gotten away because she stuffed the ring in her girdle, a type of corset worn around the waist.

4 She Has Reportedly Stolen Millions Of Dollars Worth Of Jewels

If you started by counting the $500,000 ring she says she successfully got away with back in the 70s, she’s already halfway to a million dollars, so we absolutely believe that she’s stolen several million dollars worth of fine jewelry. Not counting her last heist totaling a whopping $86, most of her thefts have been of substantial value. Everyone can safely assume that a jewelry thief has a sense for the finer, more expensive things in life, and judging by all the fine jewelry, clothing, and accessories Doris Payne has claimed for her own, her taste in style is for only the finest things. She may not have had a lump sum of several million, but throughout her criminal career, we honestly believe she’s stolen her fair share of merchandise.

3 Her Walmart Arrest Could Spell The End

Although she has, for the most part, been able to charm her way out of serious jail time on many different occasions, she violated parole when she stole from Walmart. Like it was mentioned before, she was bold enough to wear the ankle bracelet into the store where she stole, even after the judge had told her “no more shopping trips.” Currently, her representative is claiming that her Walmart thieving spree was “out of the ordinary” for her, and Doris herself is saying that she didn’t remember doing it. While the claim that it was out of the ordinary for her was most likely regarding the fact that she stole less than a hundred dollars worth of stuff versus the half a million she stole in a single ring, that doesn’t mean that she didn’t do it. Since she violated her parole, there are rumors that this criminal could finally face some serious jail time.

2 Despite The Jewels, She Became Homeless

At one point during Doris’s life, she was living a luxurious and excessive lifestyle. She paid for lavish items to pamper herself and she took care of both of her children. However, no matter how good she thought she had it, all good things must come to an end. Doris’s end might just come up when the judge sentences her for her Walmart shopping trip but the reason she was stealing from the discount department store in the first place was because she actually needed stuff. Despite having thousand upon thousands of dollars worth of fine jewelry, she became homeless in 2015. It just goes to prove that you could cheat your way to the top, but those who do don’t often stay there.

1 Her Only Regret

Just like a mastermind jewel thief, she only regrets one thing in life, and that isn’t the fact that she was a thief in the first place but that she was caught at all. Since she says she first began stealing at a young age to protect and help her mother escape from an abusive relationship she was in at the time, it’s not hard to believe that Doris didn’t really see what she was doing as wrong. Yes, she has shown a little remorse, but it seems like that brief effort was all for show. She might have even seen herself as a kind of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich jewelers to fund her and her children’s lives. Regardless of her reasons behind all the actions of her criminal career, the fact that her only regret is that she was caught is rather sad.

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