Serial jewellery thief, 86, becomes unlikely Twitter hero after new arrest

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Anna Brech
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A notorious octogenarian thief from the US state of Georgia has become something of an unlikely hero on social media, after her latest arrest at a Walmart store this week.

Doris Payne, 86, is thought to have stolen over $2million (£154million) of jewellery and has used at least 22 aliases in her decades-long stint as a shoplifter, which began when she was just 23 years old.

And, while stealing should never be condoned, news of the pensioner’s latest run-in with the authorities has drawn grudging respect and admiration from those on Twitter.

While a few people pointed out that a thief is still a thief, many more saluted Payne’s sheer dedication to the cause and painted her as an underdog rebel-with-a-cause figure:

Payne recently pleaded guilty to stealing a diamond necklace worth $2,000 (£1,544) from a department store in the suburb of Atlanta.

But her latest stint as a petty criminal in a Walmart in Chamblee, Georgia, was more modest; police said she was caught with items worth £66 from the grocery, electronic and pharmacy areas of the supermarket.

At the time of her arrest on Monday evening, Payne was found to be wearing an electronic ankle monitor from a previous shoplifting incident. She was later released on bail.

Her lawyer Drew Findling said the products his client stole in this new episode were necessities.

“This is a sharp contrast to all the cases in the past. We're not talking about high-end jewellery,” he told local media.

“We're talking about what an 86-year-old woman needs to survive on a day-to-day basis, food supplies and medical supplies.”

Payne has served multiple jail terms for her pilfering and was the subject of 2013 Netflix documentary, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne.

At the height of her run as an international diamond thief, she used charm to her advantage. Instead of cutting and running with the jewels, she would start chatting to the store clerks, distract them with stories and then slip away into a waiting cab.

“She is a woman and has a stately appearance about her,” said the late Ron Eddins, who had dealings with Payne in his career assistant US attorney. “So it’s hard for people to believe she’s a liar, cheater and a stealer.”

“Everyone sees her as this nice little old lady and she gets away with it,” added Denver police detective Diane Stack.

Payne has always been open about her addiction. “I’ve had regrets, and I’ve had a good time,” she told the Associated Press in 2005. “I think the whole thing just got out of hand. It kind of went amok.”

Images: Rex


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.