85 years old: “It isn’t every day that you meet a jewel thief,” I said out of earshot, “and certainly not one who reminds you of your banana pudding-baking grandmama.”
She took her place at the head of the table, removed her pricey sunglasses, clasped her hands before her and waited. I noted her veiny hands, her deeply creased yet smooth skin, the softness in her strong but trusting glance.
Payne told her story simply, as if she were taking a mid-afternoon stroll through Piedmont Park when the dogwoods bloomed in the springtime. She spoke like a woman who wasn’t wanted on an outstanding warrant in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, as if she wasn’t facing a new felony shoplifting charge for allegedly stealing a $690 pair of earrings from Saks Fifth Avenue.
“I was a shopper,” she told me at one point. “I knew what I wanted.”
What she wanted was a 3.5-carat ring in Palm Desert, California, and another worth $33,000 from a store in Charlotte, North Carolina. Perhaps she is most infamous for a Monte Carlo caper in the 1970s that yielded a 10-carat diamond ring valued at over a half million dollars. There have been dozens of swoops since then, she readily admits.
“I used to go in stores, slip something into my pocketbook and give it back,” she says of the early years. “It was all in fun.”