The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne

February 11, 2020

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne is a stylish, engrossing, and ultimately sad film about an 84-year-old Black American woman who achieved fame and notoriety as a world-class jewel thief in a career that spans 64 years. In the opening and closing scenes of the video, Doris, then 80 years old, is accused of stealing an $8,000 diamond ring from a Macy’s store in San Diego. How did this amiable, soft-spoken old woman get into this situation? The film relates her life story—or more correctly—life episodes within a life course perspective, recruiting her friends, family members, law enforcement, a college professor, and primarily Doris herself to share their views of her roots, motives, methods, morals, and continuing recidivism. The Rorschach-like telling allows viewers to draw their own answers to the question: Who is Doris Payne? How did “a poor, single, African-American mother from segregated 1930’s America wind up as one of the world’s most notorious and successful jewel thieves?”

Read full review in The Gerontologist.