KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, HOST:
The FBI file on jewel thief Doris Payne is said to be more than six feet long. The tall, thin, black woman is known for using her charm, elegance and a specialized sleight of hand to disarm clerks and walk out with precious jewels. Over her 60-year career, she is thought to have stolen $2 million in jewelry.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF DORIS PAYNE")
DORIS PAYNE: My methodology of stealing jewelry took me all over the world. Go to New York, Milan, Paris, Rome.
GRIGSBY BATES: That's a clip from the documentary "The Life And Crimes Of Doris Payne." The film takes us from Payne's impoverished beginnings in West Virginia and to a lavish life on the run. Now 84 years old, Payne has been in and out of jail dozens of times, including earlier this year. The film follows Payne through one of her most recent trials in 2011 where she ended up spending two and a half years in jail.
Matthew Pond is the co-director and producer of the documentary "The Life And Crimes Of Doris Payne." Eunetta Boone is a screenwriter who has researched Payne's life extensively and is featured in the documentary. They're both with me here at NPR West. Welcome to the program.
MATTHEW POND: Thanks for having me.
EUNETTA BOONE: Hi.
GRIGSBY BATES: Matthew Pond, when you all started this, what were your impressions when you met her? You know, when you just eyeballed her, what did you think?
POND: So I actually met her in jail in Orange County. And I would visit her on a weekly basis. She was behind a glass partition. And I was immediately struck by her charm and the fact that even at that time - she was in her late-70s - there was a real child-like quality to her. We developed this relationship over a period of months. She was released, and my filmmaking partner and I filmed her for a period of a year. She went to San Diego, and she was convicted of stealing a diamond down there. So we followed the trial.
GRIGSBY BATES: Talk about her charm. Because to take out trays of diamond rings and just lay them in front of her - and inevitably she would leave with a little something for herself. How did she do that?
POND: I think the easy answer to that question is that Doris is fearless. And I think that's a double-edged sword for her. You know, it gives her the ability to go into Cartier and steal a 10-carat diamond. She's also aware of what it's like to be in jail. And she's not afraid of it.
BOONE: I think Doris really thinks she's an actress. I really think that she thinks she's playing the part of Doris Payne. Actually, I would argue that Matthew and I don't really know her at all. We know the person that she has presented to us.
GRIGSBY BATES: I want to ask you about a scene toward the end of the film where you and Doris are talking. There's a glass to separate you. You're talking on the phone. And at some point, she just leans in and says to you, hello, I am speaking in English. Yes, I did it. I took it. Were you surprised?
POND: That scene was shocking and surprising to us. We were never really sure whether she took this diamond. And she swore black and blue to her children, to her lawyer, to us, to anyone that would listen that although she was a jewel thief, she wasn't guilty of that particular crime.
GRIGSBY BATES: She wasn't the thief of that jewel.
GRIGSBY BATES: Yeah.
POND: So when she finally did fess up, it made us realize, you know, she had the last laugh.
BOONE: She gave your movie the ending that it needed. And she knew she was doing that. One of the things I always say, which I said to Matthew, you have to be very careful not to fall in love with her.
GRIGSBY BATES: I wanted to ask you about that. So what do you mean when you say that? Because you're saying that despite whatever the psychology of doing what she does is, she's so fearless and so...
BOONE: She's got balls.
GRIGSBY BATES: Yeah.
BOONE: And this is the same woman that, dealt a different set of cards, could've probably changed the world.
POND: It's one of the many paradoxes of Doris Payne and why some people find her very likable because I think they admire her chutzpah.
GRIGSBY BATES: Did you feel suckered in at the end?
POND: Of course I did, yeah. I mean, it's one thing to see an old woman in jail and to realize that we'd been played. That was a hard thing to deal with.
GRIGSBY BATES: Where is Doris now?
POND: So Doris is living in Long Beach, Southern California. She is spending nights in hotels, in Greyhound bus stations. There's none of the money left.
BOONE: And you can't be a punk and do that.
GRIGSBY BATES: And live on the street.
BOONE: At 84.
POND: She just celebrated her 84th birthday a couple weeks back.
GRIGSBY BATES: Has Doris seen the film? Does she - does she know how all of this turns out on film?
POND: Doris has seen the film. And I was very nervous before I showed it to her. There are depictions of her that aren't particularly flattering. And she halfway through it stopped and said could we go get a bite to eat now? So she was really not so interested in her entire story. You know, she really lives in the moment. And so we went to get a bite to eat and came back and finished the film. And she liked it. She seemed to like it.
GRIGSBY BATES: Matthew Pond is the co-director and producer of the documentary "The Life And Crimes Of Doris Payne." Thanks for your time.
POND: Thank you so much.
GRIGSBY BATES: And screenwriter Eunetta Boon, thanks for your time today.
BOONE: Thank you.
GRIGSBY BATES: This documentary will air Sunday night on Al Jazeera America.
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