An ex–jewel thief’s account of her more than 50-year career stealing fabulously expensive gems from some of the world’s most exclusive stores.
Born to an African American coal miner father and his Native American wife in the West Virginia community of Slab Fork, Payne grew up with a keen awareness of social injustice. She knew from childhood that “greedy coal mining companies made a ton of money” on poor families by skimping on housing and mine safety. Though her family lived decently, she and her mother sometimes became victims of her father’s violence. Determined to stay independent of men and help her mother get away from her father, Payne employed a talent for theft that she accidentally discovered while trying on watches at a jewelry store. She began her criminal career in her early teens stealing food from the market and money from school for her family. As her confidence grew, so did her desire to live in the luxury denied people of color. By her late teens, Payne used her beauty and charm to entice store jewelry store clerks into showing her the expensive jewelry she took with ease. Later, she became involved with a married Jewish businessman who introduced her to the black market underworld and helped her score major thefts all over the country. After his death, Payne set her sights on international heists at stores like Cartier and Bulgari. She served one light jail sentence late in her career for a minor theft, yet neither the FBI nor international police were ever able to definitively prove her guilt. Payne’s personal charm is clearly evident on every page, but what makes her book especially provocative is her righteous anger at a (largely white) diamond trade built on the backs of poor Africans and her belief that she was “notorious on purpose.”
Engaging reading about an elegant modern-day Robin Hood.