Diamond Doris Opens the Book on her Life
Politicians aside, career criminals are the kind of people we tend to know very little about, despite how many blanks we’re capable of filling with our overactive imagination. Their line of work requiring secrecy, it’s only natural for the information which is passed down onto us to be filtered. Doris Payne, however, has decided to open story to the world in her autobiography titled Diamond Doris.
For those who aren’t familiar with her, Doris Payne is a convicted international jewel thief who made her debut in the United States, born in the poverty-stricken town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. As a woman of colour, she was told her hopes and dreams were beyond reach and the world sought to limit what she could be.
After being kicked out of a jewellery store at the arrival of a white customer, Payne decided to try and do her part to set the record straight, starting her career as a shoplifter in various local stores.
This marked the beginning of her six-decades long-career (and from the looks of her recent arrests, still ongoing) as an international jewel thief who stole the half-a-million’s worth diamond ring from Monte Carlo.
In this autobiography published only last year (2019). Doris Payne takes the time to delve back deep into her life and reflect on all she has been through. Starting with her formative years as a young girl in West Virginia, going through her extensive international jewel thief career and ending with her current lot in life, Payne does her best to show her life story as it happened from her own perspective.
Though a career criminal’s account of their own deeds always ought to be taken with a few grains of salt, I believe it still represents a golden opportunity to try and get to know the kind of people who have truly distinguished themselves from the rest in highly unusual ways.
The Formative Years of Diamond Doris
Though we often do think of career criminals as liars, from the opening pages Payne already shines her infamous disarming charm which allowed her to commit so many robberies, making me feel like I could trust her account, for the most part at least. Looking back on it, there is a very self-aware honesty about the writings in this book, and it felt like Payne simply kept some things secret rather than lying.
In any case, the life story we are following in this book only starts out with unfortunately familiar beats; Payne digs deep into her memories to recall quite a bit about her childhood. Living in a broken home with an abusive father in the segregated South is obviously something which marked her profoundly and shaped her as a person, and thankfully she doesn’t gloss over it.
I can’t pretend to know what she or the many others like her have and are going through in regards to racism, but even so many of the passages were successful in really making me understand where Doris Payne came from to end up where she did. She was looking for a way to fight back against a world besieging her from all sides… it just so happened her methods weren’t ethical nor legal.
I found, as an author Payne did a great job at communicating in as much depth as she could remember her feelings and thought processes in her younger years. Still evidently in possession of a sharp mind, she is quite honest and realistic with herself as well as the reader about her decisions, ambitions and many mistakes.
While only Payne can truly know and judge her own life, I think overall she succeeded in making me understand how a poor and segregated girl from 1930s West Virginia could be pushed to becoming the world’s most notorious jewel thief.
The Wild Six-Decade Ride
I’m probably right when I’m guessing for most people, the big allure of this book is reading Payne’s accounts of her own heists, how she pulled them off, who she sold the items to, and so on and so forth. Rest assured, the meat and potatoes of this book do indeed rest in her insanely long career and she does walk us through a good number of her beautifully-simple heists.
With this being said, there are certain aspects of her criminal life she omits to elaborate on, such as some of her techniques for the most prolific heists or the people who ended up buying their merchandise.
While I too would have liked to know those things, I can certainly understand why shouldn’t want to smear dirt over the names of people who have likely passed away some time ago (many of her jewels were sold to Hollywood celebrities), or why she wouldn’t want to reveal all of her trade secrets. I think even without these bits of information we still have more than we ever could have hoped for.
To be honest, there are moments when her life almost reads like some of kind of heist thriller, especially when we get to the part where she begins to travel the rest of the world, up to her most infamous heist in Monte Carlo. Though she was arrested in France for the theft of the diamond ring worth half a million dollars, the ring itself was never recovered.
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I think what lends Payne’s story a good vivacious spark is her shameless irreverence for all the things she did. She isn’t one bit sorry to have led the life she did, and it shows in the fondness of her recollections.
The Final Verdict
Diamond Doris by Doris Payne is a unique gem in the true crime genre, with one of the world’s most notorious jewel thieves telling her story in her own words. It had me glued to the pages from start to finish, and provides an amazing amount of insight into the life of a woman who defied everything and everyone on her way to international greatness (of a kind).
If you’re interested in true crime autobiographies and the concept of jewel thieves, then I believe you will find this book to be a fascinating and memorable read.
Doris Payne (Diamond Doris)
Doris Payne is an American convicted jewel thief who also took up authorship later in her life by writing her autobiography titled Diamond Doris.
Her life was also the subject of a documentary titled The life and Crimes of Doris Payne, in which she recounts her whole life from the hardships of her youth to her conviction for a jewellery theft at the age of 83.