Portrait missing

Thelma Conner, owner and founder of Ocean City's Dunes Manor Hotel at 28th Street, served tea to hotel guests and the public nearly every day. (Chris Kidler, The Baltimore Sun / February 19, 1996)

Perhaps it was a prank or a desire for an unique Ocean City souvenir, but either way, a portrait of the founder of the Dunes Manor Hotel that hung in the lobby is missing and the hotel wants it back.

Police said the hotel reported the theft of the painting depicting Dunes Manor founder Thelma Conner early Sunday morning. The picture went missing sometime during the night, around 3 a.m., when a hotel security guard noticed it was gone.

Conner, who founded the Victorian-style hotel in 1987 at the age of 74, is a beloved figure in Ocean City. She was known for her Texas twang and her tea-time tradition. She died in 1999.

The portrait hung next to a similar one of Conner's husband, Milton Conner, who passed away before the hotel opened.

Dunes Manor said that while they don't have a specific value for the painting, the sentimental value is huge. Kyle Johnson, the hotel's general manager, said the hotel staff was deeply upset by the theft.

"For us, it's basically irreplaceable. Priceless," said Johnson. "It will be hard to get a new one or duplicate it."

He said the hotel conducted a thorough search of the property but turned up few clues to the missing artwork, which was not secured with any anti-theft devices.

"We haven't had this kind of problem before," Johnson said, adding that the portrait of Conner's husband has been moved from the wall to a secure spot. "We think it's a single incident."

The portrait itself is sizeable at about 30-by-40 inches without the frame, said Johnson, making it difficult to transport or hide. "We're hoping that somebody will contact us and want to return it or has information about where it could be."

Police said they are investigating but there was no surveillance footage available and so far, they have no suspects.

"It is quite odd. It [the painting] would only really be valuable to the hotel," said a police spokeswoman.

Voted the best hotel in Ocean City in The Sun's "Best of OC" awards, Dunes Manor has undergone some recent renovations but not the painting, which had hung in the lobby for almost 20 years.

"A lot of people have worked here for a long time, so it really hurts,"Johnson said. "It's a family-owned hotel, so it's been tough."