Thieves caught on camera snatching rug with giant pink 'M' from famed Madonna Inn

Call it the great carpet caper.

Two young men walked into the Madonna Inn late last month and snatched a rug bearing the gleefully gaudy San Luis Obispo hotel's crest, complete with a large pink "M," from the lobby of its steakhouse.

Staff chased after the men, who bolted into a waiting getaway car, "but they were too fast," said Connie Pearce, longtime manager of the hotel known for its themed rooms, ample pink decor and waterfall urinal.

Guests watched the events unfold around 10:40 p.m. Sept. 25.

Pearce, who has "cameras everywhere" in the facility her parents opened in the late 1950s, posted surveillance stills of the two men, both wearing masks, on Nextdoor and Facebook. Local news broadcast a story on the heist. Sympathetic comments have poured in but no concrete leads.

Weeks later, the whereabouts of the rug and the identity of the thieves remain elusive. Although the throw, valued at roughly $250, has been replaced, it hasn't been forgotten.

Pearce hopes the thieves will return the relic and express remorse for their deed.

"It would be fine if they just bring it back and apologize," said Pearce, who has managed the hotel for 40 years. "I want people to know that I don't appreciate it, and we don't have time for this."

She thinks four individuals were involved in the heist: the two men caught on camera, the getaway driver of what appeared to be a black Ford Focus and another person who ran away before entering the hotel.

Horses graze in a field next to a hotel
Horses graze next to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Pearce decided not to file a police report but did contact Cal Poly San Luis Obispo officials. At the time of the theft, the school term had just begun, and she suspects it may have been the work of students, potentially fulfilling a fraternity pledge dare or pulling a prank. Cuesta College, a nearby community college, was also in session.

"I'm assuming it's in someone's dorm room or on the wall somewhere," Pearce said, adding that university officials who inspect dormitories would keep an eye out for the rug.

"So it's eventually going to show up, unless they just tossed it and threw it in the trash," she said. "But I have the feeling it's a big prize for them."

Cal Poly officials said there's no indication that the suspects are affiliated with the university. Because the incident occurred off campus, it would not be under the jurisdiction of university police, said Matt Lazier, media relations director for the school.

"The university encouraged the inn to report the matter to San Luis Obispo Police," Lazier said in an email.

If city police determined students were involved, the information would be provided to its Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities "for appropriate action," he said.

Capt. Brian Amoroso, a spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo Police Department, warned against speculation.

He'd seen the video and while he acknowledged "they appear to be kind of college-age," he added, "that doesn't mean they're in a college or even in a fraternity."

Amoroso couldn't recall similar prank-related theft cases tied to a college or frat. More common are incidents involving underage drinking and students driving while intoxicated. Sometimes people steal street signs they like and haul them back to their dorms.

"We are a college town, and sometimes you see some pretty interesting cases," he said.

The Madonna Inn, a favorite pit stop along the Central Coast, has had other unexpected items lifted from its premises.

Several years ago, a man stole a 6-inch special-order cake from the bakery, Pearce said. He later came back and paid for the pastry.

Sometimes people ship back items they've snatched long after the fact. Pearce said she's received goblets and silverware bearing the hotel's name.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.