The cast-iron dolphin stolen from the Hampton Mansion in Towson on June 16 was recovered early today.
Police found it lying under the United Parcel Service sign in the Loveton Industrial Park near Sparks after a man told a Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. operator where the $12,000 artwork could be found.
"We think the man who called also stole it and that he may have gotten cold feet when he heard about all the publicity and that the FBI was investigating the theft," said Sgt. Robert Derbyshire, of the Cockeysville District.
Unfortunately for the thief, FBI spokesman Jim Dearborn said today, "Just because it's been returned isn't the end of the case. . . . We're going to continue to investigate the theft itself."
The thief's call could not be traced. But county police were notified at 2:30 a.m. and sent an officer to Sparks to check out the tip.
There, on the ground under the sign, was the 4-foot-long dolphin that had been unbolted from a working, spring-fed fountain that emptied into a marble horse trough.
"It appears undamaged," said Adam Karalius, the caretaker at Hampton, who picked up the dolphin from the Cockeysville police station today.
"We have it put away in one of our storage areas. After we take a look at it and make sure it's not damaged, we may mount it again."
Karalius said the mansion staff plans to make any future theft attempts more difficult.
Lynne Hastings, curator of the Hampton Mansion, said the dolphin was valued at $12,000 and that whoever stole it probably knew it was a valuable piece of artwork.
Police said the man told the telephone operator he and others stole the dolphin thinking it was scrap.
"The fact that they had to unbolt it from the fountain," Derbyshire said, "means they knew it wasn't scrap metal."
Dearborn said the 150-pound iron dolphin would have been "close to worthless" as scrap. The FBI got involved because Hampton Mansion is a national historic site.