Alumnus apprehended for $470,000 art heist

Jacqueline Chao
The story of the original straight-A art heist as published in the March 27, 1986, issue of the Octagon.

Former student Aaron Schock is currently serving a court sentence requiring him to pay $1,500 and do 200 hours of community service for stealing paintings from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Sunday, July 28, 1985.

Schock, 20, along with his accomplice friend, Mark Dienstag, both students at San Francisco State University, stole artwork by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Man Ray and Edward Steichen, totaling an estimated $470,000 in value.

Schock, a member of the museum, claims the heist was the product of a drunken effort to see the works in a better light.

He presently lives across the street from the museum and, in the past, went for unofficial visits at least once a week. He learned that the museum rented out a large room for public events and realized that “if you dressed decently you could get some free food and drink. A lot of people did it,” Schock said.

That evening, the two friends went to the museum where a wedding reception was being held and started drinking. “They were saving the champagne for later, so they served hard liquor,” Schock said. In the meantime, they drank vodka and grapefruit juice. “We got fairly drunk,” he said.  

Intoxicated, the pair began to explore the building floor by floor. Due to poor security, several doors were easily opened, so Schock and Dienstag entered a room where some pieces were displayed.

“I really wanted to see the Paul Klee’s, so we took some of the pictures into the hall to look at them,” Schock explained.

They decided to take the works. On the way out of the museum, they noticed sketches by Picasso and photographs by Man Ray and Edward Steichen and took those as well.

“It was the craziest thing, and it wasn’t planned; it just happened,” Schock said.

By 3 a.m. the duo had sobered and realized that they needed to return the art pieces. According to Schock, the museum was closed the next morning, so they planned to leave the art in a locker of the Greyhound terminal and phone the police with the whereabouts.

By then they had already been exposed. An anonymous call to the San Francisco press led to their arrest.

Even though the aftermath was an unpleasant and trying one for Schock, he believes he learned a great deal from it.

“Although I would not like to relive it,” Schock said, “at every adversity lies a seed to success. At some time or another, a person challenges the structures that be. This was my challenge.”

Schock also said that he learned about how the legal system operates.

Since the heist, he has received several calls from people in the city who thought the act was amusing. A party was given in his honor at a San Francisco bar, and he was offered the rights to a story commemorating the episode. He declined.

“They made it more difficult for me; it created a real conflict. I had done something wrong that I wanted to get over, and they were celebrating it,” he said.

In retrospect, Schock feels the worst result of the incident was the image he gained among people who knew him.

“One day I’m a straight-A student, the next day, THIS,” Schock said, remorsefully. “I want people to know that I’m involved in more things than what I did. I mean I’m really a mellow guy; I usually just sit home reading or cooking lentil soup.”  

—By Dalya Wardany


Want more retro-Octagon? Read the stories below to discover what SCDS students were writing about decades ago.

Fake ID’s purchase what only age can buy,” by Steve Lesher in a 1992 issue of the Octagon.

Emphasis on popularity at Jesuit,” by James Chapman in a 1989 issue of the Octagon.

Exploding toilet shocks Bush in Samoa,” by Shalini Chatterjee in a 1985 issue of the Octagon.

2 SCDS grads get married early,” by Marc Paoletti in a 1983 issue of the Octagon.

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