ANIMAL WATCH - Diane Whipple was a 32-year-old lacrosse player and a popular women’s lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, when she bled to death on January 26, 2001, after a vicious attack by two Presa Canarios (Pit Bull-type dogs) that inflicted 77 bites to her body in a San Francisco apartment-building hallway, including fatal injuries to her neck, the L.A. Times reported.
Diane Whipple died within hours of being rushed to San Francisco General Hospital. The cause of death was listed as “loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog-bite wounds.)
At the trial in 2002, a jury convicted neighboring tenants Marjorie Knoller, 46, and her husband Robert Noel, 60, who jointly owned the dogs, of involuntary manslaughter.
Although Noel was not home at the time of the attack, he was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charge and failing to exercise care with an attack dog. He was sentenced to four years in prison and paroled in 2003.
Knoeller, who was with the dogs at the time and failed to control them, was also found guilty of the additional charge of second-degree murder in the vicious attack, which one columnist described had essentially “decapitated” Diane Whipple.
A witness at the trial testified that Knoller and Noel “had repeatedly refused to control the dogs and a professional dog walker testified that, after she told Noel to muzzle his dogs, he told her to “shut up” and called her “offensive names,” the report stated.
The convictions were based on the argument that “both defendants knew the dogs were aggressive toward other people and did not take sufficient precautions.”
DOGS THAT KILL
Sharon Smith, Diane’s partner, testified at the trial that Diane had told her about being bitten by the dogs six weeks earlier and that the owners was warned that they needed to control them.
Presa Canarios are huge Mollossoid-descendant dogs which originated in Spain and have traditionally been used for guarding and dog fighting. Bane, the male dog that inflicted the greatest damage to Diane Whipple weighed 140 lbs. The female, Hera, weighed 104. Prosecutors at the trial contended that the couple, Knoller and Noel—who said they were merely keeping the dogs for the owner, who was incarcerated—were well aware of the dogs’ propensities and ignored warnings that they were dangerous.
Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle-Newsom presented nearly 30 witnesses at the trial, all of whom testified about frightening encounters they had with the dogs, according to news reports.
MUCH MORE TO THE STORY
It appears the two attorneys--Knoeller and Noel—were also far more involved with the owner of the dogs than just acting as “fosters.” (In a very important and informative 2001 article:- Killer dog’s owners adopt dog breeder who’s in prison, Alexis Chiu describes the eerie background of these dogs and the humans hoping to capitalize on them.)
KNOLLER’S FIRST PAROLE HEARING (FEB. 8, 2019)
This was Marjorie Knoller’s “first chance at release during her second stint in prison,” the L.A. Times wrote, “She was initially freed in 2004 when a judge reduced her second-degree murder conviction to involuntary manslaughter, but she was sent back when another court reinstated the tougher conviction.”
“The California Supreme Court eventually decided Knoller acted with a conscious disregard for human life when her 140-pound Presa Canario escaped and killed Whipple. The sentencing judge said Knoller did little to stop the attack,” the report stated.
KNOLLER’S SECOND PAROLE HEARING (FEB. 15, 2023)
Marjorie Knoller sat at a table during her parole hearing on February 15. Photo: Courtesy Board of Parole Hearings.
According to the Bay Area Reporter, Whipple's aunt, the wife of her brother, and her former partner, Sharon, all spoke before the CA Board of Parole Hearings Commissioners at this second hearing, to urge Knoller not be released.
And—even though it was over-20 years after the attack—the San Francisco District Attorney's Office also formally opposed parole and told the panel, “Knoller represents a threat to the community and has not taken responsibility for her actions that led to the attack on Whipple.”
That day, the CA Board of Parole Hearings rendered the decision that former-CA attorney Marjorie Knoeller, the owner of the dogs, “would still present a danger to society if released. The panel also cited her prison record which included two disciplinary actions against her that included biting a correctional officer in 2016 and refusing to change rooms in 2020,” the report stated.
Marjorie Knoller stated at the hearing that she would not again own a dog if released, and her statement included reference to “feeling responsible for not being able to prevent the attack on Diane nor control the large male dog, Bane, from “stripping her completely naked in that hallway.”
Knoeller is currently serving a sentence of 15 years to life for second-degree murder for this crime and was advised by the Commission that she can apply for parole again in three years.
She was described in the report as being “stone-faced” and “showing no emotion.”
Knoller's conviction was the first murder charged in a dog-mauling case in California and was believed to be only the third of its kind in recent U.S. history, according to ABC News.
SENTENCING - KNOELLER AND NOEL - (DOG BITE LA.W)
There is a complete analysis of this case, including commentaries, summaries of testimonies, legal analysis of charges, and clarification of the appellate case, etc., by Dog Bite Law Attorney Kenneth Phillips here.)
THE ATTACK—KILLING A NEIGHBOR
The death of Diane Whipple was a highly publicized case of unprovoked killing by two Bully-breed dogs (Presa Canarios) living in a metropolitan city (San Francisco) -- in fact, the first declared “No Kill” city in California, according to Best Friends Animal Society.
Some of the shockwaves were also because of the graphic and indisputable evidence that some dogs can be truly innately dangerous and should not be kept alive in a civil society where they attacked without cause—and especially should not be adopted or “fostered” where they can potentially maim and kill.
It also showed that familiarity does not deter attacks by some dogs. These dogs had seen Diane Whipple before, and she was not accused of doing anything intentional to provoke them as she exited an elevator and carried bags of groceries toward her door.
At that same time, Knoller was reportedly taking the dogs to the roof, but they pulled away from her (according to her own testimony) and attacked Whipple in the hallway—apparently just because she was there.
THE OWNER OF THE DOGS
Paul Schneider, the dogs' former owner, was alleged to be a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood who, along with his cellmate, was attempting to start an illegal Presa Canario breeding/fighting and attack-dog business from prison, where he is serving a life sentence. Schneider also became the (adult) adopted son of Knoeller and Noel.
The Mercury News reported on January 31, 2001:
The husband-and-wife attorneys whose dogs mauled a San Francisco woman to death in front of her door last week have legally adopted a state prison inmate who allegedly ran an attack-dog breeding ring from behind bars.
Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, an Aryan Brotherhood gang member who enlisted a Trinity County woman to raise the dogs involved in the killing, officially became the adopted son of lawyers Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller on Monday.
Schneider, 38, is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison.
The adoption was the latest twist in a story that began Friday with the attack on the couple’s neighbor.
(See this important 2001 article, Killer dog’s owners adopt dog breeder who’s in prison, in which Alexis Chiu describes the eerie background of these dogs and the humans.)
COULD DIANE WHIPPLE HAVE PREVENTED THE ATTACK?
Diane Whipple was not approaching the dogs when they attacked, and she had not provoked them. She was attempting to enter her apartment two doors away with bags of groceries when the attack occurred.
Knoller had lost control of them.
Diane suffered a total of 77 wounds to every part of her body except her scalp and bottoms of her feet and died hours later at San Francisco General Hospital from "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds) inflicted by which originated in Spain and have traditionally been used for guarding and dog fighting.
Prosecutors at the trial contended that the couple, Knoller and Noel ignored warnings that the dogs were dangerous.”
However, based upon this subsequently disclosed information, it appears that Hera and Bane were deliberately kept because they had bloodlines that preserve and almost insure the type of behavior that was exhibited.
A LESSON NOT LEARNED
Marjorie Knoller is not a menace to society now because action has been taken by the legal system to assure she cannot endanger her neighbors—at least for three more years.
Robert Noel died of heart failure on June 22, 2018, in a La Jolla nursing home, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
Both dogs were humanely euthanized. Bane was euthanized immediately after the attack; Hera was seized and later euthanized in January 2002.
But the serious issue of prominent “No Kill” animal welfare organizations encouraging ownership/adoption/rescue of dangerous-breed dogs, including those who have exhibited aggressive behavior, still remains.
Is it time to ask, “why?”
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former Los Angeles City employee, an animal activist and a regular contributor to CityWatch.)