Overview of the Crime

Dianne Whipple lacrosse

The crime

On January 26, 2001, shortly after 4:00 PM, San Francisco police and paramedics responded to calls from a Pacific Heights apartment building. They found a naked woman lying in blood, barely alive, her body bitten everywhere, bloody handprints covering the walls, and blood extending 4 feet up the walls and 30 feet down the hallway. Bits of clothing littered the floor, and a blood-soaked green nylon leash for a dog was lying nearby. A large dog was running loose, causing the officers to draw their guns. Nobody else could be seen.

Diane Whipple

The victim of this crime was Diane Whipple. She was a lacrosse coach, and lived in an apartment 50 feet from where the dogs lived. Whipple died that night at 8:55 p.m. at San Francisco General Hospital.

Bane and Hera

Bane and Hera were the Presa Canario dogs that savagely killed Whipple. Presa Canarios were originally bred for fighting, guarding and some herding in Spain’s Canary Islands. The breed was near extinction by the 1950s and was brought back when it was mixed with mastiffs and others. Introduced in the United States in 1990, there are now more than 1,000.

The dogs were obtained for eventual sale through a web site called “Dog-o’-War.” Seven such dogs first lived on a Trinity County farm, where they were not trained to fight, attack or kill. Then Bane and Hera lived for a couple of months in Los Angeles, and following that, inside the San Francisco apartment of Robert Edward Noel and Marjorie F. Knoller. The “Dog-o’-War” operation was shut down by prison authorities in April 2000.

Bane was euthanized the day of the attack. Following a dangerous dog hearing, Hera was ordered euthanized and was put down in January 2002.

Robert Edward Noel, Pacific Heights resident and attorney

Robert Edward NoelNoel said the animals had no history of aggression and had seen the victim on several occasions without acting aggressive. “I’ve had 80-year-old ladies want to come up and pet them,” he said. “The dogs have always been really people-friendly.”

He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal that killed a human being (a separate felony). He appealed the conviction. He was sentenced to four years in prison, and served a portion of his time; he was released in September 2003 because his sentence was reduced as a result of good behavior and performance of work duties in prison.

In February 2007, he was disbarred by the California State Bar, meaning that he lost his license to practice law in that state. He is on parole at the present time. His appeals were not granted and he has no further right to appeal.

Marjorie F. Knoller, attorney at law, wife of Noel, and the person who had “control” of the two dogs

Marjorie F KnollerOne of the most unusual details of this death-by-mauling is that Knoller admitted begin present during it — in no other death-by-dog in recent memory did the owner/keeper/controller make any such admission. She was convicted of the same charges as Noel, plus second degree murder.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge threw out the murder conviction, and the district attorney filed an appeal of that decision. Knoller filed a cross appeal. She was sentenced to four years in prison.

She was released in January 2004, and is on parole at the present time. She resigned from the California State Bar in January 2007, meaning that she gave up her right to practice law in that state. Her appeal to the California Supreme Court is pending.

Summaries of testimony and list of persons who played important roles in the case

  • Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, convicted killer and a reputed leader of a prison gang called the Aryan Brotherhood. Adopted son of Noel and Knoller. A search of his jail cell turned up a collection of photos — featuring none other than Cornfed’s new adopted “mom,” Marjorie Knoller, posing nude. Schneider is serving time for a robbery conviction in Los Angeles County and attempted murder while incarcerated at Folsom Prison. He is currently serving life without the possibility of parole. He entered into a plea bargain agreement in September 2003 on charges of racketeering and drug smuggling.
  • Dale Bretches, former cell mate (“cellie”) of Schneider and participant in the so-called “Dog-o’-War” operation, a business devoted to breeding and selling Presa Canario dogs set up with outside help on a Trinity County farm, and shut down by authorities in April 2000. Their seven dogs were dispersed to friends and relatives of prison inmates. Two of the dogs were the ones that killed Whipple. “We were going to rid of that dog…. He never showed any signs of what we wanted out of the dogs…. We didn’t think he responded to the training” — these quotes were made during Sgt. Akin’s interview of Bretches after Whipple died. Bretches is serving sentences for second degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon while incarcerated. He is currently serving life without the possibility of parole.
  • Kate Kendell, Michael Cardoza and Robert E. Lazo: Sharon Smith’s attorneys in her wrongful death suit.
  • Edythe Pamela Whipple-Kelly: Whipple’s mother. She sued for wrongful death. The defendants included Noel, Knoller and the owners and management company of the building where Diane Whipple lived. No details of the settlement were made public.
  • Ronald Rouda: Edythe Whipple-Kelly’s lawyer.
  • Terence Hallinan, District Attorney, City and County of San Francisco.
  • Police Sgt. Bill Herndon presided over the dangerous dog hearing, ordered Hera put to death, and banned Knoller and Noel from owning a dog for the next three years.
  • Pelican Bay Sgt. Joe Akin testified by affidavit that among Schneider’s possessions he saw “numerous photos of Knoller posing nude” and “a letter disguised as legal mail addressed to Schneider” discussing “sexual activity between Noel, Knoller and the dog Bane.”
  • Judge Leonard Louie ordered Hera preserved for “physical and behavioral tests,” at the request of prosecutors in the case. He also presided over the pretrial aspects of the case.
  • Judge James Warren was the trial judge in the criminal case of People of the State of California v. Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller.
  • Lt. Henry Hunter supervised the investigation into the attack on Whipple. He said he was not surprised by the actions of Herndon. “The only people who said ‘good doggie’ was Noel and Knoller,” he said. “Everybody else said ‘bad doggie.’ ” 
  • Vicky Guldbech, captain of field services for San Francisco Animal Care and Control. 
  • Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections.

  • Dr. S. Marshall Isaacs, an emergency room physician who attended Whipple on the night of the attack. “There were no signs of life.” 

  • David Kuenzi of New York was visiting a friend in the building on the night of the attack. “She was screaming in a major way. I personally thought she was being mugged or raped.”

  • San Francisco Police Officer Leslie Forrestal. “There was shredded clothing, obviously a lot of blood. It was horrific.” 

  • Prosecutor James Hammer: in the Whipple criminal prosecution, was the lead prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.

  • Prosecutor Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom: in the Whipple criminal prosecution, was the assistant prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. Interestingly, she formerly was a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model. 

  • George G. Walker Defense attorney who briefly represented Noel and Knoller with regard to the criminal charges. One of Walker’s first public statements was that “their [Noel and Knoller’s] attitude about this case has tarnished them.” He was replaced by a public defender, Bruce Hotchkiss, who is representing only Noel.

  • Bruce Hotchkiss Noel’s defense attorney.

  • Jan Lecklikner, Deputy Public Defender. She was Knoller’s defense attorney until August 21, 2001.

  • Nedra Ruiz, attorney. She became Knoller’s criminal defense attorney on August 21, 2001. She is the attorney who cried and crawled on the courtroom floor during the opening statements in February 2002.

  • Rachel Boehm: an attorney who represents various members of the media. 

  • Red Star Kennels  in Hudson, Wis. “We’re the only training kennel in the United States” for Presa Canario dogs.

  • Alex Vyatkin. Red Star Kennels owner. He said putting dogs in a chained environment — the way Hera and Bane were reportedly kept — is enough to “make them crazy.” 

  • Irina Vyatkin, co-owner of Red Star Kennel: “We have people who want weapons — not dogs.”

  • Mac Harris, a New York breeder of Presa Canarios. “They want a pit bull on steroids,” he said. “And these dogs can be just that if they’re raised the wrong way.”

  • Andrew Tursi: the attorney appointed to represent Dale Bretches.

  • Jean Donaldson, director of the behavior and training department at the San Francisco SPCA. “The likelihood is that people see signs and ignore them,” Donaldson said. “Usually, there are small signs all along. You cook up the right circumstances and a lot of dogs are capable of doing this type of thing.” 

  • Carolyn Murphy of Lennox, CA, owned and attempted to sell puppies sired by Bane, advertising them as such. On January 14, 2002, she pleaded “no contest” (the functional equivalent to a guilty plea) to breeding dogs and running a kennel without a license, and having unlicensed animals under her control without providing rabies vaccinations for them. She was sentened to three years probation and ordered to pay more than $1,000 in fines. 

  • Anton Plese was the criminal defense attorney for Carolyn Murphy.

  • Lisa Houle, Deputy District Attorney, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, was the prosecutor who obtained the “no contest” pleas from Carolyn Murphy.