San Francisco is famous for earthquakes…. However, it took another horrific event to shake its residents to the core in January, 2001. What happens when you pair a world class marathon runner, who in an instant is physically trapped and literally torn to shreds with the likes of a vicious Presa Canarios attack dogs? Death occurs in the blink of an eye… or in her individual case… a few hours after surgery.
Diane Whipple’s heart must have stopped for all intents and purposes at the very moment when the two animals bolted, tore off her clothes, crushed her larynx and severed her jugular vein in a “head to toe” mauling.
This case, turned out to be the most bizarre, the most grotesques ever told…ever unfolding like layers of an onion. As a member of the gay and lesbian community, Ladyjustice grieved for this athlete, loved partner and resident of this liberal city in California.
Author, Aphrodite Jones did a laudable job in her account of this story in “Red Zone- The Behind the Scenes Story of a San Francisco Dog Mauling.” A free lance writer named David Barry; writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center, did an equally fine job trying to explain the unexplainable in a series of articles, from which this blog is written. Ladyjustice will attempt to “hit the highlights,” expose written light on the bizarre events and relate what little good was derived from the savage death of Diane Whipple.
Diane Whipple (Before) & Bonnie Busch (After)
Diane Whipple was a college Lacrosse coach and marathon runner, 34 years old with a petite frame. Diane lived with her partner, Sharon Smith who was an investment company manager. Diane was described by the male defendant, Robert Noel as “a timid mousey blonde” who “almost had a coronary” when prophetically two weeks earlier, the 140 pound and 115 pound dogs rushed out of the elevator nearly knocking her down and terrifying her!
Ellen McCurtain, a marathon runner wrote a short narrative for www.maraathonandbeyond.com in which another woman incredibly experienced a near fatal attack in Davenport, Iowa. Reportedly, just two days after Diane Whipple was murdered, Bonnie Busch, a national class extreme runner, was attacked by two Rottweilers while running at 6 a.m. The two dogs, weighing 110 and 140 pounds respectively, dragged Bonnie for half a block before a stranger rescued her, fending the dogs off with a shovel. A severed forearm and nerve damage was the outcome along with months of Rehabilitation therapy.
The Crime – “In a Nutshell”
- Attorney’s and married couple Marjorie Knoller & Robert Noel lived in the upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood, sharing space with two killer attack dogs. Marjorie & Robert started out as tax and commercial lawyers… and slipped to the dark side after a progression of events to satisfy their perverse appetites;
- In 1994, Robert and Marjorie Knoller represented a prison guard who was harassed by colleagues after testifying on behalf of brutalized inmates. It was reported that they lost the case …and the prison guard hanged himself;
- Their second case was a bust too… after which they appeared to switch sides when they defended a Pelican Bay guard with ties to the Aryan Brotherhood (White prison gang said to have several hundred in-house members with large concentrations in Texas, Florida and Missouri);
- A witness, Paul Schneider, entered into a bizarre partnership on many levels with the Noel and Knoller; He had a very long rap sheet including a life sentence for attempted murder and robbery;
- Schneider was the unofficial manager of the Aryan Brotherhood at Pelican Bay, effectively ordering killings in and out of Pelican Bay Prison;
- Apparently, both Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller were unafraid of this prisoner whose nickname was “Cornfield.” For example, he was so heinous in his actions, that he once carried a knife in his rectum into court and stabbed his attorney, whom he disliked. Noel and Knoller were unphased by such behavior, were in fact attracted to him and his penchant for extreme violence…. And went so far as to legally “adopt” this blonde, body building 220 pound prisoner!;
- Their long distance business was comprised of a website, and the purchase and rising of the mammoth dogs to sell for the purpose of attacking others and guarding methamphetamine labs. Robert and Marjorie agreed to take over the care of the vicious dogs named Bane and Hera after another woman named Janet Coumbs could not handle her assignment from the Arian Brothers;
- EMTs and animal control officers who answered the call after Diane was attacked feared for their lives trying to contain and kill the dogs within Whipple’s apartment.
Blaming the Victim
- San Franciscan’s were so shocked and outraged that the trial necessitated a change of venue to Los Angeles;
- Noel and Knoller made another fatal mistake in “blaming the victim;”
- Marjorie expressed no remorse whatsoever. She took no responsibility for her dog’s behaviors. She made disgusting comments like, “If only she had stood still, she’d be alive;” “Bane sniffed her crotch like she (Diane) was a bitch in heat.” “She probably had her period which attracted the dog” or “It was the steroids.”
- Robert and Marjorie claimed that there had been no other incidents – that their dogs “were peaceful;”
- Prosecutor James Hammer produced 30 incident reports of petrifying encounters by other neighbors as well as a veterinarian’s initial warning that, “These animal would be a liability in any household;”
- [Ladyjustice recalls watching this trial on Court TV and remembers the theatrics of Marjorie’s attorney, Nedra Ruiz who “put on a show” crawling on the courtroom floor supposedly re-enacting how Knoller tried to fend off her dogs and “protect Diane Whipple.” Apparently, it didn’t impress the jury. Attorney Ruiz painted a picture of the Knollers as “upstanding citizens who loved their dogs as family members.” [LJ- What a crock!]
What were the factors contributing to the decline into darkness? How and why did these two seemingly well educated formerly upscale people slide so far into violence and perversion? One can only guess and try to put the pieces together regarding their behaviors and comments.
- Robert Noel was 60 years old and Marjorie Knoll was 46. However, Knoller looked the older – matronly, plain and unattractive;
- The Aryan Brothers expert speculated that Marjorie “just fell in love with Schneider.” Robert was also attracted by Schneider’s extreme violence and machismo, unlike his own former lifestyle;
- Pelican guard, Keith Whitley saw the change in Noel and the distractions, as when Whitley would call Noel about a case and… “all he would talk about was how big Bane’s (dog) balls were, and how he was fixated on the dog’s penis and erections;”
- Robert Noel even encouraged his wife’s attraction with Aryan Brother’s “adopted son” Paul Cornfield” Schneider.”[Ladyjustice – QUESTION What the hell was the judge thinking who was overseeing and approving this “adoption”? If the judge had only taken the time to research what was going on… Diane Whipple might be alive today! ‘Sound familiar?]
- There was evidence of literature and killer dog training techniques in the apartment;
- Attorney ethics and monitoring of their “son” appeared to have never existed, as evidenced by Schneider and seven others being charged with racketeering in the attempted murders of 24 people spanning 15 years. These charges were in addition to the violation of prison rules disallowing inmates managing unapproved businesses.
As writer David Barry put it so starkly,… “For three years, Noel and Knoller flirted with the violent codes, along with the explosively repressed sexuality of gang prison life. Little by little, they abandoned the trappings of middle class professional life, taking up the work and attitudes of the Aryan Brotherhood instead.”
Investigators discovered topless photos of Marjorie in Paul Schneider’s cell, erotic letters to him from both Robert and Marjorie… as well as bestiality- photos of Knoller and the dogs having sex.
Depravity has no boundaries, apparently!
Postscript: In the interim, the only small measure in Diane Whipple’s memory, is a California legislative bill “holding caretakers criminally responsible for the actions of their animals.” www.dogbite.com sources reported that California still has no law that defines second degree murder in the specific context when it is “canine inflicted.”
In September 2008, a San Francisco Superior Court judge sentenced Knoller to 15 years to life in prison after she re-instated a second degree murder conviction against Knoller. Previously, it was thrown out in 2002 by the original trial judge, when Marjorie was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and released on parole in 2004. Her husband, Robert Noel was also convicted previously of involuntary manslaughter and released in September 2003.
Donna Gore is a champion of victims rights and justice. She is a survivor of homicide and has turned her personal situations into a positive approach to life by participating in several areas of victim services. “LadyJustice” is the host of Shattered Lives on the Inside Lenz Network, Saturdays at 5pm ET.