Dog owner says attack could have been prevented

The Associated Press
Friday February 02, 2001

While prosecutors investigate whether a dog owner should be held criminally responsible for a 33-year-old woman’s death, family and friends were expected to attend a memorial service at St. Mary’s College in Moraga where Diane Whipple coached the women’s lacrosse team. 

Whipple was fatally attacked on Jan. 26 by a neighbor’s 120-pound Mastiff-Canary Island dog mix, Bane. Two attorneys, Robert Noel and his wife Marjorie Knoller, own Bane and another dog involved in the attack, and they have not been charged with any crimes. 

The dogs are part of a fighting-dog ring in which dogs were bred for such jobs as protecting illicit drug labs. The ring was run by two white supremacist inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, and in a bizarre twist, Noel and Knoller have adopted one of the inmates, 38-year-old Paul John Schneider. 

Now, prosecutors were trying to determine if Noel’s dogs were trained to fight or attack. The investigation was expected to last at least three weeks, District Attorney’s Office spokesman Fred Gardner said Thursday. 

“We expect that charges will be filed in this case. It’s a complicated case that involves prisoners at Pelican Bay, trainers in other states and kennels in other states,” Gardner said, adding that it was a “sprawling” investigation and could involve as many as 40 witnesses. 

District Attorney Terence Hallinan has said Noel and Knoller could face manslaughter charges in Whipple’s death. 

Pit bull owner Michael Patrick Berry was charged with murder in the 1987 death of a 2-year-old Morgan Hill boy. At that time, it was the first vicious dog case in which a murder charge was filed. 

Telephone calls to Noel seeking comment Thursday were not returned. 

Noel submitted an 18-page letter to Hallinan blaming Whipple for the attack. 

The dog’s owner said his wife repeatedly tried to keep Whipple away from the dog, but Whipple continued to move toward them. He said Bane only lunged for her neck and throat after Whipple hit Knoller in the face. 

Noel went on to say the attack may have been brought on by pheromone-based cosmetics, or that the lacrosse coach “may have been a user of steroids” that could have attracted the dogs. 

Police and prosecutors said Noel’s letter contrasts with Knoller’s earlier account to police that the dogs bolted and Bane attacked the woman as she returned to her apartment Friday after grocery shopping. 

A memorial service for Whipple was planned for Thursday night. 



SAN FRANCISCO — The owner of a dog that mauled and killed a 33-year-old woman says the death could have been prevented if the victim had backed off and stayed inside her apartment. 

But San Francisco police said Diane Whipple was bitten by one of the owner’s two dogs two weeks before, and that Whipple was afraid of them – a fear other witnesses have shared with police since the incident. 

“They are saying she (Whipple) is acting very macho, when in fact she lives in fear of the dog,” said police Lt. Henry Hunter. 

In an 18-page letter to District Attorney Terence Hallinan on Wednesday, dog owner Robert Noel said he’s speaking out because of unfair treatment he’s received from Hallinan’s office, including the disclosure of an inmate adoption linked to the case. 

In the letter, Noel says his wife, Marjorie Knoller, was returning from the roof with Bane, their 120-pound Mastiff-Canary Island dog, last Friday when they encountered neighbor Whipple standing in the hallway with two grocery bags on the floor and her apartment door open. 

The letter says Whipple stared at Knoller and the leashed dog, but did not go inside her apartment. Then, as Knoller started to enter her apartment, the couple’s other dog, Hera, came into the hallway and Bane attempted to follow. 

Knoller tried to restrain Bane and push him back inside the apartment, but Whipple remained in the hallway, the letter says. 

Bane then lunged, dragging Knoller down the hall with him. But Knoller was able to prevent an attack by throwing herself on top of Whipple inside Whipple’s apartment. 

“While Marjorie was backing out of the apartment, Ms. Whipple got to her knees and crawled out into the hallway after Marjorie and Bane and toward them,” Noel wrote. 

Noel’s letter said Knoller continued to keep her body between Whipple and the canine, but then Whipple “forcibly struck” Knoller in the right eye. 

It was then, he wrote, that Bane lunged for Whipple’s throat, fatally wounding her. 

“During the next 5 to 7 minutes no one from the P.D. or fire department worked on Ms. Whipple, they simply let her lie where she was,” Noel wrote. 

Noel went on to say the attack may have been brought on by pheromone-based cosmetics, or that the lacrosse coach from St. Mary’s College “may have been a user of steroids” that could have attracted the dogs. 

“I’m absolutely speechless,” said Derek Brown, who lives one floor below the attorneys. “Every time they (the dogs) have crossed my path, they’ve gone berserk and lunged at me, trying to take a chunk out of me.” 

Police said Noel’s letter contrasts with Marjorie Knoller’s earlier account to police that the dogs bolted and Bane attacked the woman as she returned to her apartment Friday after grocery shopping. 

“She said the female started barking, the male dog dragged Knoller and attacked,” Hunter said. 

Investigators are trying to find out if Noel and Knoller knew of any attack training or vicious tendencies the animals might have had, Hallinan said. 

“We’re just sitting here trying to gather all the facts,” he said. 

His office is working with police as well as animal care and control officials. Hallinan has also sent office personnel to other parts of California to gather information about the people and animals involved in this case. 

Prosecutors have not charged Noel or Knoller with any crime. But Hallinan acknowledged his office is taking a close look at California law regarding dogs trained to fight, attack or kill. 

Noel and Knoller could face manslaughter charges in Whipple’s death, if they are found guilty of negligence under that law, Hallinan said. 

Noel did not return repeated calls placed by The Associated Press seeking comment. 

Noel dismisses claims that his dog previously bit Whipple, saying in the letter that the dogs never had physical contact with Whipple before the attack and many of the other claims are cases of mistaken dog identity. 

The dogs that attacked Whipple were a Mastiff-Canary Island mix. They were part of a group of dogs raised for fighting contests and guarding methamphetamine labs, according to state prison officials. 

Pelican Bay State Prison inmates Paul John Schneider and Dale Bretches were found to have organized the dog ring from behind bars. Bretches contacted WereWolf Kennels, an Ontario, Canada, dog breeder more than a year ago looking to acquire purebred Canary Island dogs, or Presa Canario, known in Spain for their imposing size and fighting prowess. 

Attorneys Noel and Knoller entered into a written agreement to adopt Schneider, currently serving a life sentence for attempted murder, on Jan. 15. The adoption was completed Monday.  

In the letter, Noel says he and his wife became close with Schneider while working with him and decided to adopt him. It’s a decision Noel says should have been kept confidential. 

“The disclosure of that information by representatives of the State of California was a violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights ...,” he wrote. 

As to the origin of the dogs, Angelika Morwald, owner of WereWolf Kennels, said she received a three-page letter from Bretches in 1999 inquiring about buying some dogs for breeding. She refused to do business with him because he was incarcerated at the time. 

“How is he going to care for an animal I love?” Morwald said. “This is exactly the kind of people we try to avoid selling to.” 

She said she did not respond to Bretches’ letter and never sent him any material about the dogs, which she sells for between $1,250 and $2,000 per puppy. 

Despite the Presa Canario’s intimidating appearance, Morwald says they must be trained to attack in the manner that Noel’s dog attacked Whipple. 

“My belief is that that dog was trained at some point to do that,” she said. 

A memorial service for Whipple was set for Thursday evening.