Diane Whipple was terrified of “those dogs,” and she wasn’t the type that scared easily. She was a lacrosse player and coach at St. Mary’s College in the East Bay. Whipple could take care of herself in most situations, but those dogs were different. The dogs were a combined 250 pounds of snarling fury named Bane and Hera. They were Presa Canarios, a brindled Spanish mastiff mostly bred as guard or attack dogs. Whipple did everything she could to avoid them in the halls of the apartment building she lived in at 2398 Pacific Ave. in San Francisco with her partner, Sharon Smith—but keeping away was nearly impossible
The dogs lived in an apartment across the hall from Whipple’s, with their owners Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, a pair of aging, hardnosed attorneys. Noel and Knoller never apologized when their pack lunged at children and bowled over old ladies in and around their Pacific Heights apartment. And nobody ever filed any complaints either, even when the dogs bit a man in June 2000, and chomped on Whipple’s hand in December 2000. Noel and Knoller’s legal background made them nearly as imposing as their living Cerberus.
A little over a month later on Jan. 21, 2001, the moment that Diane Whipple feared finally happened. Whipple had come home early with some groceries when Bane savagely tore into her in the hall outside of her sixth-floor apartment. A neighbor heard the dogs barking, but dared to only look through the peephole to see Whipple’s body on the floor with groceries strewn everywhere. The neighbor called 911.
Police arrived six minutes later and found Whipple lying face down on a blood-soaked carpet. She was nearly stripped naked with bite marks all over her body. A SWAT team officer with EMT training couldn’t stop the blood from gushing out of deep wounds in Whipple’s neck. Whipple died sometime after paramedics got her out of the building. It was just five days before her 34th birthday.
When police questioned Marjorie Knoller, her sweatsuit and hair were smeared with Whipple’s blood. Knoller told the cops that the dogs were in her apartment. She never asked how Whipple was.
Bane was put down shortly after being taken to the shelter, but Noel and Knoller refused to give their permission for Animal Care and Control to euthanize Hera. “They move on Hera and they will have the fight of their lives on their hands,” Noel wrote.
The case got even stranger when it came out Noel and Knoller had formed a partnership to breed Presa Canarios with Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood serving a double life sentence in Pelican Bay. They called their enterprise Dog O’ War kennels, and hyper-aggression was a feature, not a bug.
Things got weirder still when it was found that the attorneys had legally adopted Schneider and exchanged pornographic letters with him that even involved the dogs. Knoller called one of the animals her “certified lick therapist.”
With public pressure mounting as the lurid details of the case emerged, District Attorney Terence “KO” Hallinan, a lawyer once considered too liberal to defend Patty Hearst, went for a murder conviction instead of lesser manslaughter charges.
Hallinan staffed his legal team with lead prosecutor James Hammer and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a young assistant district attorney who was often defined by her appearance in the local press. A Feb. 9, 2001, Matier and Ross column in the Chronicle described her as “the legal eyeful” and a “former lingerie model.” The columnists went on to dish on Guilfoyle’s TV offers, and speculated if ” her beau,” then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom, “will get offered a co-starring role.”
“If they’re looking for looks, these two up-and-comers have certainly got ’em,” the item concluded, reading as if it had been written by Hedda Hopper 50 years earlier.
Not to be outdone in the media department, Knoller went on “Good Morning America” and blamed the victim.
“Ms. Whipple had ample opportunity to go into her apartment,” Knoller told Elizabeth Vargas.
When asked if she bore any responsibility for the attack, Knoller replied, “Not at all.”
At a time when California prosecutors had trouble securing murder convictions in high profile cases (think O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake), Hammer and Guilfoyle convinced the jury that Knoller was guilty of second-degree murder, a verdict that has withstood several appeals. Robert Noel, who was in court in Sacramento at the time of the mauling, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and was released in 2003.
Guilfoyle and Newsom were married in December 2001 but divorced a little over three years later. Something about seeing the underbelly of liberal high society may have driven Guilfoyle to the dark side, however. She joined Fox News in 2006, where she recently urged the Secret Service to kill Snoop Dogg.