The dog-mauling murder of Diane Whipple began with a shit-stained soup ladle that was hidden in the ass of an incarcerated white supremacist named Cornfed Schneider. The inmate had carefully honed his jailhouse shiv to a razor-sharp edge and then secreted away the blade deep inside of himself. Schneider was scheduled to appear in court to testify in a trial. Once inside the courtroom, he retrieved the soup ladle from his rectum and attacked a defense attorney, Philip Cozens. The only way authorities were able to determine how exactly Schneider managed to sneak his shiv into court was one ominous clue: The defense attorney’s stab wounds were infected with feces.
In his later trial for that attack, Schneider opted to plead guilty. But he had one condition for his plea: He demanded he be rewarded with two pepperoni pizzas and a two-liter of Pepsi for not wasting the court’s time. He and a fellow inmate enjoyed the bounteous feast. But then, he went back on his word and sued the corrections system for excessively X-raying him following his courtroom magic trick with the disappearing shiv.
Using the money he won in his lawsuit, and inspired by an ad in Dog Fancy, Schneider decided he’d start a dog-breeding business with the help of an unmarried Mormon woman who fell in love with the guy known as the “most dangerous man” in the California prison system.
The stud dog that Schneider first purchased to start his dog-breeding business was a Presa Canario named Bane. They’re massive animals bred by Spaniards as work dogs who herd bulls. But unlike sheepdogs, Presa Canarios prefer to run up to a bull and bite its lip or ear and then drag the bull to the ground by its face. Schneider planned to breed and train Presa Canarios to work as ferocious guard dogs for the Mexican Mafia’s meth labs.
But instead, Bane wound up being cared for by Schneider’s married lawyers and kept in their tony San Francisco Pacific Heights apartment, where, one day, the hellhound mauled and killed his lawyers’ neighbor.
Nearly 20 years later, the case continues to make headlines. Not to mention, one of the prosecutors on it was Kimberly Guilfoyle, who now spends her time on TV defending white supremacists like her boyfriend’s father, President Trump.
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January 26, 2001, was a Wednesday. Around 4 p.m., five days before her 34th birthday, Diane Whipple arrived home from grocery shopping. Her apartment was on the sixth floor. The 33-year-old lacrosse coach was met in the hallway by her neighbor, a lawyer named Marjorie Knoller.
Knoller recalled later that Whipple was standing in her open apartment door, staring at Bane. Whipple had made it known that she didn’t like the dog and felt that Bane was dangerous. Most of their neighbors agreed. Days earlier, Whipple had confronted Knoller’s husband, Robert Noel, about the couples’ dogs. In a letter to Schneider, Noel had written about the encounter: “As soon as the [elevator] door opens at six, one of our newer female neighbors, a timorous little mousy blond who weighs less than Hera, is met by the dynamic duo exiting and almost had a coronary.”
Hera was the couple’s other dog, also a Presa Canario and also trained to protect Mexican meth labs. According to Knoller, Whipple stared at the two dogs with disgust as Knoller struggled to hold the massive dogs back. However that was impossible. Eventually Bane dragged Knoller over to Whipple and her open apartment door. At some point, Whipple accused Knoller of not controlling her dogs, and said, “Your dog jumped on me.”
The two women argued about the dog’s behavior. Following their heated exchange, Knoller claims she attempted to protect Whipple from her two massive dogs by pushing the lacrosse coach into her own apartment. But Whipple refused to be manhandled.
Per Schneider’s sister, who received a call from Knoller the night of the attack, Knoller said that she and Whipple “got into it” and that “Marjorie asked her to shut her door so she can take her dogs out in the hall, and that lady was like, ‘No, I’m not shutting my door now. Fuck you!’”
Knoller and Noel had only had the dogs for three months. Prior to that, they were being kept by Janet Coumbs, a Mormon woman who’d been talked into caring for the dogs for the incarcerated Schneider. But Coumbs turned the two dogs over to his lawyers after Bane and Hera ate all of her sheep, all of her chickens and her housecat. When Coumbs transferred the dogs to Knoller and Noel she warned them about the dogs’ bloodlust. The lawyers, however, didn’t listen. And so, when the Presa Canarios attacked Whipple in her hallway, she stood far less a chance than a fully-grown bull.
A 70-year-old neighbor, Esther Birkmaier, heard the attack happening in the hallway. She rushed to her door and spied the scene through her peephole since she was scared of the dogs. She could see one dog on top of what she assumed was a woman. Although she couldn’t see her underneath the dogs attacking her, Birkmaier could hear Whipple screaming, “Help me! Help me!”
The terrified senior called 911 to report that “dogs were running wild” in the apartment building. Another neighbor who assumed someone was being raped also called 911. Then, a short moment later, Birkmaier heard a bang at her front door. One of the Presa Canarios had slammed against it. She called 911 again. This time Birkmaier couldn’t form coherent sentences and instead could only scream into the phone. As Birkmaier recalled to Rolling Stone, just after she called 911 for the second time, “The barking stopped, the growling stopped and then there was silence.”
When the police finally arrived, nearly seven minutes later, Whipple was lying on the floor naked. All of her clothing had been shredded by the dogs. Whipple’s blood was splattered on the walls of the hallway; it soaked into the carpet in pools. Officer Alec Cardenas, a medic from a police SWAT team, found Whipple somehow still gripping to life. He said she tried to push herself up from the floor and drag herself into her apartment. Her throat had been ripped open, her larynx crushed. She’d lost most of her blood.
Knoller emerged from her apartment. She was also covered in blood. She’d secured the dogs. Knoller recalled Whipple’s final moments of life, which were witnessed only by her. Her retelling is tragic, but mostly because she blames Whipple for her own death, saying, “I told her to stay still. If she had, this would have never happened.”
Officers entered Knoller and Noel’s apartment to deal with the deadly dogs. They found Bane locked-up in the bathroom. The dog’s black and tan tiger stripe coat and white teeth were painted with Whipple’s blood. The bathroom floor was covered in dog shit. Animal control officers arrived on-scene and shot Bane with three tranq darts strong enough to put down a dog of his enormous size. Fifteen minutes later, though, Bane was clear-eyed and unaffected.
Eventually, the animal control officers collared the dog with two poles and dragged him outside the apartment building and put him down for good with 25cc of sodium pentobarbitol. Meanwhile, emergency responders rushed Whipple to the hospital, where she later died from a heart seizure. There simply wasn’t enough blood in her body to keep her heart beating. Much like an engine without oil, her heart seized-up and stopped functioning.
The horror of the crime would claim other victims as well. According to the New York Times, “The bloodbath in the hallway was so horrific that police officers at the scene had to receive trauma counseling.”
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Paul “Cornfed” Schneider was born in 1962 and raised by a strict retired-military stepfather. His sister describes their childhood home as a battleground between the two men, “Our house was a prison, and our stepdad was the warden.” She’s said that her stepfather sexually abused her and physically abused her brother. She’s also described the boy who would grow up to become Cornfed Schneider as “very protective of me.” She claims her brother “stood up to our stepdad” who “used to beat the shit out of Paul.”
Schneider was first locked-up in 1985. He had clocked the lax habits of the armed guards who regularly visited the supermarket where his girlfriend worked and decided they were a ripe target. So, one day, he robbed them. He got away with roughly $100,000. He bought himself a new motorcycle with his stolen loot. He rode it out to his stepdad’s place to show him his new bike. Unimpressed and wholly convinced his stepson had been the one to rob the local supermarket, Schneider’s stepfather phoned the police and turned his stepson in.
After he was apprehended, tried, convicted and sentenced, Schneider was sent to New Folsom State Prison. Behind bars, Schneider became the man he is today — a murderous white supremacist, considered so dangerous that to transport him to court in San Francisco, the Bay Bridge had to be shut down by the California Highway Patrol.
He was originally sentenced for armed robbery. However, in 1987, he joined the Aryan Brotherhood. To be accepted by the prison gang, he had to stab a prison guard in the neck. Which he did. That earned him a life sentence — and a pair of tattoos, an A and B inked on his right hand. Schneider was eventually transferred to the maximum security facility, Pelican Bay State Prison. Deep inside that home for the state’s worst offenders, he was locked-up in solitary confinement in a 11 x 7½ foot cell for 22 hours a day.
Three years later, in 1990, when Schneider was brought to court to testify as a witness in another inmate’s case, is when he stabbed Cozens with a soup ladle he pulled from his rectum. That scored him a second life sentence. Then, in 2003, he received a third life sentence for arranging the murder of a sheriff’s deputy.
In the meantime, Schneider sued the corrections system for all those X-rays meant to prevent another soup ladle shiv stabbing. He won and received $11,666.66 — the money he used to buy Bane. (The name has a darkness all its own: In Old English, it means “killer, slayer, murderer, worker of death”; in early Germanic, it means “wound”; and in Old Norse, it means “death” or “that which causes death.”)
Since Schneider was locked-up in solitary confinement, he obviously didn’t have the space to raise and train Bane and the puppies he planned to breed. So Schneider used the Mormon missionaries who visited the prison as his unwitting partners. “[She] told me I wasn’t doing my Christian duty by not going with her to the prison to help other inmates,” is how Janet Coumbs recalls a friend first urging her to minister to prisoners like Schneider.
Schneider, who was 38 at the time, romanced Coumbs with letters and plied her with sweet words during her missionary prison visits. Over time, he convinced the lonely woman to allow him to store his dogs on her rural property and to care for and feed them as if they were the couple’s own furry children.
Coumbs lived with her teenage daughter in Hayfork, a small town in rural Northern California. A single mother, she and her daughter Daisy squeaked by with her disability check and what income they could pull out of a small farm where they raised lambs. Adding some dogs to the mix didn’t seem like such a large ask. Especially if Schneider gave her money for the food and medical care for the puppies. But in the months that Bane was on her farm, he killed whatever animals he could — including, like I mentioned, her beloved housecat. Yet despite his bloodlust, it wasn’t Bane that ruined the set-up that Schneider had arranged with Coumbs. It was Schneider himself.
“She kept dropping hints about how she wanted me to convert to Mormon and marry her,” is how Schneider recalled the trouble. His unwillingness to do so is why Coumbs eventually quit the dog-breeding business. But when she didn’t make plans to remove his dogs from her farm, Schneider threatened her life. “Things can happen to your home,” Coumbs says he warned her.
The threat was taken seriously enough that Janet Coumbs no longer lives on her farm in Hayfork raising sheep. She’s now in the witness protection program instead.
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Schneider arranged from solitary confinement for Coumbs to hand over Bane and Hera to Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, 46 and 60, respectively, at the time of the dog-mauling case. The married lawyers decided to keep them in their sixth-floor Pacific Heights apartment. Their place had picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the dogs quickly soured such perks for everyone else in the building. Their neighbors, in fact, were terrified of them. Bane and Hera often lunged at people, and one spoke of Bane as if he was born of ancient and malevolent forces.
Alex de Laszlo was at a local coffee place when he crossed paths with the canine, “I put my hand on Bane’s head. It held a sensation very distinct from any dog I had ever petted before. There was incredible tension. There was something strong and dark about this animal.” Another neighbor claimed that birds would start “flying crazily when Bane and Hera walked by.”
But Knoller and her husband Noel didn’t care. They loved the two dogs. Perhaps too much. Weeks after Bane killed Diane Whipple, Knoller and Noel decided they needed to add a new member to their family. In the short time they’d been caring for Bane and Hera, they’d come to see them as their kids. But after the San Francisco Animal Control officers put down their children, the couple wanted to replace the lost dogs with a human child — or, well, a full-grown adult. That is, they adopted their violent, white supremacist client, Cornfed Schneider.
Noel said that his newly-adopted prison gang leader son serving multiple life sentences was a person who had “character and integrity,” and that “he’s got a family now.”
But this was just the beginning of the weirdness to come out about their relationship. Per the Southern Poverty Law Center, “While seeking evidence in the mauling, police found risqué photos of Knoller in Schneider’s cell. Police will not discuss other evidence, but their search warrant said they were after material ‘describing sexual acts by Noel or Knoller that involved dogs.’”
Yes, they were fucking the dogs.
While he was locked-up awaiting trial (Knoller and Noel were both charged with “manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal,” with another charge of second-degree murder for Knoller), Noel told a reporter from Rolling Stone all about how impressed he was with the hellhound’s enormous dick, “Bane was confident, proud, handsome. Bane had an eye for ladies. He sees Marjorie, rolls over on his back and, bam, that big red arrow popped out. He had a hard-on that big. Boy, was that dog hung.” Later, in the same article, a former prison guard recalled how much Noel was impressed by Bane’s genitals, “I’d get on the phone with Bob to ask him about a case. And all he did was talk about how big Bane’s balls were.”
As far as the bestiality pictures mentioned in the police search warrant, Knoller denied them. But she did admit that she sent nudes to her client and adopted son. “Paul has an inner life he shares with us,” she told Rolling Stone. “He’s special. He’s our kid, and we love him.” She later added that as far as the porn she sent to Schneider, “It’s a tradition to write erotic letters to inmates. It helps them. … I flashed my breasts in some pictures. Bob might have sent one of these to Paul. There was nothing with dogs.”
However, in a letter to Schneider, Knoller did once brag that Bane was her “certified lick therapist.”
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San Francisco District Attorney Terence “KO” Hallinan assigned Assistant D.A. Kimberly Guilfoyle to prosecute Knoller and Noel. At the time, the young legal star was dazzling the local press with her media savvy, camera-ready personality and relationship with then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. She was relentless in her prosecution of Knoller and Noel, and along the way, she made her debut on the national stage.
Along with lead prosecutor James Hammer, Guilfoyle showed in court that Knoller and Noel were criminally responsible for their dogs’ behavior, recounting how the dogs, in their few short months with Knoller and Noel, had attacked 30 people in all. It was also revealed during the trial that Knoller never thought to call 911.
Still, the judge stunned legal observers when Knoller was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life for what authorities referred to as the first death-by-dog in the history of San Francisco. (Her sentence was later reduced to four years.) Meanwhile, Noel was similarly found guilty and sentenced to three years for involuntary manslaughter. Both served their years in state prison and were paroled.
However, after being paroled, during Knoller’s probation hearing in 2008, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard opted to reinstate the jury’s original verdict of 15 years to life. At that trial, Sharon Smith, who was Diane Whipple’s partner, said that she felt justice had finally been granted. It had been seven years since Whipple’s death.
But Knoller and Noel weren’t done fighting the laws — whether civil or natural. In 2015, Knoller was once again back before a judge hoping to appeal her conviction. Once again, she lost. Then, last year, she was denied a final appeal of her life sentence, which presumably ends her legal fight, and guarantees that she’ll serve out her time for the heinous death of Diane Whipple. (Noel died in 2018, on his 77th birthday.)
As Schneider sat in lock-up and looked back over the events of the dog-mauling case that centered on Bane — the dog he’d first imagined buying as he sat in his prison cell and flipped through the pages of Dog Fancy, and who he was able to afford due to his payout from successfully suing the prison system — he had only this to say, “For once, I try to do something good, and look what happens. Ain’t that buzzard luck.”