Tidings and salutations, bibliophiles! Welcome back to True Crime: By The Book. I’m the Librarian, Tasha Pierce. Today we’re going to learn about presa canarios, cults of personality, and unfortunately, murder. Before I get into Red Zone by true-crime queen Aprhodite Jones, let’s say thanks to the Bookworms who have left reviews! This week I’m shouting out Why So Loud from Apple Podcasts and the beautiful Karen T from Facebook. So, I’m looking for you- yeah YOU- to leave a review for the show on your platform of choice so I can give you a personal greeting and you help others find the podcast. That’s a win-win if I ever heard one!
Now, let’s talk about one of the most well known true-crime authors in the game, shall we?
Aphrodite Jones is a best-selling true crime author and journalist who uses her reporter’s hunch to investigate and write about murder. Through her eyes, Jones brings readers inside murder cases as she explores dark motives and conveys the emotional truths hiding behind the tragedy. Over the past two decades, Jones has written a string of best-selling true crime books and has provided TV commentary and expert insights into the psychological profiles of both criminals and victims.
In recent years, the author created a hit reality crime TV series, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, which aired on Investigation Discovery for six seasons. The series followed Jones as she unraveled new mysteries lurking behind cases that shocked America: Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson, Jon Benet Ramsey, Phil Spector, the and Menendez Brothers are among the riveting cases that Jones covered. Fans of True Crime came to know they could rely on Jones to present each murder case with authority and flair, to depict a chilling portrait of the crime, and to treat every victim with compassion.
Before landing the hosting position with Investigation Discovery, Jones worked as an investigative reporter for FOX News covering the trials and court hearings of Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, Barry Bonds, Jerry Sandusky and Dennis Rader (the BTK Killer). Jones started her TV career as a crime correspondent for America’s Most Wanted and went on to create and host a true crime show called The Justice Hunters for USA Network. Early in her TV career, Jones also contributed to KCOP in Los Angeles as a true crime on-air correspondent.
When Jones wrote her first book, The FBI Killer, it was quickly turned into an ABC movie-of-the-week, Betrayed by Love, starring Patricia Arquette, which Jones co-produced. Not long afterward, Jones landed the exclusive rights to a teen crime drama that she chronicled in her book Cruel Sacrifice, which hit the top of The New York Times list. Her third book, All She Wanted, was one of the first true crime accounts of a transgender hate crime in America. The book was optioned by Diane Keaton with Drew Barrymore attached to star as “Brandon Teena” and was later transformed into the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry starring Hilary Swank. Her seventh best-selling book, A Perfect Husband, was made into the highly-acclaimed Lifetime Movie which Jones co-produced, The Staircase Murders.
Jones knows the crime world first hand. She’s known as a TV persona who doesn’t sugar-coat important issues for viewers. She has a penchant for “telling it like it is” and in her 25 years of crime reporting, Jones has been asked to investigate and comment on everything from the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks to the trials of Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson. She has appeared as a crime expert on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, FOX News, Court TV, MTV, TLC, Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Extra!, Anderson Live, Forensic Files, E! News, The New Detectives, American Justice, Deadline Crime, The Jury Speaks, CBS This Morning, Dr. Oz, The Today Show, and Dateline NBC.
If you follow the blog at TCbyTB.com or my social media accounts -which are TCbyTB on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram- you know that this week we are covering Red Zone. This book was suggested by friend of the show Harriet C, and is my first listener request. Thanks a lot Harriet! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Kat Heiser. I must admit- I was a little disappointed in the narration. Kat repeatedly mentioned the Orion Brotherhood before I realized that she was speaking of the Aryan Brotherhood. There were several other pronunciations that ground my nerves, but nobody’s perfect right? It kind of took me out of the story so be warned. Let’s get the synopsis before I break the actual crime down and share my take.
It was the story that shocked the nation and captured headlines for more than a year. In January 2001, Diane Alexis Whipple bled to death in the hallway of her ritzy Pacific Heights apartment building when she was mauled by two Presa Canarios, a vicious breed of attack dog imported from the Canary Islands. After the lethal attack, animal experts testified that the dogs could not have been stopped, explaining that they had entered a frenzy called the “Red Zone.”
Now, New York Times bestselling author Aphrodite Jones shows that the mauling was only one part of a frightening story involving obsession, bestiality, and illegal dog rings. The dogs belonged to Whipple’s neighbors, lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who had been keeping them for a leader of the notorious prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood.
Jones takes us deep into the bizarre world of Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a Hannibal Lechter-type character who actually owned the dogs, Bane and Hera. She explains how Noel and Knoller, after being warned about these killer dogs, brought them to the heart of San Francisco, leading the dogs eventually to murder an innocent next-door neighbor. Jones also reveals the shocking L.A.-area whereabouts of the offspring of Bane, the dog most directly involved in the mauling.
Jones is a masterful investigator and writer who has interviewed the complete cast of characters — including Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller during their imprisonment — and can now tell the full story of what happened in that apartment hallway. Red Zone is a riveting page-turning account of this news-making story that takes us deep into the relationship between man and animal.
At first glance, you’d think the villain of this tale would be a presa canario. I mean, the synopsis spells out that Diane Whipple died as a result of being mauled by one of these attack dogs. But, that would be too easy- there’s no way to get a ten-hour book out of villainizing a dog. And this is one of those times that I FELT every one of those 10 hours! No, there has to be something or someone more nefarious involved. But since we started with the dogs, I’m going to tell you what I learned about “presa canarios” while listening to this audiobook.
The presa canario is said to have first shown up in 15th century Spain and was brought to the Canary Islands by Spanish conquistadors. They were generally bred to be guard/attack dogs. The dogs can grow up to 26” and 100 pounds. Their bite is a frightening 540 pounds per square inch. These animals can be trained to be warm and affectionate towards their families, but strangers, other animals, and even children need to be careful. Their natural instinct is to protect and they also have an “alpha personality”. If you are around one of these dogs and are afraid or unsure, they will exert their dominance. This type of situation could end in an attack. It is highly suggested that these dogs receive socialization and obedience training from an experienced dog trainer before adopting it as a pet. Again, this is a huge dog who needs space to exercise or it can become destructive. If these procedures had been followed, there would probably be no story to tell today. Unfortunately, this story has been recorded in the annals of history because of the negligence of Marjorie Knoller and her husband Robert Noel.
Marjorie and her husband were attorneys in the San Francisco area. They were living in a Pacific Heights apartment when a close friend of the family, Paul Schneider, asked them to take his dogs in as a favor. The husband and wife couldn’t say no to their friend so they went to pick the two presa canarios up and bring them home. The dogs were staying with another of Schneider’s friends, but she could not control the animals. She even warned Noel and Knoller that the dogs were VERY aggressive. She raised sheep for a living but Hera and Bane, the dogs, had killed many of her animals. She had a tendency to leave them locked in a pen all day- but remember, these dogs need exercise! They began to break out and act aggressively towards the sheep. The attorneys pretty much dismissed what she told them and took the dogs back to the apartment.
So, we’ve got two grown animals, both massive in size, being cooped up in a small apartment around other people. We can all guess where this whole thing is going. One thing about Robert- he was able to KIND OF “handle” the dogs. He tried socialization techniques he had learned from being a dog owner in the past. When it came to Marjorie, the dogs kind of handled her. As neighbors became aware of the two beasts, it was clear that these dogs were dangerous. Some of the building’s occupants would return to their apartments if the dogs were being taken down for a walk. Marjorie and Robert were well aware that the neighbors were uncomfortable but they thought it was funny- it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. That day was coming.
This is where Diane Whipple comes in the picture. She was the next-door neighbor to Marjorie and Robert and she had just about had it with them and their poorly behaved pets. She had spoken to other residents who felt as if they were being held hostage in their homes by Hera and Bane. She exchanged angry words with Marjorie about her habit of letting the dogs off-leash in the hallways and elevators. Marjorie pretty much ignored the remarks but made sure she told Paul Schneider about how terrified the residents were of his presas. Paul was proud that his dogs were living up to the presa reputation.
Diane and her partner of 6 years, Sharon Smith, were the picture of happiness. Diane was a former lacrosse player, even playing on the US World Cup Team twice. She was a natural athlete, and after barely missing the Olympics in the 800-meter run, she put down roots and became a lacrosse coach at St Mary’s College of California. On January 26, 2001, just five days after her 33 birthday, Diane was returning home with groceries. As she attempted to balance opening the door to her apartment with her bags, Marjorie came out of her apartment with both dogs. There’s only Marjorie’s word to go on about what happened next- she says that Bane, the larger male dog, got away from her and attacked Diane. At this time it was estimated that Bane weighed 143 pounds. He easily took Diane down and began to maul her. Marjorie states that she attempted to defend Diane from the attack to no avail. She stated that Hera was not involved in the attack. 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.” Diane sustained over 70 injuries to her entire body save from her scalp and the soles of her feet. One would think that once Marjorie lost control of the dogs that she would call 911 to report the attack. She did not. An elderly neighbor who heard the commotion made the call, however. She couldn’t open her door to Diane for fear of being attacked herself but she made sure help was on the way. When paramedics and animal control arrived they couldn’t believe the sight. The hallway was covered in Diane’s blood as was Marjorie Knoller. 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.
Paramedics raced Diane to the hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.
This was huge news in the Bay Area. As you can guess, animal rights activists were quick on the scene to defend Hera, pleading for her life. Like Bane,Hera was eventually put down in January of 2002.
So, the dogs were like our villain in this story until reports of the indifference shown by Marjorie and Robert were made public. In the eyes of the community at large, this indifference cost Diane Whipple her life and subsequently cost the lives of the two presa canarios. Now, I’m a huge fan of Marvel and DC movies and comics. In those universes, we learn the identity of a villain only to learn that there may be a bigger bad guy pulling the strings. For instance, in the first Avengers movie, the villain was Loki and the the Avengers had their hands full dealing with him. By the 4th Avengers installment, we loved Loki and found out he was being controlled by Thanos who wanted to destroy half of all life in the universe in an attempt to be a savior. Crazy tangent, I know, but I am a nerd so it all makes sense to me. Thanos had a mighty group behind him- the “Children of Thanos” who were willing to die for their belief in his cause. Call it a cult of personality. I’m bringing it all home, now, so stay with me.
Hera and Bane, the dogs, were let down by their family- in this case Marjorie and Robert. They had no training so were left to their base instincts. Diane, to them, exuded fear so they asserted their alpha personalities in a horrific way- but that’s what they were bred to do. Innately, they served to protect. They were not meant to be confined to small spaces and weren’t taught to control the need to be violently aggressive. In the case of the animals, Marjorie and Robert were the worst thing that happened to them. But, remember, they aren’t the dogs owners. Paul Schneider was. So why is he conspicuously absent from all the blame that’s going around? Well, Paul is the big bad- saved for the final act.
Paul “Cornfed” Schneider is the “adopted” son of Marjorie and Robert. In fact they adopted him when he was 38 years old and already serving a life sentence in prison. That’s right, he was the “owner” of the dogs- from PRISON. At this point in the story, I will refer to a piece that was published in Mel Magazine- it’s going to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of exactly who this guy is.
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. (Or as part of a dogfighting outfit, depending on who is telling the tale)
Paul Schneider has repeatedly left disaster in his wake. Damn near every person or thing that he has encountered has been left broken. How does a Mormon woman living a normal life end up in witness protection? Paul Schneider. How does a married couple go from being attorneys to being involved in bestiality, murder, and a bizarre relationship with their client? Their client is Paul Schneider. How did Bane and Hera come to be in that building to attack Diane Whipple? Paul Fucking Schneider. He is an unnatural disaster. The worst kind of person to EVER come in contact with because he feeds on a persons insecurities and weaponizes them. He is obviously charismatic enough to get people to hop on board his bullshit train with nothing more than words in letters and some weird art.
I’m positive that you can dig into his past and turn up an even bigger villain than him (his stepfather), and that brings me to my conclusion- we, as a society, can understand that animals can be raised in normal homes and become a loving member of the family. I know people who have pit bulls as pets with no problems because they take the time to teach them right from wrong. We see that dogs shouldn’t be to blame when they haven’t been taught to KNOW better. Let’s exercise that same line of thinking when it comes to people. Not with huge crimes, like murder- but when you come from a depressing and desolated environment there is a survival of the fittest mentality. Some people are gifted students or athletes who are lucky those talents take them out of despair. But, what about “normal” average folks? Sometimes the environment they live in trains them to do other things to survive. I love animals, but I love HUMAN BEINGS more. I think that if dogs can be taken out of abusive situations and rise above their base instincts so can people. I know- another tangent- but isn’t it something to THINK about?
That’s it, that’s all for this week’s episode. I liked Red Zone, it gave a lot of info not included in my re-telling, get the book if you want to know more OR go to TCbyTB.com to see my other sources. If you’d like to assist the show, I’ll leave a link in the show notes and on the blog- every penny helps. You can also share the show and leave a review on Apple Podcasts, Podchaser- wherever you listen. Thanks for being a part of my audience- I really appreciate it! Watch your feed for the next one- Later Bookworms!