Wednesday, January 31, 2001
S.F. Lawyers Adopt Con Who
Bred Killer Dog
Action by animal's keepers
stuns state corrections officials
Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
In a bizarre twist, the attorneys whose Presa
Canario dog mauled a San Francisco woman to
death have adopted the Pelican bay inmate prison
officials say bred that dog and others as attack
Robert Noel, 59, and Marjorie Knoller, 45, who
had been keeping the dog when it attacked Diane
Whipple at their Pacific Heights apartment building,
were granted an adoption decree Monday by San
Francisco family court. The decree makes them
parents of 38-year-old inmate Paul John "Cornfed"
Schneider, who is serving time for aggravated
assault and attempted murder.
Authorities were stunned yesterday to hear that the
attorneys had adopted the inmate.
"We're a little puzzled about this, that is pretty much
our reaction," said Russ Heimerich, spokesman for
the state Department of Corrections.
Noel, who along with Knoller is being investigated
by San Francisco police in the fatal dog attack on
Whipple, said that adopting Schneider was a
"Our decision was based on Mr. Schneider as a
person, and our feelings toward him and his feelings
toward us," Noel said in an interview yesterday with
Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross,
adding, "It was not an action taken lightly."
Noel said that although the adoption might sound
strange to some, "Mr. Schneider is definitely a man
of more character and integrity than most of the
people you're going to find in the California
Department of Corrections administration."
Schneider, a validated member of the Aryan
Brotherhood prison gang incarcerated for crimes
including robbery, aggravated assault and attempted
murder, arranged to buy and care for Bane and
seven other Presa Canarios using intermediaries,
including Noel and Knoller, prison officials said.
After reaching a settlement in a lawsuit last year
disputing the work of the dogs' caretaker, the
attorneys ended up with two of them -- Bane and
And now they have adopted the dogs' former
"The adoption will be in the best interest of the
parties and in the public interest," the decree
Schneider did not come to court for the adoption
proceeding with his "physical appearance being
impossible," according to the adoption decree.
The adoption had been in the works for months.
Schneider entered into an agreement with Noel and
Knoller on Jan. 15 to "assume toward each other
the relation of parent and child, including all rights of
inheritance and intestate succession," the decree
Pelican Bay officials plan to give San Francisco
police their findings about the roles of Schneider
and fellow inmate Dale Bretches in raising Bane and
Hera -- also present at the time of the attack on
Hera's fate awaits a hearing Feb. 13, authorities
According to authorities, Schneider and Bretches
used intermediaries to raise Bane and seven other
dogs beginning in 1998, operating the attack-dog
breeding business from maximum security at Pelican
Bay near Crescent City.
'RAISING ATTACK DOGS'
"They were raising attack dogs. San Francisco
police suspected they were going to the Mexican
Mafia, going to protect their drug operations,"
Heimerich said. "We are just not going to speculate
as to why."
Schneider and Bretches are both serving life terms,
Bretches for a murder conviction.
The dog operation was uncovered in October 1999
and by February 2000, authorities found that the
prisoners had violated policy by running an outside
The inmates enlisted an intermediary, identified in
court documents as Brenda Storey of Fair Oaks.
She arranged for Janet Coumbs of Hayfork in
Trinity county to care for the dogs.
Coumbs said a friend encouraged her to meet the
inmates as an act of Christian charity.
Two of the dogs came from a breeder in Chicago in
1998 and two more from a breeder in Ohio in
1999. She said she was told they were hers to raise
and keep, in exchange for providing photos to the
inmates -- both artists -- to use to draw the animals.
Coumbs told police yesterday that she was unable
to deal with the dogs. They attacked sheep,
chickens and her daughter's pet cat.
But, Storey's husband, Russell, said yesterday that
Coumbs never told anyone about any attacks by the
''The stuff about the dogs being killers, she never
mentioned that to anybody, this was the first
anybody has heard of that," he said.
"We don't know how she treated the dogs. Our
main concern is with the Whipple family and with
Marjorie and Robert."
Russell Storey said his wife signed a lawsuit asking
for the dogs' return as a favor to Schneider, who
could not file the suit because he is a prisoner.
Schneider shared a cell with his wife's friend, he
said. She picked the first two dogs up at the airport
in 1998 and delivered them to Coumbs.
A year later, Schneider wrote Storey about
suspected abuse of the dogs by Coumbs. The
Coumbs denies any neglect. She informed
investigators yesterday that she told the lawyers the
dogs should be destroyed because they were
vicious, said San Francisco Police Lt. Henry
"If we can demonstrate that, we can show that they
should have knowledge these animals were a
danger; that's when we get to the gross negligence
and manslaughter," Hunter said.
An attorney who represents the inmates on other
matters said there was never anything
"underground" about the dog operation, despite
what authorities said.
Schneider and Bretches planned to draw the dogs
and were working on a Web site about their virtues,
said Herman Franck of Spokane, Wash.
"It has been completely above ground," Franck
said. "How do you hide something like that? There's
all kinds of correspondence involved."
Still, prison officials said the inmates used codes and
other ruses to escape detection.
"Obviously, it was illegal, against our department
rules. It was not something they would telegraph, by
any stretch of the imagination," said Pelican Bay
spokesman Lt. Ben Grundy.
"We did find the inmates were in violation of our
policy, but the problem we encountered was that
the individuals that were actually doing all the
bidding for them, the running of the business,
handling the money, transferring of funds, were their
attorneys and people on the streets," he said.
"They were outside our jurisdiction; there's nothing
we could do with them, " he said.
The matter was referred to the FBI's Sacramento
office and, he said, "They came back and informed
us there were no criminal laws broken."
Franck maintains that the dog operation was
"These guys wanted these dogs -- you have to
understand a few things about these guys, they are
very serious artists, they draw all kinds of animal
pictures, and they are very interested in animals," he
The inmates use everything from the red die
extracted from vitamin pills to scrapings from
magazines to color illustrations ranging from warrior
princesses to polar bears to jaguars, he said. But
their cell was covered with the dog art.
"Dale and Paul were constantly trying to sell the
concept that these dogs can be loyal, loving pets,
the ultimate family dog," Franck said. "They were
not interested in a making a wild, killer dog. How
on earth, could they, inside jail, train these dogs?"
SCHNEIDER SUES OFTEN
Along with his artwork, Schneider is also known for
his lawsuits. They include two failed suits alleging
that he was wrongly handcuffed while at an exercise
yard at Folsom Prison and another alleging that he
and Bretches were shot during a fight staged by
guards at Pelican Bay.
Schneider and other inmates also filed a civil-rights
lawsuit that was upheld by the U.S. Court of
Appeals in San Francisco challenging the state's
refusal to pay interest on $10 million in inmate trust
accounts. The matter is still before the courts. The
inmates contend that the state's refusal to pay
interest deprives them of property without just
compensation under the Fifth Amendment.
Meanwhile, Franck puzzled over Schneider's
adoption and newfound family.
"The Knollers did not have kids of their own -- that
may be part of what this is about," he said. "That is
incredible. Just when you think this story can't get
any weirder. . . . That's pretty weird."
E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at email@example.com.
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