In February 1995, Sally McNeil murdered her husband Ray, a fellow bodybuilder — then alleged that he'd been physically abusing her in a fit of rage brought on by his steroid use.
Sally and Ray McNeil were far from a typical couple. For starters, they were both ex-Marines and world-class bodybuilders. Ray, 256 pounds of muscle, was named Mr. California in 1991. Sally had won the U.S. Armed Services Physique Championship twice in the late 1980s.
They had been married for seven years, but their relationship was anything but pleasant. They had frequent arguments spurred on by clashing egos and jealous machismo — arguments that often turned violent when Ray’s anger was fueled by the numerous steroids he was taking.
Then, on Valentine’s Day in 1995, one fight turned out to be their last. Sally grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and fired it at Ray, blasting open his abdomen. As he lay on the ground, she fired a second shot into his jaw. Two hours later, he was dead.
As news of Ray McNeil’s death swept through the bodybuilding community, many were quick to point to Sally McNeil’s strength as evidence that she could not have been abused. She was called a murderer and sentenced to 19 years to life in a court case that is now the subject of the Netflix documentary Killer Sally.
Ray And Sally McNeil’s Early Relationship
In 1987, two Marine Corps officers met while stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Their names were Sally and Ray.
Ray was a 23-year-old wannabe bodybuilder. Sally was 27, already a mother of two and divorced after a tumultuous young marriage.
Sally and Ray quickly hit it off and married soon after, according to Muscular Development.
Sally’s military career, however, came to an end in 1990 when she was demoted due to poor performance. Unable to re-enlist, she made her money through “muscle worship,” or charging men to wrestle with her. She advertised herself under the name “Killer Sally” or “Killer McNeil.”
Sally eventually made enough money through these amateur wrestling matches that Ray was able to leave the Marines and pursue bodybuilding full-time, and in 1991 he was named Mr. California.
But the couple’s obsession with bodybuilding made them desperate, and they started using steroids to put on the muscle they desired. And despite Ray’s hulking frame, he was incessantly jealous and worried that Sally would leave him. In combination with the steroids, this made him prone to anger-fueled outbursts, a.k.a. “roid rage.”
Tragically, Sally claimed, Ray frequently took this anger out on her.
How The McNeils’ Marriage Turned Violent
“Ray was very insecure and this made him very jealous,” Sally explained in an interview with Leigh Penman in 2009.
“I should have left him after the third day of our marriage. He beat me up because the Warrant Officer who was in charge of me told Ray he should not have married me because I was ‘used goods’. Ray got mad because I had dated two other guys before I met him. I was beaten up unmercifully,” Sally said.
Sally claimed that when she met Ray, she had no clue he was on steroids. It quickly became apparent, however, as numerous incidents left Sally beaten and bruised as a result of his outbursts.
Once, he broke her toe throwing her across the room. Another time, he wrenched her shoulders so badly that she tore a rotator cuff.
At the same time, Ray was regularly having affairs with other women and men. For a period, Sally said, one of Ray’s boyfriends had even been living with the couple.
“I asked Ray to please tell him to move out,” she said. “He was mean to my children. He would lock them out of the house when I was not home. He and Ray must have been in the apartment having sex and didn’t want to get walked in on by my children or caught in the gay act.”
She claimed that this incident led Ray’s boyfriend to lie when he testified during her trial, a trial that painted Sally not as a victim, but as an equal to Ray in terms of physicality — and prone to aggressive outbursts herself.
Sally McNeil’s Arrest And Trial For The Murder Of Her Husband
Ray McNeil came home from the gym late on Feb. 14, 1995, and as he was preparing chicken in the kitchen, he and Sally began arguing, as reported by New York Daily News. The disagreement turned physical, and Ray allegedly tried to choke Sally — so she shot him twice with a shotgun.
At least, that’s the version of events that Sally’s attorney laid out at her trial.
“On that night Ray attacked me, I did not provoke the incident,” Sally recalled. “He started yelling at me because I was in the bathroom putting on make-up… He did not want me to go out to a club because I might meet somebody and leave him. That is what initiated the incident. Somehow the DA changed the story around.”
A toxicology report found five different types of steroids in Ray McNeil’s system. Sally claimed to have stopped taking steroids by the time of the incident, though one type was found in her bloodstream as well.
The prosecuting attorney, Dan Goldstein, didn’t see the muscular Sally McNeil as the victim she claimed to be, however.
Her testimony painted Ray as a cheating steroid addict, prone to “roid rage” when he became jealous, but Goldstein described Sally as “anything but a battered wife. She is one of the most violent persons I have ever prosecuted.”
Her ex-husband, Anthony Lowden, supported the presentation of this version of Sally McNeil. Once she took up bodybuilding, he said, she became “unhinged.”
“As sure as Ray McNeil lies dead, it could’ve been me,” he said.
In fact, in 1990, Sally had been arrested for pulling a gun on Lowden and smashing his car windows with a crowbar. A few days later, she dropped a 70-pound weight onto Ray McNeil’s car from a balcony. Later that year, she attacked police officers who were called to check on her children’s wellbeing.
And in 1993, she reportedly went “berserk” after a bouncer told her to stop dancing on a table at a bar. When police were called in, she assaulted them, too.
Yet it was Sally McNeil herself who called the police to report that she had shot her husband.
“Running is a sign of guilt,” she said. “I faced the music. I believed in the justice system at that point, however the DA didn’t want to hear the truth… I might as well have let Ray kill me that night. My children lost their mom anyway.”
Clearly, there were two drastically different sides to this tragic story — and the jury seemed to find some truth in Goldstein’s. Sally was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to at least 19 years in prison.
Now, over 20 years later, Sally McNeil has been paroled and was able to share her side of the story with documentarian Nanette Burstein.
Perhaps public opinion toward her will change. Or perhaps not.
Sally McNeil’s story isn’t over, but while waiting for the conclusion, read about Betty Broderick, another scorned woman who shot her ex-husband and his new wife in their bed. Or, discover the story of Pupetta Maresca, the beauty queen and mob wife who shot her husband’s killer.