Why was Sally McNeil called 'Killer Sally'? The true story behind bodybuilder turned husband-killer

A new Netflix documentary called 'Killer Sally' will recount the Valentine's Day death of Ray McNeil, which horrified the country in 1995

Why was Sally McNeil called 'Killer Sally'? The true story behind bodybuilder turned husband-killer
Sally McNeil in official trailer of 'Killer Sally' (YouTube/Netflix)
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Sally McNeil was a professional bodybuilder before she was convicted of murdering her husband. Viewers are now curious as to why she murdered her spouse in 1995.

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Sally McNeil was a popular bodybuilder in the 1980s and 1990s. She won the US armed services physique competition twice in her early career. While serving in the United States Marine Corps, she met fellow bodybuilder Ray McNeil. They met via their common interest in bodybuilding and married in 1987.

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Ray was 23 years old at the time, while Sally was 27. She had previously been married and divorced after her four-year marriage failed. Sally was released from the military three years later and went into muscle worship to make money. Muscle worship consists of taped sessions in which guys pay her to wrestle them to the ground. What began as a hobby turned into a profitable job, as she stated in a Netflix trailer, "If I wrestled 10 of them, that's $3k."

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Her profession was so successful that her spouse decided not to re-enlist in the military and instead pursue bodybuilding full-time. Sally and Ray's relationship, however, took a violent turn when she shot him twice on Valentine's Day in 1995, once in the abdomen and once in the head. Sally said she killed her husband in self-defense, earning her the moniker "Killer Sally."

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Why did Sally kill her husband?

Ray and Sally McNeil were having a bad Valentine's Day in 1995. Neither of them anticipated love poetry or roses. The couple's disastrous eight-year marriage was wearing out, beaten down by vanity, jealousy, and strong machismo. Sally, on the other hand, was enraged when Ray came late to their apartment in Oceanside, California, north of San Diego. When he eventually came around 10 pm, she was ready to fight.

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Sally's preteen children from a previous marriage, John and Shantina, cowered in their bedroom as the fighting began. The children were well-versed in the procedure. "That's what they did—they hit each other," a prosecutor subsequently stated of the marriage. And neither was the kind to give up.

Sally asked Ray to explain where he had been as he stood at the kitchen stove making chicken. Shantina reported hearing a "gurgling" sound after some yelling as if her mother was being suffocated. Sally walked into a closet, took a 12-gauge shotgun out of its case, and chambered a cartridge. She returned to the kitchen and fired the gun. Ray's six-pack abs were blown out by the shot.

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He knelt, and his wife loaded another round and shot him in the jaw. Then she dialed 911. Ray could be heard moaning in the background, "Why, oh god, why?"

Shantina yelled as she hurried to a neighbor's apartment, "Oh my God! My mom shot my dad! " "I just wanted him to leave me alone," Sally said to a neighbor as she waited for authorities.

When the police came, Ray McNeil was still conscious and alive. As he listened to Sally tell officers that he choked her, the bodybuilder threw his bleeding head from side to side and said emphatically, "No!"

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He was confirmed dead two hours later, and Sally was charged with murder, generating a stir in the bodybuilding community. Ray McNeil, a native Jamaican, was ranked among the top 20 professionals in his weight class in the country. He was also crowned Mr California in 1991.

Sally McNeil's abusive history

Sally, who grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was an amateur bodybuilder who utilized her physique to make money in niche muscle sports like female submission wrestling and apartment wrestling, a semi-erotic entertainment in which males pay to wrestle with strong women. In such ventures, she went by the moniker "Killer Sally." Anthony Lowden, her first husband, agreed. He said that his ex-wife became "unhinged" once she began bodybuilding. "As sure as Ray McNeil lies dead, it could've been me," Lowden stated to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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She was arrested in 1990 for brandishing a firearm at Lowden and smashing his car windows with a crowbar. Days later, she fought McNeil and threw a 70-pound weight from a balcony into his car as he was leaving her. She was also sprayed with Mace in 1990 following a fight with police officials summoned to examine the well-being of her children. In another incident that year, she was forbidden from competing in bodybuilding contests for a year after punching a female spectator whom she suspected of having an affair with her husband. During a visit to her hometown in 1993, she attacked a police officer who was called to a nightclub after she became "berserk" when a bouncer told her to stop dancing on a table. "This was not an isolated incident of violence," said prosecutor Dan Goldstein of the killing. He described her as "aggressive by nature."

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Of course, increased aggressiveness is a hallmark of "roid rage," and anabolic steroid usage is common in bodybuilding.

Both Ray and Sally were on steroids at the time of the killing, according to blood testing. She tested positive for Deca-Durabolin, the same chemical that baseball legend Roger Clemens reportedly took. Ray McNeil's body had five distinct types of steroids.

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Sally McNeil was depicted as an abused wife and victim of 'roid anger during her trial a year after the killing by defense counsel Bill Rafael.

"The issue in this case is Sally McNeil's right to use force in an honest and reasonable manner against her abuser in order to stop the beatings, the rapes, the sodomies, the tortures," he added. Prosecutor Goldstein said, "The defendant is anything but a battered wife. She is one of the most violent persons I have ever prosecuted."

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Sally McNeil's sentencing

Sally McNeil was found guilty of second-degree murder by the jury. She was sentenced to 19 years to life in jail and is still incarcerated at the state slammer for women in Chowchilla some 14 years later.

Sally McNeil talked harshly and took no fault in an interview with bodybuilding journalist Leigh Penman. Her late spouse was described as a steroid-addicted philanderer who began hitting her on the third day of their marriage and never stopped. Sally made no mention of her personal history of violence or steroid usage. "I am still a lean, mean fighting machine," Sally said.

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Sally spent her time in Chowchilla, California, in the Central California Women's Facility. On May 29, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation granted her parole.

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