Who is Sally McNeil from Killer Sally, and where is she now? This article provides context for the Netflix documentary Killer Sally and does contain spoilers.
A three-part docu-series has been released on Netflix about Sally McNeil, a former bodybuilder convicted of murdering her husband. The series, titled Killer Sally, allows Sally to play a role in telling her story decades after the murder and trial that sent her to prison. It is directed by award-winning filmmaker Nanette Burstein, whose previous work includes On the Ropes and Hillary. The series is split into three episodes: “Valentine’s Day,” “The Death of Mr. California,” and “The People vs. Sally McNeil.”
Netflix describes the series: “Killer Sally is the story of bodybuilding’s most notorious crime. On Valentine’s Day 1995, national bodybuilding champion, Ray McNeil, was choking his bodybuilder wife, Sally, when she grabbed a gun and fatally shot him twice. With a documented history of domestic abuse, Sally claimed it was self-defense, a split-second decision to save her life.”
The description continues, “The prosecution argued it was premeditated murder, the revenge of a jealous and aggressive wife. They called her a ‘thug,’ a ‘bully,’ a ‘monster.’ The media referred to her as the ‘brawny bride’ and the ‘pumped-up princess.’ Sally says she spent her life doing whatever it took to survive, caught in a cycle of violence that began in childhood and ended with Ray’s death. This complex true crime story examines domestic violence, gender roles, and the world of bodybuilding.”
In our review for RSC, Romey Norton said, “This documentary is an honest take on how and why that happened” and called it “an interesting and emotive watch.” Norton poses the question, “If Ray was a man with huge insecurities, threatened by his wife’s looks and successes, pumped with steroids, who took his anger and rage out on Sally, does this mean he deserved to die? Was it self-defense, as Sally was fighting for her life, or was Sally sick of his abuse and only saw one way out and premeditated this shooting?” She further said, “This series will make you think and question your morals and is definitely a talking piece.” Norton gave the series three stars out of five.
In a review for Decider, critic Johnny Loftus says, “What’s most remarkable about Killer Sally is how it places McNeil’s actions inside the larger climactic forces at work not only in the bodybuilding scene of the 1980s, but the skewed media perception of women in athletics and their role as familial breadwinners.”
Who is Sally McNeil?
Sally McNeil was an American professional bodybuilder. Born in 1960 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she grew up in a difficult home situation where she often witnessed abuse. This, according to the documentary, led her to believe that domestic violence was normal. She joined the United States Marine Corps in the 1980s, when she was in her twenties, and served at Camp Pendleton. She eventually reached the rank of Sergeant.
Sally and fellow bodybuilder and Marine Ray McNeil were married in 1987. They became engaged after only dating for a few months. Once married, Sally worked as a cook in the Marines before she was discharged from the military in 1990.
Before being discharged, she won the U.S. Armed Services Physique Championship twice. It marked the beginning of her career as a bodybuilder. After leaving the Marines, she pursued a wrestling career, going by the name “Killer Sally” (a title that would eventually prove to be prophetically true). She would wrestle men on camera and was paid as much as $3,000 per match. She was able to support the family off of this money, even enabling Ray to leave the Marines and pursue his own career as a bodybuilder.
The relationship between Ray and Sally was tumultuous. Ray was unfaithful in the marriage, with an altercation breaking out between one of his mistresses and Sally at one point. He was physically abusive towards Sally and her son and daughter from her previous marriage. Ray also took steroids, paid for by Sally’s success, which may have increased his violent tendencies.
What did Sally McNeil do?
On Valentine’s Day of 1995, Sally killed her husband Ray, shooting him once in the head and once in the abdomen. She says that he was strangling her at the time and that the murder was in self-defense. According to The U.S. Sun, she told the 911 operator, “I just shot my husband because he beat me up.” Sally’s son Ray has confirmed her step-father’s abusive behavior towards himself, his sister, and his mother.
On March 19, 1996, Sally’s trial concluded and she was found guilty of second-degree murder and sent to prison. She was sentenced to 19 years to life. During the trial, the prosecution made much of her strength and supposedly unfeminine physique, calling her names like “thug.” Looking back now, it’s easy to see how the jury – and the American public – were skewed by beliefs on proper feminine roles and domestic violence.
Where is Sally McNeil now?
Sally McNeill is 62 years old, having been 35 years old at the time of the murder. She has served her sentence and is now a free woman, living in northern California. She spent most of her life at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California, before being released on parole in June 2020.
Sally’s children, John and Shantina, were first placed in a care home. Later, they were raised by their mother’s parents. Today, Sally shares a close relationship with her now-grown son. Hopefully, this series may help her to clear her name and enjoy the rest of her life outside of prison.
It seems like every month, there’s at least one new streaming series about a killer from the past fifty years. However, what sets Sally McNeil aside from many of the rest is that she maintains to this day that she only killed her husband in self-defense. Most of the time, these series represent another entry in the sensational true crime genre, but this docu-series presents a chance for a woman who spent decades in prison the chance to tell her own story.