The True Story Behind Netflix’s ‘Killer Sally’ Is Tragically Stranger Than Fiction

25 years behind bars to answer one question: was this murder self-defence or pre-determined?

The onslaught of new titles dropping this month on Netflix may be enough to suffice us entertainment junkies ahead of the holidays, but none has captured our attention more than the gripping true-crime thriller Killer Sally.

Like many of Netflix’s award-winning true-crime documentaries, Killer Sally re-examines a relative underground case that will soon become the fodder of every water-cooler chat and after work drinks.

Featuring interviews and first-person testimony from Sally McNeil aka ‘Killer Sally’, a former US marine turned body builder who spent a quarter of a century behind bars for murdering her husband on Valentine’s Day, the show retrospectively examines the unusual circumstances and allegations of abuse that surround the case.

At the crux of Killer Sally is Sally herself and throughout the three-part documentary series the show’s creators untangle the web of allegations and speculation about what really went down on the fateful night of February 14.

Being dubbed as “bodybuilding’s most notorious crime”, the show employs interviews with Sally, courtroom footage, video from Sally’s police integration and more to prove whether or not the ‘killer’ label is the most accurate representation of a woman who claims the crime was committed in self defence.

As per Netflix’s official show synopsis Killer Sally is a “complex true crime story that examines domestic violence, gender roles, and the world of bodybuilding.”

Below, we round up the true story of Killer Sally and answer every question you may have after watching the show.

‘Killer Sally’ a.ka Sally McNeil. (Credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Who Is Sally McNeil?

Sally McNeil, also known as ‘Killer Sally’, is a 62-year-old former body builder who fatally shot and killed her husband, fellow bodybuilder Ray McNeil after an argument on Valentines Day in 1995.

Born in 1960, Sally McNeil was a former US marine who met her husband Ray at a gym.

After two months of dating, the pair wed in 1987 and began an allegedly vicious cycle of physical abuse (for both Sally and her children) and a strained marriage that cultivated with Sally pulling a gun on Ray after an alleged physically abusive argument.

Throughout Killer Sally, the show examines (but does not exploit) the retraumatizing of Sally as she recalls her own torrid history as an alleged victim survivor of systemic abuse, first at the hands of her father and then her first husband.

In her eight years of marriage she claims that she was sexually assaulted and beaten enough to make her fear for her life (the first time Ray allegedly hit her was three-days after their wedding). She even alleged her children were forced to watch the abuse.

While you may think the name ‘Killer Sally’ was given to Sally McNeil because of her crime, which Sally has also claimed to be in self defence rather than a premeditated attack, the show explores the true meaning behind the nickname.

During her marriage to Ray, Sally participated in what she labelled as “muscle prostitution” in order to have the financial means to afford and supports Ray’s steroid use as his career was reportedly deteriorating.

The muscle prostitution is exclaimed as a seemingly kink-filled activity which involved Sally dominating and wrestling men in hotel-rooms and, shrouded in shame, secrecy and stigma, Sally claims that the money obtained from this line of work went to Ray’s steroid use.

Sally McNeil with her second husband, Ray McNeil. Sally shot and killed Ray on Valentine’s Day in 1995. (Credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Later, in an interview with RX Muscle, Sally claimed that the abuse she suffered from Ray was directly correlated to his use of the substance.

“Anabolic steroid use was the root of Ray’s violence towards me. When Ray and I first got married in 1987, I had no idea that he was on steroids. So I did not know that he was suffering from ‘roid rage’ when he’d fly off the handle and beat the holy hell out of me,” she claimed to the publication.

Throughout the late 90s, the media dubbed her as the “brawny bride” and the “pumped-up princess”, citing that she couldn’t have possibly been a victim due to her strong physique, as Killer Sally director Nanette Burstein explained.

Despite Ray’s long record of abusing Sally, and her medical records highlighting that she was indeed the victim of intimate partner violence, Sally was eventually convicted of murder in the second degree and spent 25 years in prison.

What Did ‘Killer Sally’ Do? The True Story Behind ‘Killer Sally’

In 1995, Sally shot Ray twice after an argument about finances and infidelity led to him physically abusing her.

As per Netflix’s official show synopsis, “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-defence, a split-second decision to save her life. The prosecution argued it was premeditated murder, the revenge of a jealous and aggressive wife.”

On the evening of February 14 1995, Sally was at home with her children when she suspected Ray was cheating on her, per court transcripts.

Sally McNeil has always maintained she shot Ray in self-defence. She was convicted of murder in the second degree and served 25 years in prison for the crime. (Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.)

The transcripts state that Sally told the police that after she had accused Ray of adultery “Ray then slapped her, pushed her down on the floor and started choking her. McNeil squirmed away, ran into the bedroom and took her shotgun out of its case in the closet.”

The transcripts state that Sally “grabbed two shells, loaded one, pumped the gun, and then “went out and aimed it at [Ray]” and shot him. At the time, Ray was at the kitchen stove cooking chicken. McNeil stated that after Ray was shot, he doubled over and then came towards her, so she loaded the second round, pumped the gun again, and shot him a second time.”

Sally was arrested on February 15 1995 and eventually went before a court in 1996 for her trial.

While the state of California claimed that Sally’s action was murder, she rebuked this and claimed self-defence given she thought her life was in imminent danger.

During the trial, a defence expert testified that Sally suffered from battered woman syndrome, which was the result of years of alleged physical and mental abuse caused by Ray.

Sally McNeil was released on parole in 2020. (Credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

As per court reports, “the defence expert, who had conducted several clinical interviews with McNeil, testified that McNeil described regular beatings during her childhood and through her first marriage, including physical battery as well as death threats”.

“McNeil provided detailed testimony of the physical harm that she suffered at the hands of Ray, which resulted in numerous injuries including five broken bones over the course of their marriage,” the transcript added.

“The expert testified that McNeil described several choking incidents as well as psychological abuse by Ray. The expert testimony on BWS also lent support to McNeil’s testimony that she shot Ray out of a genuine perception of imminent danger, explaining the cycle of episodic violence and dispelling myths about why battered women like McNeil don’t leave their abusers.

Despite this evidence, jurors found Sally guilty of second-degree murder and she was sentenced to 19 years to life.

In 2003, Sally appealed the conviction to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who actually sided with Sally and overturned the ruling. The State of California than appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court, who then overturned the appeal and reinstated the original conviction.

Where Is Sally McNeil Now?

After serving 25 years in prison, Sally was granted parole on May 29 in 2020. Sally is remarried and still lives in California.

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