As of late, streaming platforms are constantly coming out with new true crime series, but it’s not often that we come across one that tells of the murder of a professional bodybuilder by his bodybuilding wife. However, Netflix’s new series “Killer Sally” is about to change that, and, surprisingly, it may just be exactly what we crime junkies needed.
Within the first few minutes of the episode, we hear a 911 call from over 25 years ago, on Valentine’s Day 1995. It’s Sally McNeil telling the operator that she just shot her husband Ray McNeil in an act of self-defense. In the background, we can hear her daughter in hysterics, but Sally sounds rather composed considering she just killed her husband.
The two were both competing as bodybuilders when they met in 1987, and as Sally states, “It was lust at first sight. Not love at first sight, lust.” After a few months of dating, they got married, and Ray became stepfather to Sally’s two young children, eventually earning the title “Dad.” The family seemed happy: They took trips to Disneyland and attended bodybuilding competitions together. Yet, beneath the surface, their marriage contained violence, trauma and abuse.
“Killer Sally” is split into three parts. The first, titled “Valentine’s Day,” does a great job of immersing viewers in the McNeils’ world. Not only does it introduce the dynamic between Sally and Ray, but the episode also thoroughly explains the history and logistics of bodybuilding. The audience becomes privy to the routine of a bodybuilder and how they are judged during competitions. By the end of the pilot, the viewer is left with sufficient knowledge of the profession, which many deem as sport, art and commerce all in one.
The series effectively tells the McNeils’ story by including interviews with Sally, her children and some of Ray’s acquaintances. Thus, we get insider information from various sources, all with different perspectives on the situation. More importantly, after serving over two decades in prison, Sally is free to tell her side of the story, and by parsing through the various accounts, viewers can decide for themselves what they think really happened that night. As the first episode comes to an end, we are itching to know the events that will unfold in the following parts of the series.
The case is a difficult one to crack. As we learn more about Sally and Ray’s relationship, it becomes increasingly challenging to know what is true and what is exaggerated. For one, there are many accounts of Ray’s hot-and-cold nature. A friend even described him as a gentle giant with a short fuse. When combined with 260 pounds of pure muscle and a concoction of steroids, a short fuse can be extremely problematic.
On the other hand, Sally shot her husband twice — on the day of love — after years of violence against both her and her children. Whether or not Sally’s life was threatened at that precise moment is unclear, but the show establishes a very certain pattern of abuse. Viewers get to decide for themselves: Was the act warranted?
This series will undoubtedly leave you conflicted because, unlike most other true crime documentaries, the viewer gets to hear the story straight from the murderer herself. Even better, Sally isn’t holding back. She is ready and willing to share her case. Now it’s up to us to decide if the justice system failed when they took Sally away from her children and put her behind bars for 25 years.
Daily Arts Writer Molly Hirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.