Written by Peter McGough
12 February 2015


The Sally-Ray McNeil Murder

Bodybuilding's Most Notorious Crime: 20 Years Ago



At around 10.pm on Tuesday, February 14, 1995, pro bodybuilder Ray McNeil finished his workout at Golds Gym in Oceanside, (a coastal city situated in San Diego county) and was just four days away from competing in the South Beach Pro Invitational in Miami. About 40 minutes later he arrived home at the apartment he shared with his wife, Sally, of seven years, and two children from her first marriage.

 Although it was Valentine’s Day, the couple began to argue and while Ray was in the kitchen cooking chicken Sally went into the bedroom and loaded her 12 gauge shotgun, came back into the kitchen and shot Ray in the abdomen. Then she went back to the bedroom, reloaded again, and returned to fire a second shot into Ray’s head.

 The first shot went through three ribs and blew almost a pound of liver tissue away. The bullet’s destructive path caused a 6 by 5 inch hole in his diaphragm and tore through his pancreas, adrenal gland, kidney and abdominal aorta.

 The second shot shattered his upper jaw, tore out half of his lower jaw and shredded his tongue. Frightened by the gunfire, Sally's daughter, Shantina (11) and her younger brother John (9) ran from the home screaming. Sally dialed 911 and covered a profusely bleeding Ray with a blanket. He was on his hands and knees mumbling. She then went outside and gave the shot gun to a neighbor telling them that Ray had been beating her and quietly waited for the police to arrive.

How had the couple arrived at this bloody and no-going-back gruesome point?


In late 1987 bodybuilders Ray McNeil and Sally Lowden were married after a short courtship. At the time, both were sergeants in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. Sally was 27 and had divorced her first husband in 1986 after a stormy four year marriage. She had three children (one of whom she put up for adoption) and Ray was 23. It was a tempestuous relationships with Ray seemingly having numerous affairs and them being embroiled in countless arguments that often escalated into violence.

 In 1990 because of her poor record in the military, Sally was demoted and then not allowed to re-enlist. She began to do private wrestling sessions with men, eerily and prophetically billing herself as “Killer McNeil” with one video entitled, “Time to Die”. Her earnings allowed Ray to leave the Marines and take up bodybuilding full time. He won his pro card at the 1991 North American Championships and in 1993 entered 10 pro shows; his second place at the Niagara Pro qualifying him for the Olympia where he placed 15th out of 22 competitors.

By 1994 he wanted to strike out in another direction and took acting classes as he had designs on being a stand-up comic. In August of that year he began appearing at The Comedy Club in nearby La Jolla for free. That same year Sally entered the USA Championships, North Americans and NPC National’s where she placed 5th as a middleweight at the USA and, 6th and 16th in the heavyweight division at the North Americans and Nationals.

 All through that period money was tight in the McNeil household and Sally was the main breadwinner. It seemed she was deeply in love with Ray and would forgive or get past his marital indiscretions, although sometimes she couldn’t control herself. In 1990, she attacked a woman at a bodybuilding show who was having an affair with Ray, pinned her to the floor and began raining blow after blow on the victim’s face before she was dragged off. As a consequence the NPC suspended her for a year.

 In 1993 at a bar in her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Sally started to dance on a cocktail bar and when asked to desist by the bouncer she kicked him in the face three times. Three cops responded to the 911 call and she threatened to kill them and in the end it took all three of them to subdue her. In the weeks after the shooting other incidents came to light and it seemed remarkable that the couple had survived over seven years together.


Who knows what human magnetism holds a couple together who seem so ill-suited for each other? To casual outsiders there often seemed a warm bond between the duo. I interviewed Ray a couple of times for FLEX magazine and he spoke glowingly of Sally and indeed I watched first hand at the 1994 USA Championships in New Orleans as Ray quietly and keenly mentored her to a fifth place finish. Then there was their participation in the 1993 post Olympia Euro tour that comprised five contests in less than three weeks. As a competitor the promoters paid for all Ray’s flights, but the couple couldn’t afford the air fare for Sally. So she trekked around Europe by train and at every station there was Ray waiting for her. It was like something out of a Hallmark movie.

 That’s as may be, but this simmering powder keg of a relationship finally came to a shrieking and bloody end on, ironically, Valentine’s Day 1995.

 The morning after the shooting, investigating officer Sergeant Thomas A. Bussey told me, “On February 14, 1995, at approximately 10.40 PM, Oceanside police responded to 1802 South Tremont (the McNeil family apartment) regarding a shooting.

 “Upon arrival, officers found 30-year-old Ray McNeil had sustained shotgun wounds to his face and stomach. McNeil was life-flighted to Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, where later he died (while undergoing surgery two hours after the shooting) as a result of his injuries. A preliminary investigation has revealed that McNeil was shot by his wife, Sally, during a domestic dispute. Sally McNeil summoned police by calling 911 and was present upon arrival of uniformed officers. She has subsequently been arrested and booked for murder into the San Diego County jail.”

 Urine tests found that Ray tested positive on five counts for fluoxymesterone, nandrolone, oxymetholone, Clenbuterol and drostanolone. Sally tested positive for nandrolone. The mainstream media latched onto the story and of course their main plotline was “roid rage”.


Sally's trial began a year later on, by chance, Valentine's Day. Deputy District Attorney Dan Goldstein took the stance that the murder was not one of passion. He said Sally coldly killed for Ray's life insurance money as he was in the process of preparing to leave her.

 Sally’s story was that Ray came home that night and very soon started hitting and choking her, and her actions were in self defense. Office Gary Shults, the first officer to reach the crime scene that night had different thoughts, as he told the redoubtable Teagan Clive in a tour-de-force of a feature she wrote on the murder which was published in the October 1996 issue of FLEX magazine. On first entering the apartment he saw Ray on his hands and knees in a pool of blood. Remarkably Ray, despite his soon to be fatal injuries, could still talk in a mumbling fashion. Officer Shults said he heard Ray say, “Why did you do this? Oh, God.” As Shults was doing what he could for Ray another officer having spoken to Sally told Shults she had said Ray was beating her. Upon hearing that Ray looked directly at Shults, shook his head and said “No.”

 Of that incident Sally told Ms. Clive in a jailhouse interview (published in the aforementioned feature), “How could Ray talk without a mouth?”

 Shults remarked that he didn’t see any blood or marks on Sally even though she said he had tried to throttle her and none of her DNA was found in Ray’s fingernails.

 A major factor in the charge that the crime was premeditated was that Sally went back into the bedroom to reload the second shot because they found the shell case for the first shot in the bedroom. Sally’s version was she first loaded the shotgun in the bedroom and then loaded the second shot in the living room , and that she never went back into the bedroom to load a second charge. In that jailhouse interview with Teagan Clive, in explaining the shell case in the bedroom, Sally said, “Someone must have kicked it from the living room to the bedroom.”

Those who attended the scene said the house was so untidy and cluttered that there was no way a careless kick could have ferried the casing from the living room to the bedroom.

 Goldstein kept up his argument that she had planned to kill Ray for the life insurance money because he was planning to leave her. Sally at first denied that but eventually testified that when Ray came home that night she berated him that (in regard to the upcoming South Beach contest) he wasn’t cut enough, wouldn’t place and that she was tired of his affairs. Then she finally admitted, “Yeah, he was going to leave me.”


On March 19, 1996 Sally McNeil was convicted of second degree murder and a month later was sentenced to 19 years-to-life in prison. Judge Laura Haines told Sally, “You’ll be an old woman when you get out. Ray didn’t deserve to die like that.”

 Today Sally is in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. The facility is about 40 miles north of Fresno in Central California and is the largest female correctional facility in the United States and houses the State of California's death row for women. She has been there since May 1st, 1996 and her last appeal for parole failed in November 2013. Another appeal may be tabled this summer. Sally has spent 20 years behind bars after her arrest on February 14th, 1995.

Sally Marie McNeil is now 54 years of age. Ray McNeil would have celebrated his 50th birthday on December 17th this year.