When the FarmersOnly.com commercials began airing about a decade ago, I chuckled because they were selling a stereotype of the cute petite cowgirl who wears Daisy Dukes and cowgirl boots. What they actually offer are more country women and pardon me for saying, this, the butch outdoorsy types. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Different strokes for different folks as the song goes.
But even in 2022, we’re still focused on what women should look like and how they should act. Killer Sally, a three-part docuseries, examines that. Sally McNeil was a student athlete growing up. When she was unable to pay to finish college, she went into the United States Marine Corps. She got into body building and pushed back at those who told her it wasn’t a beauty contest. When she was younger, Sally says she pushed herself to excel at sports. Born into a dysfunctional household in Allentown, Pa., she lived in an toxic abusive household in a more diverse neighborhood where she as a blonde white women who witnessed racism for dating young black men.
Because she grew up around physical abuse, she would go on to follow a pattern by getting involved with abusive men. She met fellow Marine Ray McNeil, who was a few years younger, while she was still in the service and they married after two months of dating having a fondness for bodybuilding and 1980s action movies. Sally could also find a father figure for her two children, Shantina and John, who were biracial. On the outside they still seemed like an odd family as John recalls because Ray seemed to wear clothes showing off his physique.
However, behind closed doors, a nightmare had started almost from day one. Sally said Ray punched her three days into their marriage. He often would choke her. Ray would also take his anger and frustration out on the kids. As John recalls, he’d punish both kids for anything one did and make the other watch first. During a home video of Christmas morning, he can’t help put mention how he will punish them for anything they do wrong to which we see a frightened face of Shantina.
For eight years, Sally, John and Shantina were the victims of abuse by Ray physically, verbally and emotionally. Sally had to pick up extra shifts and work to help Ray reach his goal of being Mr. Olympia but coming up short. He ate more than a dozen eggs a day and consumed five times as many steaks as his family. At one point, Sally talks of going down to Mexico to purchase steriods and even taking the kids with her but stops talking when questioned further by director Nanette Burstein. For one year, about $24,000 was spent on Ray alone to focus on his bodybuilding.
And not to say Ray wasn’t the victim of abuse growing up either. He had been living with a relative in a rat and roach infested house. He was even sexually asaulted as a young child. Like most people they turned to the armed services which seemed the only place they could excel when other avenues weren’t available.
But things went bad when Sally said no more to the abuse and Ray’s philandering and was going to move across country back to her Allentown home. Then on Valentine’s Day 1995, things turned very violent when Sally shot Ray twice following a physical altercation. At the same time, Sally was planning on leaving Ray, he was planning on leaving Sally has he had been seeing another woman. And his infidelity and adultery had been well known among some of his friends.
Sally was even doing videos on the side to make money, first for Bill Wick to do Amazon women wrestling videos and then she decided to cut out the middle man and make videos herself. She even went as far as booking clients to wrestle in hotels, their homes and even her own. These type of people are callled “schmoos” but Sally refuses to use that derogatory term because when she was arrested and placed on a $250,000 bail, they’re the ones who rallied together to get her released on bond.
The sad part of the three-part docuseries on Netflix is the prosecution led by Daniel Goldstein, whose smug arrogant composure will make you disgusted everytime he’s on screen, didn’t want to the people to believe Sally was a battered woman. His argument was just to look at her and see that she looked like a woman who could defend herself. Even though Ray’s hulking mass and history of violence made him an imposing figure, that was all overlooked. Santina recalls an incident in which Ray returned home from his work as a bouncer at a club where he was covered in blood from attacking someone to the point of trying to gouge out their eyes.
When Ray was shot, he had five different steroids in his system. However, Goldstein doesn’t think highly of Battered Woman Syndrome, even though Sally says she was also sexually assaulted by Ray several times. What’s worse is Sally doesn’t have the best defense. William Rafae, her attorney, acts like he didn’t know how to handle such a case. I feel Rafael wasn’t fully prepared for such a big case.
And worse was how the media circus made it sensationalized. The murder happened right as the O.J. Simpson trial started and tabloid journalist were just all willing to go after the story. However, Diane Diamond of Hard Copy, does manage to show some humility and admit they went after the case wrong and she does offer her apologies to Sally and her family on how they handled it.
Sally was no 5-foot-3, 110 pound weakling. She had a history of aggression herself. She had been demoted in the Marines for her conduct. But because a woman stands up for herself, she is considered hostile, aggressive and apprehensive. This docuseries tiptoes around the key issue that only small, weak and timid people can claims self-defense. But then again, during this time, people were saying Simpson was justified to kill Nicole Brown, because she was seen as nothing more than a “gold-digging whore” in the media. Even Sally says on her appeal after she was found guilty of second-degree murder, she couldn’t use battered women syndrome.
But when you look at the prosecution saying she went into the bedroom to get another shotgun shell after shooting Ray once in the abdomen, she was meaning to kill him. Yet, what if she wasn’t a bodybuilder who made videos of herself wrestling men. What if she was the chair of the PTA? What if she taught Sunday School? Or what if she made cookies for the whole neighborhood at Christmastime?
You really feel that it was a miscarriage of justice, even though it doesn’t take that route. Of course, Ray’s friends were going to say it was Sally who was the most aggressive. Of course, they’re going to say there were no reports of domestic abuse even though there are photos. Goldstein doesn’t care and it seems neither did the southern California community that convicted her. They say Sally as a freak of nature. She’s a white women with bulging muscles who married a black man and let him abuse her and her children, so she should be punished. On the O.J. Only in America docuseries, a juror says she has no sympathy for women in abusive relationships. This was believed then and it’s still believed now.
Sally was no Betty Homemaker, but when you live in a world where abusive and toxicity seems normal, you’re only going to gravitate to that later in life. And sadly, both Santina and John fall victims to this world too in their adulthoods. But it does seem like they’re willing to break the cycle.
Burstein’s docuseries is a little long at two-and-a-half hours, but it does flow with many scenes of interest despite a few interview parts that make you want to cringe. The best part is that the docuseries doesn’t end on a sad note, but an uplifting one as Sally is released in 2020 and tries to rebuild her life. Forensics showed that Ray would’ve died from the first gunshot alone. If Sally had dropped the gun and not reloaded it, could she have received a suspended sentence on probation or have entered an Alford plea and still watched her children grow up? Just because a person isn’t perfect or fit our idea of the way they should be, doesn’t mean they deserve some sympathy.
What do you think? Please comment.