Not all the muscle murders have been committed by men against women. About 100 miles southeast of San Quentin, at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif., former strength champion Sally McNeil is serving 19 years to life for the murder of her 256-pound husband, pro bodybuilder Ray McNeil, three years ago. She had earned her prophetic nickname, Killer Sally, by making easy money wrestling schmoes-the word used for men who worship female bodybuilders—in the couple's tiny apartment in Oceanside. The McNeils used the 150-pound Sally's income as a so-called apartment wrestler to help support their appetite for bodybuilding chemicals.
When Ray came home late at night on Valentine's Day 1995, Sally suspected that he had been with another woman. They began to quarrel, and then, she told police, "he was beating on me." Later, as Ray was cooking some chicken, Sally appeared in the kitchen doorway and fired on him with a 12-gauge shotgun, ripping a hole in his abdomen. After reloading, she shot him in the face as he crawled toward the front door. She called 911. On the tape of that call, police could hear Ray moaning, "Why, oh God, why?" She had blown away a pound of his liver and parts of his tongue and lower jaw. The toxicology report on Ray's corpse revealed that he had been using five anabolic steroids. Sally tested positive for one. "Ray got the best steroids, and I got the leftovers," she complained later.
All of this occurred in the middle of a particularly volatile season of muscle mayhem. In the early morning of Jan. 16, 1995, just a month before Sally killed Ray, two competitive bodybuilders with a history of violence toward one another—former Mr. America and Mr. Universe Warren Frederick and his onetime training partner Danny Flanagan—got into a fight after Flanagan cut off Frederick in a Tampa parking lot. The 260-pound Flanagan ended up sitting on Frederick and pummeling him. In the struggle Frederick reached out and grabbed an undetermined sharp object from the ground and stabbed Flanagan in the chest with it, puncturing his aorta. Frederick fled, not knowing that the wound was fatal. (Later that morning he called police to file an assault complaint against Flanagan.) Flanagan, bleeding profusely, struggled to his blue pickup truck and drove away. He was found soon after on the side of a road, slumped over his steering wheel, disoriented and trying to speak. He died before he could tell what had happened. Three weeks later the local state's attorney's office, after reviewing the evidence, called the stabbing an act of self-defense and didn't press charges against Frederick.
No wonder that with two musclemen killed since Jan. 1, 1995, what actor and former pro bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno did on March 24 of that year was viewed as comic relief. Ferrigno, who had played the title role in the TV series The Incredible Hulk, began popping his buttons when he saw Bernadine Morgan, an L.A. meter maid, writing a parking ticket for his pickup. Just as he might have on television, Ferrigno came bounding out of his house. He screamed, "Don't cite that truck!" As Morgan slapped the ticket on the vehicle, Ferrigno ran up to her scooter, loosed a Hulkian growl and shattered its windshield with a single punch. Ferrigno, usually a gentle soul, quickly grew contrite. "I'm sorry," he told Morgan. "I didn't mean to break the window—just punch it." Ferrigno, who is hearing impaired, later said that he tends to express himself with his hands. Police charged him with vandalism, and he paid a fine.
News of homicidal violence in the hard-core bodybuilding world came again on July 6, 1995, when former bodybuilder James Batsel pleaded guilty to the Feb. 10, 1993, murder of the owner of an Atlanta all-nude club. Batsel shot his victim nine times during a botched robbery attempt. The bodybuilder had been taking 3,200 milligrams of steroids a week—he was a buff 298 pounds, with 2% body fat—and he blamed his rage on steroids.
In light of all that had happened in recent years, few people in bodybuilding were taken aback when word came from St. Kitts that Fox had been arrested on charges of murdering his ex-fiancée and her mother. Certainly the string of killings didn't startle the academics who have studied bodybuilding.
"On one level I'm not surprised," says Alan Klein, a sociology professor at Northeastern and the author of Little Big Men, the definitive work on the bodybuilding subculture. "But if these murders had happened among baseball players, I'd be speechless." Indeed, no sport in America creates a world more fertilized for deadly violence than bodybuilding. The irony is that its passive contests—in which performers do nothing more violent than strut and grunt and grimace and flex upon the stage—make synchronized swimming look as perilous as bullfighting.
"It is very interesting that the vast majority of these violent episodes have been with bodybuilders," says Chuck Yesalis, a professor of health and human development at Penn State and an expert on steroid abuse. "You almost never see these types of extreme behavior in other athletes. Yes, football players get into fights, but they don't kill people. But is it the drugs? Or is it the bizarre subculture in which these people are immersed? When you talk to them, they generally talk about their diets, drugs and lifting routines. And they hang around people who talk about their diets, drugs and lifting routines.
"When I heard that bodybuilding was being considered for an Olympic event, I was astounded. I wondered what the IOC was thinking. This is the only sport I know of where nearly everyone contends that at the elite level, participation in the sport and illicit drug use are absolutely intertwined."
The performers at the highest levels are walking pharmacies, willing guinea pigs who ingest anything that promises to make them large. They are artisans commissioned by their own fragile egos to sculpt fortresses to protect them. Instead of working in marble, as Michelangelo did in chiseling his David, they use far more perishable stuff, engorging and shaping their sinew with pills and fluids, including dangerous growth hormones that enlarge everything from heart to bone to muscle; equally dangerous diuretics, which strip the body of water and help define the shape of muscles; insulin, which metabolizes carbohydrates into glucose, which in turn builds muscle mass; and a cornucopia of other drugs to ease the way: thyroid stimulants, amphetamines, appetite suppressants, painkillers, cocaine, marijuana, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and antidepressants. Underlying all of this, of course, are the monstrous ingestions of anabolic steroids and testosterone to promote muscle growth.