Killer Sally: Were Steroids Behind The Murder Of Sally McNeal's Husband?

Throughout history, the competitive nature of athletics has pushed many to turn to anabolic steroids to get ahead. As underlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the surfacing of adverse behavioral effects — more commonly known as "roid rage" — can be just as fated. In some cases, this appears to manifest as increased irritability and aggression. And in other cases, including that of bodybuilder Sally McNeil, the complex phenomenon finds itself intertwined in a web of murder.

As reported by Sports Illustrated, the former strength champion was imprisoned for killing her husband, fellow professional bodybuilder Ray McNeil. It was later revealed that Sally McNeil had one steroid in her system at the time of the gruesome murder, which she carried out with a 12-gauge shotgun that tore off parts of her husband's face and destroyed part of his liver. But while the defense used "roid rage" as an excuse for the murder, Sally McNeil's history of violent outbursts ultimately sealed her fate.

The link between steroid use and aggression is not clear cut

As noted by New York Daily News, Sally McNeil's history of violence undermined her defense's argument because it made it difficult to prove that her decision to murder her husband was caused by her steroid usage. And in many ways, this reflects the murky nature of the research on this subject.

Despite studies linking anabolic steroids to aggression and irritability, other research reveals the possibility that additional variables are part of the equation. In particular, certain personality traits that are more commonly found in steroid users could play a significant role. The National Institute on Drug Abuse pointed to research that suggested personality traits linked to mental health issues such as borderline, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders could be more frequently found in people who use steroids, which would muddy the significance of the link between steroid use and aggression.

Still, WedMD noted that Jill M. Grimes, a behavioral psychologist with Northeastern University in Boston, conducted a study on preadolescent hamsters that found a link between steroid use and alterations in brain regions that are involved in aggression. While individuals like Sally McNeil appear to already have dysfunctional aggression, Grimes' research suggests that steroid use in young hamsters — and possibly humans — can increase aggression.