Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Muscle Murders

When Bertil Fox, a former Mr. Universe, was arrested for double homicide last year, he became only the latest accused murderer among hard-core bodybuilders, whose subculture is a volatile mix of fragile egos, economic hardship and anabolic steroid abuse

In a cell in the west wing of the Basseterre prison on the West Indies island of St. Kitts, behind lava-brick walls rimmed with coils of concertina wire, Bertil Fox is melting away in the Caribbean heat. Of the two-time Mr. Universe, a former bodybuilding prodigy who was once the Mozart of muscles, all that appear to retain their former size and shape are the mole below the right side of his lower lip and the gap between his two front teeth. Fox has lost his armor, the blood-filled sinew of those days during which he waged the battle for the perfect bulge--for the ribbed striations and popping vascularity that were his hallmarks. A sculptor bereft of his tools, he now wraps towels over the prison bars and pulls on them to exercise his once diamond-cut back.

He does push-ups for his arms. He lifts buckets filled with water for his triceps and his delts. But anabolic steroids, the Wheaties of most pro bodybuilders, aren't served in prison along with the chicken and the rice. So the 270-pound man they used to call Brutal Fox is just a 205-pound Bertil.

He has even lost the timbre of his voice. Facing him behind a sheet of perforated Plexiglas in the narrow visiting room of the prison--a bastille built in 1840 to entertain captured pirates--one has to press an ear against the barrier to hear him speak. "Everybody here is lonely for freedom," Fox, 47, says. "So am I. I've never been in prison before. I'm locked up all day. I come out to shower in the morning and come out to shower at night. I work out in the cell. That's all there is to do. I've never been in trouble in my life. Overnight, I'm a monster."

In the last eight months Fox has gone from being the Arnold Schwarzenegger of St. Kitts to being the island's O.J. Simpson. On Sept. 30, 1997, he allegedly shot and killed his former girlfriend, model Leyoca Browne, and her mother, Violet, in Violet's dress shop on Cayon Street in downtown Basseterre. He was charged with double murder and imprisoned without bail. During a four-day trial in February, Fox, facing a possible sentence of death by hanging, testified that the shootings were an accident that occurred when he struggled with Violet over his pistol. His best friend, Edmund Tross, testified that Fox had admitted the killings to him and to an associate without making any claim of self-defense. "He said he had shot Leyoca and her mother," Tross told the court. "He said Leyoca's mother was pushing him out the door. At that point he pulled out the gun and started shooting." A seamstress at the dress shop also gave testimony incriminating Fox. Nevertheless, only the nine-member jury ended up hung. Fox faces a retrial in the near future.

While news of the killings and the subsequent proceedings riveted St. Kitts and Nevis, a two-island nation of 41,803 souls, it also sent chillingly familiar reverberations through the insular, narcissistic subculture of hard-core bodybuilding. It's a bizarre world of beetle-browed loners with eggshell egos who are engaged in an obsessive quest for self-mastery; of men posturing before wraparound mirrors, casting illusory reflections of strength, masculinity and virility from which hang, metaphorically, their steroid-shrunken testicles; of cartoonish characters chiseling and tanning and oiling their hairless bodies to camouflage impoverished self-esteem; of fat-free, high-protein starvation diets that can heighten the irritability and anxiety brought on by steroid abuse; and of all those needles and vials and pills--whole families of anabolic steroids, hormones and diuretics, insulin and speed. Not even Wrestlemania achieves such a triumph of illusion over substance.

This subculture offers unusually fertile soil for aggression and, in some cases, deadly violence. Now that bodybuilding is being considered for inclusion in the Olympics, it will come under increasing scrutiny by the international athletic community. Studies have shown that the ingestion of large quantities of anabolic steroids--many bodybuilders take up to 3,000 milligrams a week, 500 times more than the male body produces--can trigger episodes of violent rage in certain people. Researchers who have studied both bodybuilders and the effects of steriod abuse agree that these athletes seem more inclined to extremely violent behavior than performers in any of the more conventional sports, including college and pro football, where steroid abuse has also been widespread. Murder in muscledom isn't uncommon. Fox isn't the only bodybuilder doing reps in jail these days.

Former amateur bodybuilding champion Gordon Kimbrough, 35, trains clients by telephone from Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., outside Sacramento, where he's serving 27 years to life for the first-degree murder of his fiancee, Kristy Ramsey, with whom he won the 1991 USA pairs title. Meek and shy when not on steroids, Kimbrough, according to a family member, becomes short-tempered and violent when using them. On June 20, 1993, after Ramsey told him in their San Francisco apartment that she'd had sex with another man and that the wedding was off, the 250-pound Kimbrough struck his 137-pound fiancee on the chin, wrapped an electrical cord three times around her neck, tying it in a knot, and stabbed her twice in the throat with a paring knife. He spent the night with her corpse while trying to kill himself by injecting into his neck a prescription diuretic, Lasix, and a household cleanser, Lysol. When police found him the next morning, with Ramsey lying at the foot of their bed, Kimbrough was holding a large kitchen knife to his throat and muttering, "She found someone else, another guy." He surrendered quietly.

Kimbrough is one of two prominent former bodybuilders in the California prison system. John Alexander Riccardi of Venice, Calif., has been on death row in San Quentin since 1994, after a jury convicted him of the '83 murders of his estranged girlfriend, Connie Hopkins Navarro, and her best friend, Sue Marshall Jory.

It was in the gyms of Santa Monica that Riccardi built his quads and abs and started seeing Navarro, a former cheerleader at Santa Monica High. They dated for more than two years. But then Navarro ended the relationship, and Riccardi's behavior toward her grew increasingly malicious and bizarre, according to prosecutors. Afraid to go home, Connie sometimes stayed with her former husband, James Navarro, who later testified that Connie said Riccardi once raped her at knifepoint and another time kidnapped her for a few hours. She also claimed, according to prosecutors, that on another occasion Riccardi handcuffed to a toilet the Navarros' 13-year-old son, David, who would later become a guitar player with the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. According to James, Connie was about to seek a restraining order against Riccardi when, on March 3, 1983, he broke into her West Los Angeles apartment and shot her and Jory (who just happened to be visiting) in what LAPD detective Lee Kingsford described as "a jealous rage."

Connie's body was found half-stuffed into a linen closet. Riccardi fled town. An L.A. homicide detective conducting the manhunt placed an ad in Muscle & Fitness magazine, appealing to readers for help in finding the missing gym rat. Riccardi wasn't captured until eight years later, in Houston, after a viewer spotted his mug on America's Most Wanted.

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-fiancee 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.

Fueled by these substances that permit them to exercise more rigorously and recover more quickly, bodybuilders pump iron to make their visions of themselves come true. Through countless reps, they work on each muscle group. In the argot of bodybuilding, bulging arms are guns; lats spread into wings; legs become wheels. Bodybuilders want each muscle, distinct and defined, to impress the eye in its size and detail, and they exult in the onionskin look of dry hardness and in those infinitesimally striated fibers. This is called looking ripped and shredded and cut. As one builder, Samir Bannout, a former Mr. Olympia, likes to crow, "I was so cut, you could see my kidneys pumping."

"They want to take up as much space in the universe as possible," says Klein, who spent seven years in California gyms researching his book. "That's their reason for existing. The more space they can take up, the more worthy they feel they are."

The price they pay for this chemical sculpting is high. Not only are the drugs expensive--some bodybuilders spend as much as $5,000 a month on them--but the physical and psychic costs can be incalculable. No one knows the long-term effects of making all those weird molecules cavort together in the body, but there's no doubt that steroids alone, taken in such gargantuan doses, can turn some psyches into razors. "You take a couple of tabs of Anadrol and tell me you don't feel aggressive," says former serious bodybuilder John Romano, who writes a column called "Rage" for Muscular Development magazine. "If you thought you couldn't bench-press 405 pounds last week, you know you can press it this week. These murders don't surprise me at all. When I was using 1,000 milligrams a week, I dragged a guy out the window of his car for cutting me off in traffic, and I'm usually a calm man."

Many bodybuilders have experienced what Harrison Pope, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a student of anabolics, calls the "manic syndrome" that can attend steroid abuse. The symptoms, according to Pope, include "euphoria, expansiveness, grandiose feelings, decreased need for sleep, irritability, racing thoughts, pressured speech, reckless behavior and aggressiveness."

Joe Bucci, a former Mr. World, has felt the side effects of steroid and hormone abuse. "Testosterone gives you a more animalistic approach to training, and you start to take it out on people who get in your way," he says. "You're not looking to be violent, but if you already have that violent nature in you, testosterone will enhance it. Where normally you'd ask yourself, 'Should I smack this guy or shouldn't I?' now you just smack him because he's in your way."

Bucci recalls the day eight years ago when he was working with 485 pounds in weights and he saw a man dressed in "a little pink outfit" standing before him, watching him intently. "The pink was making me feel not strong," says Bucci. "It was somehow neutralizing my desire to lift the weight. So I politely asked him, 'Will you please move out of the way? I need to lift this heavy weight, and I wouldn't want it to fall on you.' He said, 'I'll stand anywhere I like.' So I do a set, and he still doesn't move. A friend of mine goes to him and tells him, 'You better move, because he's serious.' The guy still wouldn't move. In the middle of my set, in a 'roid rage, I jumped up and punched him in the jaw. Blood was all over the gym. The gym owner, being a fanatic bodybuilder, kicked the guy out and let me stay. So it's a sick sport, what can I tell ya?"

None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that all hard-core bodybuilders murder people. "What we are talking about here is the lunatic fringe," says Klein. But the violence has been prevalent enough at the sport's highest levels to raise questions about its causes. Domestic violence among bodybuilders is unusually widespread; the murders of Ramsey and McNeil represent merely the extremes of it. In a 1996 interview in Flex magazine, 1984 World Amateur Champion Mike Christian admitted to having physically abused his longtime girlfriend and blamed it on steroids. He said that anabolics affected 80% of his fellow muscleheads psychologically. "Ask their old ladies," Christian said. "They're the unsung heroes of this sport. Nobody really knows what they go through."

But abuse of steroids and testosterone alone doesn't explain the murders and the high levels of tension and aggression that suffuse serious bodybuilding. "A fundamental streak of antisociability also marks many of the bodybuilders," says Klein. "They lack a developed way of handling competitive failures." Their massive physiques may "broadcast invulnerability and confidence," Klein continues, but they "leave the internal psychological structure weak. Rather than admit to vulnerability, big men can almost believe in their images and hence avoid dealing with issues of insecurity, hurt and the like."

Since the early 1950s studies focusing on why bodybuilding appeals to some people have revealed central themes. According to Klein, the majority of bodybuilders got into the sport as a reaction to feelings of weakness and inadequacy rooted in childhood. They might have had dyslexia or bad acne, or maybe they stuttered. Many were short or skinny. They had sand kicked in their faces at the beach. They emerged from adolescence feeling inferior and often came to adulthood as loners unable to socialize and make lasting friends. "Bodybuilding has a neurotic core," Klein says. "In all the cases I observed, there was some phenomenon, some perceived shortcoming--like shortness--that created this downward spiral of self-esteem."

In the gym and through the chemicals, bodybuilders can bury all those feelings of inadequacy under muscle, mounds upon bulging mounds of it. Every human being compensates for his weaknesses, but the building of hypermuscles is compensation in the extreme, and it provides a particularly weak cover. The old inadequacies still lurk close to the surface. Bodybuilders are easily deflated and angered by suggestions that they look "small" or "smooth." (In the weeks leading up to his death, Flanagan had taunted Frederick by saying he was "ugly" and "washed up.") Many builders suffer from what Pope calls muscle dysmorphia, a condition akin to anorexia nervosa. Looking in a mirror, an anorectic sees "large and fat." A dysmorphic bodybuilder sees "small and skinny." Thus telling a builder he looks small is as unsettling to him as telling an anorectic she looks fat is to her.

So builders try, through vial and error, to take up more and more space. "No matter how big they get, they're not big enough," says Klein. "Why? Because of the emaciated character of their egos."

This contradiction complicates a subculture already fraught with inordinate pressures and frustrations. There's little money to be made in bodybuilding, even at the top (first prize in the Mr. Olympia contest is $110,000) and some bodybuilders earn cash to live on and to buy their drugs by working as male prostitutes. For long periods they subject themselves to diets of agonizing deprivation: low-calorie, fat-free and sugarless. The drug use, meanwhile, has been out of control for more than 10 years--in the late 1980s, Christian said in the Flex interview, bodybuilders began growing bigger and more ripped--and today, according to one veteran, "it's chemical warfare out there." The war can be fatal. In '92, immediately following the Dutch Grand Prix bodybuilding event, competitor Mohammed Benaziza of France died of renal failure after overdosing on diuretics. Others have collapsed from dehydration.

Benaziza's death is one reason that competitors are tested for diuretics at a few pro events, including the Mr. Olympia contest and the Night of the Champions. Some entrants, however, have found an undetectable substitute for diuretics: an injectable starch that acts as a magnet for excess fluids and helps the body expel them. The International Federation of Body-Builders, the professional sport's governing body, does not test competitors for any substance other than diuretics, on grounds that random testing for steroids and other muscle-building drugs would be expensive and impractical.

"If you just do drug testing at the contest, it does not solve the steroid problem," says IFBB vice president Wayne DeMilia. "You'd need to test the athletes several times going into the contest, but, considering that our events include participants from all over the world, it's almost impossible to get official testers out to each athlete or get each athlete to specific testing sites." Perhaps so, but the IFBB and other event promoters can't be blind to the fact that steroids are essential to the kind of muscle development on display at pro competitions and that random in-contest testing would disqualify at least some of the participants.

The dangers of diuretics and steroids notwithstanding, this is the only world that bodybuilders care to know, and it involves them in an endless struggle for self-mastery and control. The gym is a monastery in which they live like giant monks. They have no control over the world outside the gym. They have no control over the men who judge the cut of their anatomical suits. But they have at least a sense of control over their drugs, their diets, their training regimens--and their mates. Bodybuilders, given their often troubled histories, have more than their share of problems with rejection.

"On the one hand they are masters of their destiny," says Klein. "They buy into their own mythology. Their bodies and their power and their being in control. It's false. They can't accept rejection. Their response often is rage. Women are particularly vulnerable to that rage. Bodybuilders buy into this hypermasculine lifestyle, and here they are with 23-inch biceps and they can't control a little woman? Deep inside they know they don't have the power. That's what makes it so devastating. Factor in the steroids and other drugs and the dieting and the competition, and you've got a tinderbox."

So Kimbrough, thrown over for another man, stabbed Ramsey. Riccardi shot Navarro after she rejected him. Killer Sally, as much the breadwinner in her household as her husband, killed him after his ill-timed return home on Valentine's Day. Then came Fox, who fit the bodybuilding profile perfectly. Born in St. Kitts, Fox moved to England with his family when he was five, and there he suffered what an old friend, Rick Wayne, calls "the belittling taunts of schoolmates who enjoyed nothing more than making his life miserable, who had targeted him for their worst practical jokes and bullied him mercilessly." Fox, who would grow no taller than 5'7", found his refuge in the gym. There, says Wayne, "bodybuilding had turned Bertil into a man's man even before he'd turned 17."

Fox competed all over the world. In 1980 he won the Mr. Universe title, one of bodybuilding's highest honors, and during the next few years he was at the apex of his sport. "Bertil was probably the best bodybuilder on the planet," says Peter McGough, the editor-in-chief of Flex, "but he couldn't, or didn't care to, get his act together on contest day. He would sometimes self-destruct as the contest drew near." In '88 Fox flew from London to Chicago to compete in a pro invitational. Upon arriving at his hotel, he was informed that his room wasn't ready. "He turned on his heels, went back to the airport and caught the next flight back to London," says McGough. "No other champion bodybuilder has ever done such a thing. When he self-destructed it was always somebody else's fault; he was the victim."

He kept to himself. "Fox was a loner even among loners," McGough says. Tross, his best friend since 1991, describes him as having "an adult body but...the mind of a 13-year-old. A very simple mind. He has very low self-esteem." He also had a history of violent behavior toward women. Several friends of Fox's and relatives of Leyoca's told SI that Fox had abused his late lover.

Bertil and Leyoca had been going together for two years when she broke off the relationship last summer. In late August, The Observer of St. Kitts-Nevis reported, Bertil had finished doing a cycle of injectable steroids when he took off for England, leaving Leyoca with the keys to his house. He reportedly called her twice from London, trying to win her back, but by the time he returned to St. Kitts, on Friday, Sept. 26, she had taken up with another man. Fox testified at his trial that he had discovered upon his return that his gun and bullets and the pouch in which he carried them were missing from his house. He said that on Monday, Sept. 29, he went to the dress shop to retrieve the items. (Contradicting that testimony, Tross later told SI that he saw Fox wearing the gun pouch on his waist on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.)

Fox testified that when he arrived at the shop, Leyoca greeted him, led him inside and told him she had given the gun to Violet "for safekeeping." Fox said that Violet approached him with the pouch in one hand and the gun in the other, held them above her head and said, teasingly, "These what you want? These what you want?" As Violet approached him, Fox said, she pushed him with the hand carrying the gun, and he grabbed it. In the struggle, he said, the gun went off and Leyoca was shot. (Curiously, she was found lying outside on the veranda, shot in the back.) As he continued to struggle with Violet, Fox said, the gun went off a second time, and she fell. He then fled in his car to Tross's office, he says, where he told Tross, "Leyoca and her mother just got shot." Tross, sitting behind Fox while he was testifying, shook his head at that. Tross had testified that Fox had said to him, "I just shot Leyoca and Violet." A witness who heard the conversation, Leon Issac, Tross's assistant, corroborated Tross's version.

Amanda Matthews, a seamstress who was working in a room adjoining the dress shop's reception room, testified that Leyoca went out to the veranda to greet Bertil, and he followed her back in. They were arguing, and Violet stepped between them. Bertil pushed Violet back into Leyoca. Matthews said she heard Violet exclaim three times, "Don't come in here with that!" Matthews then heard a scream and a gunshot. She ran into the bathroom and then heard two more shots. When she came out a few minutes later, Violet was sprawled on the shop floor and Leyoca was lying outside the front door.

Tross says Fox had told him the previous Saturday that he had found in his house a wire-transfer slip for $1,500, made out to Leyoca, from a man named Jason. Fox also said that Leyoca and Violet had laughed at him in the shop, and Violet had said he was "too old" for her 20-year-old daughter. (The wire transfer was not allowed in evidence in Fox's trial.)

Based on trial testimony other than Fox's and on interviews with Tross, the most plausible account of events that day is this: A spurned and jealous Fox discovered the wire transfer and confronted Leyoca with it in the dress shop. When Violet stepped between them, he pushed her back, drew his gun and shot her twice, once in the head. As Leyoca fled out the door, Fox shot her in the back. The prosecutor, Francis Bell, called it a crime of "jealousy and rage," but he failed to present evidence that it was either. He didn't elicit key testimony from Tross--for instance, that Tross had seen Fox with the gun pouch in the days leading up to the shootings.

Leyoca and Violet are buried in a single grave in Springfield Cemetery, on a hilltop with a view of Basseterre's blue harbor and of gleaming white cruise ships resting at anchor. It's a bright midafternoon in March, and Denise Williams, Violet's sister and Leyoca's aunt, is standing at the grave, with its dusty plastic flowers of red, purple and yellow. "Nobody in the family wants to come here," she says. "We are just trying to forget the day of the shootings. It was just terrible. Awful, awful, awful...."

Down below the cemetery, on Cayon Street, behind the thick prison door with its sliding peephole, Bertil Fox is still alive but missing his life, the barbells and the dumbbells that anchored him in the only safe harbor he has ever known. "I miss bodybuilding," he says. "I miss training. I miss the weights. I miss pumping iron. I miss that world. I miss being big! I miss the stage."

They'll all have to wait. The only stage he faces now is the four-by-four-foot courtroom box known as the dock.

COLOR PHOTO: SAGU N'GALLO PRISON DIET After five months in jail, Fox was a shell of the cut builder who entered the 1994 Ironman Invitational. [Bertil Fox]

COLOR PHOTO: RAY ZIMMERMAN [See caption above--Bertil Fox flexing]

COLOR PHOTO: ZACH TAYLOR CRIME OF PASSION Pairs champions Kimbrough (left) and Ramsey were headed for the altar until she was unfaithful and he stabbed her to death. [Gordon Kimbrough and Kristy Ramsey flexing]

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL NEVEUX BLOWN AWAY Ray McNeil's wife, Sally, killed him with two shotgun blasts after he came home from what she suspected was a rendezvous with a lover. [Ray McNeil flexing]

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL NEVEUX TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE Benaziza's death from renal failure spurred testing for diuretics at a few pro competitions. [Mohammed Benaziza flexing]

COLOR PHOTO: SAGU N'GALLO VENUS FALLING Fashion model Browne died after refusing Fox's entreaties to return to him. [Leyoca Browne]

It's a bizarre world of cartoonish characters chiseling and tanning and oiling their hairless bodies to camouflage impoverished self-esteem.

"These murders don't surprise me at all," says Romano. "When I was using 1,000 milligrams a week, I dragged a guy out the window of his car for cutting me off in traffic."