Jimmy SnukaJames Wiley Smith
- Birthdate: 05/18/1943 (age 73)
- Height: 5'10"
- Weight: 235 Ib
Snuka wrestled for several promotions from the ...
It wasn't unusual for Snuka, a married man, to spend the night with his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. But on this night, after the budding wrestling superstar had returned from a series of World Wrestling Federation TV tapings at the Allentown Fairgrounds, something was amiss.
Argentino was gasping for air. Yellow fluid oozed from her mouth and nose.
Snuka grabbed the room phone and frantically dialed the front desk. Paramedics rushed her to Lehigh Valley Hospital, where Snuka later stood helplessly and watched doctors try to save his girlfriend's life. About 3 a.m., Snuka dialed a number in Brooklyn, where Louise Argentino-Upham was startled awake by her mother sitting on the bed, phone pressed to her ear.
"Dead?" Caroline Argentino, Nancy's mother, cried out. "Dead?"
The date was May 11, 1983.
Thirty years later, Nancy Argentino's death remains unsolved. The Lehigh County district attorney's office has refused to allow the coroner to release her autopsy report over the past three decades. The document, included in 1985 civil lawsuit, was obtained by The Morning Call from a federal archives warehouse in Philadelphia.
Argentino, 23, died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object, according to the autopsy. Her injuries weren't reflective of a singular head injury, wrote Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, the nationally recognized forensic pathologist who examined the body.
Argentino suffered more than two dozen cuts and contusions — a possible sign of "mate abuse" — on her head, ear, chin, arms, hands, back, buttocks, legs and feet, Mihalakis wrote in his autopsy report.
"In view of the autopsy findings and the discrepancies in the clinical history, I believe that the case should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise," Mihalakis wrote.
Snuka and Argentino were the only two in the hotel room that night, records say. Snuka was later named a "person of interest" by the Whitehall Township Police Department, but no criminal charges were filed. In 1985, the Argentino family won a $500,000 wrongful death lawsuit against Snuka. Claiming he was broke and couldn't afford a legal defense, Snuka never paid.
The local police investigation effectively went cold on June 1, 1983 after an follow-up interview with Snuka that was ordered by Lehigh Valley authorities and attended by WWF mogul Vince McMahon. It is still open to this day.
Five months after Argentino was buried, Snuka famously soared from the top of a 15-foot steel cage and plastered "Magnificent" Don Muraco to the wrestling mat. He would go on to a Hall of Fame career that spanned five decades.
For the Argentino family, closure remains elusive.
"I feel like the police didn't take it as far as they should have," said Lorraine Salome of New York, Nancy's older sister. "The whole thing, for our family, is still up in the air. We still walk around wondering, 'What the hell?'"
Snuka, now 70 and living in New Jersey, maintains Nancy Argentino fell and hit her head when they stopped along the highway to go to the bathroom on their way to Allentown. He wrote in his 2012 autobiography that her death, and persistent rumors that he is to blame, ruined his life.
According to police records reviewed by The Morning Call, Snuka told the responding police officer and four hospital employees that he shoved Argentino, causing her to hit her head. Those accounts differ from what Snuka told detectives in his official interview after Argentino's death, when he insisted she slipped on the side of the highway.
"That's the story he hung with the best," said Gerry Procanyn, a former Whitehall detective who remembers standing in the hotel room when Argentino was hurried to the hospital.
The autopsy results showed Argentino, who Snuka claimed hit her head on concrete, had no gravel or similar dirt particles on her head or scalp.
Officially, Procanyn is still investigating the case as a detective for the Lehigh County district attorney's office. But in reality, it's been years since he's received any new information.