Yesterday, the world of professional wrestling lost Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka after a long battle with stomach cancer and other ailments including dementia. There are actually two stories here – the first being the performer who entertained all over the world from the late 1960’s until the late 2000’s and who was a high flyer in an era where high flyers weren’t the norm. The second story is the tragedy that took place in a hotel room in Allentown, PA in May of 1983 involving Snuka and his then girlfriend Nancy Argentino, which resulted in her death due to blunt force trauma. It was a case that was reopened in 2015, with Snuka being charged with third degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Many people all over the world yesterday and today are offering tributes to the wrestler, and there are going to be many articles covering his life and times inside the wrestling business. I – however – am going to work specifically on the latter story, the one involving the death of Nancy Argentino.
Jimmy Snuka was at or near the height of his professional popularity in 1983, as his matches typically drew better responses from fans than anyone else on the roster at the time, including then WWF Champion Bob Backlund. He was a high flyer and charismatic, and the once heel was turned fan favorite because the fans practically demanded it. He was even considered at one point for a run with the WWF Title, a plan that was nixed by Vince McMahon Sr. because of issues with drinking and drugs at the time. But it was May 10th, 1983 that changed two lives forever.
What is known for certain is this – a few hours after defeating Jose Estrada at a WWF TV Taping in Allentown, PA – Snuka placed a call for an ambulance at The George Washington Motor Lodge where he and his girlfriend Nancy Argentino were staying. When emergency personnel arrived, it was apparent that Argentino had suffered a severe head injury, and she was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital and died shortly after. During an autopsy conducted by Isidore Mihalakis, it was reported that Argentino also suffered several cuts and bruises that were at least consistent with possible “mate abuse.” Mihalakis also wrote that the case should be treated as a homicide until proven otherwise. Furthermore, Wayne Snyder (the Deputy Lehigh Valley Coroner at the time) also made statements about suspicion of foul play to the district attorney.
There are numerous stories Snuka initially gave to the police during the investigation into the incident. He originally claimed he shoved Argentino during either an argument or horseplay earlier in the day and that was how she hit her head. Later on, Snuka would change his story and state that Argentino hit her head when she slipped and fell after having to get out of the car to go to the bathroom, which is basically the story he had given from the point he started telling it until his passing. The evidence indicates no signs of dirt or anything that would indicate his final version of events to be fact.
At the time, no charges were ever filed against Snuka, with the case going cold after a final interview with police on June 1st, 1983. What is odd about this final interview is that Vince McMahon Jr. accompanied Snuka to the station and was basically his mouthpiece that day. In his autobiography, Snuka claimed McMahon came to the station with a briefcase, but went no further so make of that what you will.
The last news about the case back then was in 1985, when during a civil trial, the parents of Argentino won a $500,000 judgement against Snuka although he claimed to be destitute at the time and the family never saw a penny from the judgement.
It was the above pictured autobiography entitled Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story that was the catalyst for the reopening of the investigation into Snuka and Argentino’s suspicious death. In a direct quote from the book (published in 2012) here is what Snuka had said regarding the incident:
“Many terrible things have been written about me hurting Nancy and being responsible for her death, but they are not true,” he wrote. “This has been very hard on me and very hard on my family. To this day, I get nasty notes and threats. It hurts. I never hit Nancy or threatened her.”
He later adds: “I will say this about the whole thing, brudda — that night ruined my life. To this day, that is how I feel. If I was guilty of anything, it was cheating on my wife, and that was it.”
Following the book, a great piece of the 30th anniversary of the cold case appeared in the Allentown Morning Call:
This article brought the case back to light, and after 32 years, Snuka was formally charged with 3rd degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in 2015. By this point in his life, Snuka was already in declining health, and after a number of court appearances to discuss his deteriorating physical and mental health, the charges were dismissed by Lehigh Valley Judge Kelly Banach on January 3rd of this year. Less than two weeks later, Snuka passed away from complications of various illnesses while in hospice care at the age of 73, and now the only two people who truly know what happened that day are now gone.
I grew up watching Jimmy Snuka and was a fan of the performer. He brought a different style to WWF rings that made him stand out and he was wildly popular in the early to mid 1980’s. But this case makes me question the man behind the character, and really, everyone involved from a legal standpoint with the case when it was first investigated. Yes, the Snuka family lost Jimmy and I feel bad for all of them, but I feel even worse for the surviving members of the Argentino family, because they will never have closure and will have to spend the rest of their lives wondering what actually happened on that day in 1983.