Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was charged today with one count of third-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter in the bizarre 1983 death of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. Until today, no charges ever had been brought in the case.
What happened the night of May 10, 1983 in Lehigh County between the famous wrestler and Argentino—and what Vince McMahon knew about it—has fueled decades of rumors. Those speculations were given urgency and evidence in 2013 by an extensive report in the Morning Call, which included autopsy results and police reports that made Snuka’s story—that his girlfriend slipped on the side of the highway and hit her head—seem like bullshit.
On May 10, Snuka was in town for a WWF taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds. After the taping, Snuka had beers with his fellow wrestlers. He then went to his motel room, where he found Argentino “gasping for air and oozing yellow fluid from her mouth and nose,” the Morning Call reported. She was pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. An autopsy said her case should be treated as a homicide.
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.
This autopsy report, though, wasn’t made public until the Morning Call reported on it, because the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office refused to allow it to be released. Also finally made public by the Morning Call? Police records showing how Snuka changed his story. In his interview with cops, Snuka said that Argentino had slipped on the side of the highway when they stopped on the highway to pee. He went on to reaffirm this in his autobiography. But it wasn’t what he told people the night Argentino died. Here’s how the Morning Call summarized police records included in a 1985 civil suit:
• Snuka told the responding officer he and Nancy “were fooling around” outside the hotel room door when he pushed her and she fell, striking her head.
• Two emergency room employees, Carol McBride and Susan St. Clair, told police Snuka stated he and Nancy got into an argument and “he pushed her and she fell back and hit her head.”
• Emergency room doctor John Fassl told police Snuka said he and Nancy were fooling around and she “was pushed and fell backwards and struck her head.” At some point after the fall, they were fooling around again, with Snuka giving Nancy “light slaps to the face,” Fassl told police. He also said Snuka seemed genuinely concerned for Nancy’s condition.
• Hospital chaplain Barbara Smith helped Snuka call the Argentino family after Nancy was pronounced dead. She told police that Snuka told her he and Nancy had stopped on the way to Allentown to go to the bathroom and were clowning around when he shoved her with “his forearm and she fell backward on her back and hit her head on the concrete.”
Less than a year after the Morning Call story, a grand jury was convened to investigate Argentino’s death by the district attorney’s office—the same office that had refused for years to release her autopsy. District Attorney Jim Martin said he decided to re-open the case after getting a letter from Argentino’s family. The grand jury presentment outlines why they recommended charges, and notes many of the same inconsistencies pointed out by the 2013 report, according to LehighValleyLive.com.
In the 30-page grand jury presentment dated July 17, the Lehigh County grand jury said it was recommending charging Snuka with homicide based on three sources of information:
- Medical and autopsy evidence
- Snuka’s “numerous statements” made to the media and in his autobiography, “Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story”
- His prior assaults of Argentino and his ex-wife
... “The weight of the evidence clearly indicates that James Snuka repeatedly assaulted Nancy Argentino on May 10, 1983 and then allowed her to lie in their bed at the George Washington Motor Lodge without obtaining the necessary medical attention,” the presentment says. “His asaultive acts and his failure to obtain medical attention resulted in her death by homicide at 1:50 a.m. on May 11, 1983.”
Snuka had a bail set—at $100,000—and was released today after posting 10 percent along with surrendering his passport. Martin, the DA, said bail was set—despite serious charges that don’t normally get bond—because “Snuka is suffering from a life-threatening illness, the treatment of which would unnecessarily burden taxpayers,” according to LehighValleyLive.com.
Plenty of questions remain about what happened that night in Allentown and the events that followed. What exactly was said at a meeting, held less than a month after the death, between Snuka, investigators, and prosecutors that also included Vince McMahon? Why did the case go cold soon after that meeting? Why did the district attorney’s office refuse to release the autopsy for so long? Today’s charges don’t answer all of these questions, but after so many decades of mystery, they represent a start.