Regular readers of this blog will have read Brian’s excellent ‘Wrestling with Sin‘ series that looks at some of the murkier stories from wrestling’s history.
Part inspired by that series, Craig looks at the mysterious death of Nancy Argentino in 1983. At the time Ms. Argentino was the girlfriend of the future WWF Hall of Famer, and one of the biggest wrestling stars of the 1980s, Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka. Today on the blog, Craig looks at that death and the events surrounding it.
On 11 May 1983 Nancy Argentino, the girlfriend of married WWF superstar Jimmy Snuka, was pronounced dead at the Lehigh Valley Hospital. It was Snuka that called the paramedics from his hotel room after returning from a TV taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania.
More than three decades later the case remains unsolved. During that time the Lehigh County district attorney’s office has refused to allow the coroner to release her autopsy report on Ms. Argentino, who is listed as dying as a result of “undetermined craniocerebral injuries”.
The case came back to the forefront of attention several years ago when WWE Hall of Famer Snuka released a tell-all autobiography in which he stated the persistent rumours behind her death and his involvement had ruined his life.
Although Jimmy Snuka was never charged for Nancy’s death, many unanswered questions remain to this day. The exact cause of her death remains unknown and much speculation still surrounds what involvement, if any, Snuka had in her death, despite his years of maintaining his innocence.
As the WWF moved from a north east territory to worldwide dominance under the charge of Vince McMahon jnr, Jimmy Snuka was to be an important part of that. Throughout the company’s expansion it had sought to buy the best talent from other regional territories in order to improve the standing in that area. Snuka would became one of the company’s biggest stars in the early 80s.
It wasn’t to be plain sailing for either party, however. Snuka often missed bookings, believed to be down to drug abuse, and his green card was nearly invoked owing to his inability to stay out of trouble with the law. During a Middle Eastern tour in 85, fellow wrestlers stated that custom officials found drugs strapped to Snuka’s body.
None of this would compare to what happened in May of 1983. The story the WWE Hall of Famer states is that they had both been drinking and had gone out for a drive. Argentino had needed a toilet break so Snuka pulled over and she got out. She returned claiming that she had slipped and banged her head.
They thought nothing more of this and returned to their motel and the next day, despite Nancy stating she was unwell, Snuka left for a WWF taping. After he returned he found Nancy having a hard time breathing and foaming at the mouth. Nancy was then pronounced dead at 1:50 a.m. on May 11, 1983.
For Ms. Argentino it was the end of her life and for Snuka it changed his career and personal life. Since then the Argentino family have continued to seek justice. A justice they have yet to find.
The Morning Call publication in Pennsylvania unearthed documents from a Philadelphia federal archives warehouse including a coroner’s autopsy on Nancy. In that, the forensic pathologist Isidore Mihalakis suggested the case be “investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.”
Also, in the recently discovered autopsy report, Dr. Mihalakis noted that cause of death was “consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object, but it is not consistent with a single simple fall.” The report continues, “In view of the multitudeness (of) other scalp, facial, and bodily bruises and abrasions.”
Despite that, the case did not go to trial due to the prosecutor believing there wasn’t enough evidence. The case has had many twist and turns since Nancy’s death and Snuka, along with Jimmy Snuka, meeting with police. There are a number of factors led to Snuka not going to trial and the case going cold.
In January of the same year a story circulated that Snuka had struck Nancy in a hotel room. It is claimed that when police arrived on the scene, they were met by “almost superhuman resistance from Snuka” before he was eventually subdued.
Additionally, an officer on the scene stated that he saw Snuka “grab Nancy by the hair when she ran out of the room and drag her face against the drywall.” The police reported that Nancy’s injuries included “a bruised right thumb, a contusion to the neck, possible fractured ribs, and injury to the lower back.”
However in her statement, Nancy told police that Snuka “never struck her or intentionally harmed her.” Snuka was charged with assault and resisting arrest, but a plea deal was struck in exchange for Snuka pleading guilty to a lesser charge of harassment in April 1983. A month before her death.
One thing is for sure, though. After thirty years having passed since Nancy Argentino’s mysterious death there’s very little chance of the case reaching a definitive conclusion. Still, there’s a lot more questions than there is answers surrounding this one.
A more in-depth telling of this story can be found in Irvin Muchnick’s ‘Justice Denied’ ebook. It can be download from Muchnick’s website — or purchased in PDF format by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org – for $2.99, with proceeds going toward a battered women’s shelter.