Her defiled face was on display in an open casket during a wake at a funeral parlor in her hometown of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
It was 1983 and only days after Nancy Argentino was found barely breathing, oozing yellow fluid from her mouth and nose while laying almost lifeless, while holed up in Room 427 at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
And despite the caked on foundation applied by the ambitious mortician on this day the grim sight haunted her pro wrestling beau to the core.
“Oh my, she looks terrible,” Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was heard crowing as he wept and strung his hand through Nancy Argentino’s dark and dead locks.
Then, he along with his (since deceased) handler Buddy Rogers, beelined it to the exit vowing “I’ll come back for the church [service].”
“He never showed,” Argentino’s oldest sister Lorraine Salome told The Daily Beast. “He came there in shorts and didn’t say anything to my mother. He did not express his apologies or sympathies.”
Snuka remembers it differently. In his 2012 memoir Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story the pro wrestler claims he showed respect to Argentino’s parents. “At the funeral, I told her mother and father how sorry I was about her death. What else could I possibly say.”
He goes on about how he wished it hadn’t happen and says “I had no reason to hurt her.” Nonetheless, Snuka remained forever tied to 23-year-old Argentino’s untimely death on May 10, 1983.
In 1985, Nancy Argentino’s family won a $500,000 judgment against the Superfly in a federal wrongful-death civil lawsuit; but after filing for bankruptcy the retired wrestler reportedly failed to fork over any restitution.
Based on the forensic evidence, it was curious that police investigators had so quickly ruled out foul play. Take Dr. Isidore Mihalakis’s autopsy report noting that the “multiplicity and magnitude” of Nancy Argentino’s dozen or more craniocerbral blows “may even be suggestive of ‘mate’ abuse” and that “this case should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.”
What’s more, the 12-24 hour delay for Snuka to call for help contributed to the emergency staffers’ inability to resuscitate Argentino.
Then there were Snuka’s shifting renditions of what led to Argentino’s demise.
And yet the pro wrestler was never charged.
That was until yesterday when Pennsylvania prosecutors publicly dropped a motherload of hard evidence citing inconsistent Snuka stories, conclusive forensic and revelatory autopsy reports—all pointing to classifying Argentino’s death as a homicide, and suggesting that the killer was Superfly himself. Authorities even tossed the WWE Hall of Famer’s tell-all autobiography as the cherry on top of the mountain of facts.
The investigators had help. Reporters from The Morning Call revealed the unreported autopsy findings and put heat under the case again in 2013 to ring in the 30th anniversary of the unsolved mystery.
For over two decades investigative reporter and author Irvin Muchnick has been namechecking the former Leheigh County District Attorney William Platt (now a state judge) and the lead detective on Argentino’s case for the Whitehall PD, Gerald Procanyn (who became a DA’s investigator), as purposely bungling the case.
“There is no question in my mind that the missing narrative piece coming out of the indictment is the role that officers of the court in Pennsylvania themselves played,” Muchnick told The Daily Beast.
Detective Procanyn at the time told Muchnick when quizzed about Snuka’s shaky defense that the evidence was inconclusive. “Procanyn didn’t say to me, ‘We didn’t have enough evidence to indict’—which at least would have been plausible. Instead he said Snuka told one story and it was perfectly consistent every time. That was a blatant lie,” said Muchnick.
The writer was onto the flimsy slip-and-fall storylines Snuka had peddled to police and prosecutors. But it appears Snuka’s big mouth or fuzzy memory caught up to him.
At one point Argentino hopped over a stream before she lost her footing.
In another version Snuka said he called authorities straightaway. “When we got to the hotel right away I had to call because she wasn’t feeling good,” he said. “I felt bad about it brother. Accident is accident brudda.”
To the responding police officer, according to the complaint, Snuka said they were “fooling around outside [sic] room door when he pushed her and she fell striking her head.” That same night Snuka told a paramedic that the couple got carried away in horseplay. The paramedic wrote that Snuka said they “may have wrestled too much last night” and as a result Argentino “hit her head on the concrete last night.”
That lovers quarrel line was repeated to an ER doctor who learned that Snuka and Argentino were “fooling around” and then “he pushed her, she fell striking the back of head… she lost consciousness and he picked her up by the upper arms and she came to.”
A nurse observed Snuka’s strange demeanor when he visited Argentino’s room after she was admitted at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center’s ER.
According to the complaint, the nurse described the hulkish beau as a “tall man with a Hawaiian skirt” who refused to go to the waiting room. Instead, Snuka “just stared ahead. Eyes blood shot. Look of fear in them. Smell of alcohol.”
To the hospital’s chaplain, he said Argentino may have “hit her head on the side of the chair or the bed.”
Perhaps in an effort to rewrite history, Snuka attempts to once again clear his name in his book about how the fatal bump on the head happened.
They were driving to Allentown in their purple Lincoln car—and Argentino needed to relieve herself. After pulling over on the side of the road Snuka claims he sat in the car sipping something potent and somehow his girlfriend complained about her head. “When she came back, she told me she slipped on the way and hit her head. I didn’t see it happen, but I remember she told me she was jumping over a little stream that was there and she slipped.”
The fall didn’t seem like anything serious. She had a headache but no blood.
“I think we stopped drinking after that—she did at least,” according to Snuka.
Then they get to the motel and napped. All day Snuka claims that he returned to the hotel between TV shoots to check on Argentino. “When I got back to the hotel, I remember being very surprised that she was still in bed.
“I woke her up, but she could hardly breathe.”
An ambulance was called and not two hours later at the hospital did Argentino die.
“I think she died of a fracture to her skull. I was devastated,” he wrote.
So which is it?
Track back 30 years to the documented interview with Detective Gerald Procanyn of the Whitehall Police Department at the hotel. Snuka definitely says he saw Argentino hit the ground.
At around 4 a.m. trucks were approaching Argentino, who had found a bush to squat and pee. Snuka told her to hurry up as she “jumped across the grass onto the road” she “slipped and fell backwards and hit her head. Right on the concrete on the side of the road, she just slipped backwards.”
The 230-pound grappler scooped her up and according to his testimony “slapped her across the face to get her to come to again.” But Argentino remained unconscious. After being pressed about the moment of impact Snuka told the cops he asked Argentino if she was okay and she was lucid. “When I woke her up, I picked her up and said, “Are you okay, honey?” And Argentino apparently replied, “Yeah, but it’s just my head, my bump.”
Despite the tumble they drove to the motel, despite reports that Snuka lacked a driver’s license. They made it to the motel and after Argentino requested to lie down, Snuka left to go to the Allentown Fairgrounds to perform. He even remembered telling her, “I’ll see you later, honey. I’ll be right back as soon as I get done,” as he kissed her, according to the 30-page criminal complaint.
After he comforted Argentino by bringing some chow and later setting wet towel compresses on her head, her status turned critical. “Finally, I just kept looking at her and trying to talk to her and she didn’t even respond like when I left. So I thought, my God, I better try to call a doctor right away… I called the front desk and told my girl is having a hard time breathing, just seems like she can’t breathe at all, whatever you do, please hurry up.”
In the wake of Argentino’s death, one of Snuka’s confidants came to his aid. It was none other than the then-WWE chairman and essentially the Wizard of wrestling’s Oz—Vince McMahon Jr. “He was there and he knew everything about it,” Snuka told a radio show host.
Snuka seemed to faintly recall how his knight dressed in a tailored suit saved the day while he was in a perpetual daze. Vince McMahon Jr. was not only present but was clandestinely trying to play Mr. Fixit.
He writes, “At one point, I went with Vince McMahon Jr. to either a court or a law office, I don’t remember which because I was still in shock. All I remember is he had a briefcase with him. I don’t know what happened. I think Vince Jr. picked me up from the hotel and took me there. He didn’t say anything to me. I don’t know if he gave Nancy’s family money or anything. The only thing I know for sure is that I didn’t hurt Nancy.”
The stakes were high. After all, in his 1980s prime Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was a masterful wrestling specimen tipping the scales in mass popularity and forcing all comers to instantly tap out.
Indeed, the champion grappler gained infamy by soaring like human ammo. And in his book Snuka, besides fearing needles (even though the word “fear,” he vows, “is not part of my vocabulary”) boasts his respect of women. “I love women,” he writes. “I enjoy them. I respect them. I love the smell of the ladies. I would never hurt any of them.”
And in the ring Snuka remained true to his native island roots by swearing off wrestling’s regalia of boots, opting to go barefoot instead; as well as donning a distinct headband and leopard-printed garb as odes to his on-screen idol Tarzan.
But Tarzan never faced a murder rap. And Tarzan likely never took steroids, boozed or binged on cocaine like The Superfly admitted he had.
Now 72 years old and stricken with stomach cancer, the defamed brawler yesterday posted $100,000 bail after forfeiting his passport. But Snuka will have few chances to steal many easy winks now that he is facing 20 to 40 years in the big house if he’s convicted of third-degree murder.
At the time of Argentino’s death, the leaping phenom was a married man with kids and claimed to have girlfriends everywhere. To Snuka, Nancy Argentino was a willing mistress and he referred to her as his “East Coast girlfriend.” In his book the wrestler added that they were intimate. “We slept together each time, but we also hung out.”
But while he admits his marriage to his wife, Sharon, was “terrible” and that he was unfaithful, he seems to misremember how he put a brutal beating on her months after Argentino died. He writes in his book, “Sharon and I fought all the time. I want to make clear that I only pushed her away to keep her from hitting me. I would never use full force. I don’t like confrontation.”
The trouble is the brawler allegedly inflicted multiple beatdowns on his wife. In October 1983, Debbie Rogers, the wife of Snuka’s manager, Buddy, took photos and notes of “injuries to Sharon as a result of her beating by Snuka and her hospitalization,” according to a criminal complaint.
Reached by phone yesterday, Sharon Georgi said she was having dinner. After being informed of her ex-husband’s murder charges, she told The Daily Beast, “I have nothing further to offer.”
It’s possible like Snuka concedes that Argentino was fine with the philandering. But her family thought they were more an item.
In fact, Snuka made appearances (though he barely spoke to anybody) at the Thanksgiving dinner hosted at Nancy’s mother’s house in Brooklyn. The couple were even hatching plans to purchase a New Jersey townhouse together. “Only after Nancy was killed did we learn that he was married and it was a total shock that he was living this double life,” Argentino’s sister Lorraine Salome added.
But there were clear signs that her sister’s love affair was rocky.
Three months before Argentino was pronounced dead she was screaming bloody murder while Snuka was pulling her hair and dragging her naked body through the corridors of a Howard Johnson hotel in Salina, New York. In the commotion Argentino managed to call her sister Salome.
“Nancy called me at 2 in the morning saying, ‘I have to get out of here,’” her sister recalled. Then another call came and it was the motel owner saying that there was a “guy running after her.” Snuka took his hostage girlfriend into the room and refused to open the door when deputies arrived. Ultimately, it took eight deputy sheriffs and K-9s to bring Snuka under arrest.
Snuka recalled the coke-induced bender at the hotel where he and his “boys” would party and crash. On that night Snuka claims he was “just drinking a lot of booze.” He later noted he had been smoking some pot too. And while they’re “drinking and having a good time” in comes the party-crashing police. “It was six men in blue with police dogs and everything,” he writes, while he was dressed only in his skivvies. “They beat me with their batons… I never laid my hands on anyone, and I didn’t see any naked women, aside from the one in my room.”
Snuka copped a guilty plea “just to get it over with” and adds, “I did not assault Nancy—she was fine.” All was swept under the wrestling mat in fact. “In the end, I paid a fine and the charges were dropped.”
It was after that “party” that Argentino’s family tried to convince her to kick Snuka to the curb. “We tried to talk some sense into her but she went back on the road with him,” Salome said. “My mom told her, ‘Listen, Nancy, you’re too pretty and too smart to put up with this. You have to think about this and get out of this relationship.’
“But it was too late. Nothing we could do.”
And just before Argentino’s life was taken, her sister said she had promised to be home for Mother’s Day. “She was going to come home for that weekend,” Salome said. “My mother thought she was on the way.”
Instead, her mother received the phone call that no mother wants to receive. Her daughter was dead.
‘What? Died? How did she die?’ her distraught mom said. Eerily, Salome recalled feeling restless that night. “That night I felt very strange. It was 4 a.m and I was already up. It was devastating.”