By Irvin Muchnick
The remaining key question in the overdue indictment of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka for the 1983 murder of Nancy Argentino is whether the bungling of the case by local authorities constituted garden-variety incompetence; or their cowering in the face of the power and influence, perhaps only tacitly flexed, of the “sports entertainment” company that would become WWE; or worse.
Few want to go there. And so far the few don’t include the Allentown Morning Call, which does deserve credit for the story in 2013 that finally spurred Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin to send the farcically “open” Whitehall Township police investigation of the incident to the Seventh Investigating Grand Jury.
On Sunday the Call ran the chest-thumping headline “Why did it take 32 years to charge Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka?” Left unaddressed in this and other stories is the corollary: Why did it take the Morning Call 30 years to give this cold case in-depth coverage?
There was plenty of noise around town from the get-go that deputy coroner Wayne Snyder’s notification of suspicion of foul play to the district attorney of the time, William Platt (now a senior Pennsylvania state judge), had been given the once-over-lightly and stuffed into an “open investigations” drawer (the better to close further scrutiny, my dear) — all after just a fortnight or so of filibustering.
To be sure, the Call raises the tantalizing observation, in Snuka’s 2012 autobiography, that WWE boss Vince McMahon went into that infamous June 1, 1983, meeting with D.A. Platt carrying a briefcase. Dutifully, the newspaper floats the most far-reaching conspiracy theory and then, in the process, quotes the defensive subjects in all their haughtiness.
“[Current D.A.] Martin dismissed [the suggestion of a corrupt deal], defending Platt as a man of integrity and insisting Snuka’s star status in 1983 didn’t protect him,” the Call reports.
Also recorded is WWE’s statement on the matter: “The insinuation that a group of medical examiners, detectives and prosecutors — including two who later became judges — could have their integrity compromised and participate in improper activity during the course of a meeting is absurd, categorically false and insulting to all parties.”
Similarly, in 2008 WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt had emailed me, “[Y]our insinuation that Mr. McMahon in some unspecified way kept authorities from charging Jimmy Snuka for murder in 1983 is an odious lie.”
And in 2013, as Martin finally faced heat to move on the case following the Morning Call’s “cold case” package, the D.A. told me that neither he nor his deputy, Charles Gallagher, “will be commenting on your ridiculous and unfounded assertions.”
But instead of responding to straw men — “insinuations” and “assertions” — why won’t the D.A. make a clear statement on the facts? Take, for example, the fact that Whitehall detective Gerald Procanyn lied to me about Snuka’s credibility, the state of the evidence, and, gratuitously, additional details (such as whether the Argentino family was ever heard from again) in my visit with him in 1992. Those lies, not open to reasonable misinterpretation, were broken down by me again in my weekend piece at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10323.
Now along comes David Bixenspan of the wrestling newsletter Figure Four Weekly with important new information on Detective Procanyn’s contradictory statements to the media. Figure Four is part of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter family and was founded by Bryan Alvarez, business partner of the Observer’s Dave Meltzer (who has been called, by no less than Frank Deford, “the most accomplished reporter in sports journalism”).
The subscribers-only link to Bixenspan’s story is http://www.f4wonline.com/component/content/article/1-figure-four-weekly/44435-figure-four-weekly-9715-addition-details-on-jimmy-snuka-murder-indictment.
In it, Bixenspan unearths Procanyn’s statement to writer Jeff Savage for a 1992 Penthouse magazine article. After consulting with Meltzer and Savage, I’ve figured out that Procanyn must have spoken with Savage shortly after my interview of the detective that spring.
As in the contemporaneous 1983 coverage in a number of places — most notably the Morning Call — the operative police narrative in Penthouse was that Argentino likely suffered her fatal fall as a result of a push by Snuka. There is no mention at all of the peed-by-the-roadside theory (just as we now know not even a single line was devoted to it in the autopsy report).
Bixenspan only partially quotes the full relevant passage from Savage in Penthouse. Here it is:
“Whitehall Township detective Gerry Procanyn, the prime investigator, says he finds it puzzling that Argentino could have functioned normally throughout the day until her death. ‘Okay, she supposedly conks herself on the head,’ Procanyn says. ‘But then she’s able to drive the rest of the way here. She’s able to register them at the motel. She’s able to walk to a diner and order food and bring it back to the room. Then, all of a sudden, she dies.’
Wayne Snyder, then the Lehigh County deputy coroner, says there’s one final point of significance concerning the autopsy. ‘The fracture is on the back of the head. Okay, fine,’ he says. ‘But what about the marks on her face? What about the multiple bruises on various parts of her body? We have a highly suspicious death, and I don’t believe it to be accidental. This case has to be investigated as a homicide.’
Why wasn’t it? Whispers abound.
‘Vince McMahon sat with Snuka through the interviews, yes,”\’ detective Procanyn says. ‘But a cover-up? That’s pure unadulterated bullshit. There was a full and complete report. C’mon, how would you cover up something like that?’”
The Sunday Morning Call’s why-did-it-take-32-years story doesn’t let its readers in on the itty-bitty secret that at the time of the newspaper’s 30th anniversary cold-case articles, Procanyn was walking back his peed-in-the-roadside scenario. I had chronicled it online in 1999 and in my book Wrestling Babylon in 2007.
Procanyn told the Call that the roadside tall tale was the one Snuka “hung with the best.” At last Tuesday’s press conference announcing the Snuka indictment, D.A. Martin defended Procanyn, who is still working on the case for his office, as “a tenacious investigator.”
On Saturday I was contacted by Scott Geiger, son of the late Vincent Geiger, another one of the Whitehall detectives on the Snuka case.
“I recall my father talking about the case, and I remember how he was extremely disappointed because he believed Snuka was guilty, but the evidence and testimony just would not warrant a charge,” Geiger emailed.
The 2013 ebook, JUSTICE DENIED: The Untold Story of Nancy Argentino’s Death in Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Hotel Room, annotates our original article and benefits a women’s shelter in Nancy’s memory. You can order the ebook for $2.99 on Amazon Kindle (http://amzn.com/B00CPTP6VM) or a PDF copy by email (send $2.99 via PayPal to [email protected]). One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated by the Argentino family, in Nancy’s memory, to the women’s shelter in development at the Salerno, Italy, church Centro Evangelical dei Fratelli.