by Irvin Muchnick
Before the decades-long cold case of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s alleged murder of Nancy Argentino in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, there was the decades-long cold case of James P. Moore Sr.’s or James P. Moore Jr.’s alleged murder of Lisa Bendekovits in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
Coincidentally, both homicide investigations involved, from start to finish, Detective Gerald Procanyn, who, at some as-yet-undetermined point in between, left the Whitehall Township police force and became an investigator for the office of the county district attorney.
The lateral movement of Procanyn — along with, as we’ll see, the career paths of other key figures in Snuka’s indictment, after 32 years, on third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges — illustrates how the same cast of characters typically rotates through the most important positions in the criminal justice system.This is especially true in a small community such as greater Allentown.
Defenders of the system would point to the advantages of investigative and judicial continuity. However, speaking as a journalist from the outside who was blatantly lied to by Procanyn about the Snuka case nearly a quarter of a century ago (see links below), I argue that it is also a game of musical chairs and a revolving door. And at moments like the present one, the game is to suppress internal accountability for a case that was at best botched — at worst, corruptly so.
Procanyn did not respond to emails and faxes from Concussion Inc. asking, in part, when he left the employ of Whitehall Township for a parallel post with Lehigh County.
In response to follow-ups, Debbie J. Garlicki, executive aide and media spokesperson for District Attorney James Martin, said she did not know Procanyn’s employment history.
“Try calling Human Resources with County of Lehigh for exact dates and Whitehall Township Municipal Building,” Garlicki emailed.
Garlicki’s own employment history also tells a story. In 2008, she left her job as a courthouse reporter for the Allentown Morning Call to become executive aide to the district attorney — a position that was never before listed, according to the county’s open records officer, in an email the next year to maverick local blogger Bill Villa. “As an independently elected official, the District Attorney has discretion in filling budgeted positions,” open records officer Kathleen Parrish wrote.
Five years before Garlicki jumped from the newspaper business to the government flack business, she authored the three-part Morning Call series on the resolution of the James Moore cold case. Detective Procanyn was a central hero of that narrative, for sticking with the case all the way from 1975 until the early 2000s, and for ultimately providing a measure of closure for the woman who was, at the time of the crime, the victim’s 8-year-old daughter.
Unfortunately, that closure carried with it considerable ambiguity. The Bendekovits case was tried only after an elderly James P. Moore Sr., whom many suspected was the real murderer, fingered his son as the person who had strangled the woman.
The assistant district attorney who prosecuted Moore Jr. was Maria Dantos — now the Court of Common Pleas judge presiding over the Snuka case. Dantos has a reputation as a tough “law and order” judge.
Likewise, both the Lehigh County district attorney at the time of the original Snuka investigation, William Platt, and assistant D.A. Robert L. Steinberg are now judges. Platt is a senior judge.
Current D.A. Martin is dismissive of questions regarding Procanyn’s lies to me. The detective is “a tenacious investigator,” Martin says.
WWE, Snuka’s employer at the time — which subsequently inducted him into the company’s Hall of Fame, then more recently had to scrub him from its website — is offended by the very suggestion that there was something rotten in Lehigh County on June 1, 1983, when Platt and his team sent the Argentino murder file into semi-permanent suspense.
In a statement perhaps crafted for this billion-dollar publicly traded corporation by its superlawyer, Jerry McDevitt, WWE said, “The insinuation that a group of medical examiners, detectives, and prosecutors — including two who became judges — could have their integrity compromised and participate in improper activity … is absurd, categorically false, and insulting to all parties.”
The D.A. credits the breakthrough to a Snuka indictment to the diligence of Procanyn and the work of the grand jury across 18 months. That is nonsense. The difference between the evidence on hand in 1983 and that sifted by the grand jury in 2014-15 can be responsibly rounded off to zero. There was no new forensics technology bearing on the findings; no dramatic discovery of previously unknown evidence or witnesses. If anything, the case had been weakened by the passage of time.
Yet today — thanks to Lehigh County’s carefully cultivated protocols of mutual back-scratching — no one is being held to account for that lapse.
P.S. 4:00 p.m. Pacific time: The next post, https://concussioninc.net/?p=10362, has more on Procanyn’s history.
Published May 9th, 2013
Published July 2nd, 2013
Published February 5th, 2014