Concussion Inc.’s 2013 ebook in association with Snuka victim Nancy Argentino’s sisters, JUSTICE DENIED: The Untold Story of Nancy Argentino’s Death in Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Motel Room, can be purchased from Amazon at http://amzn.com/B00CPTP6VM, for $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle-compatible reader, you can get an emailed PDF file by sending $2.99 via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. All royalties go to organizations fighting domestic violence.
by Irvin Muchnick
A full quarter of a century after I began investigating Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s role in the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino, and only weeks after a Lehigh County (Pennsylvania) judge dropped the last attempt to bring him to justice, Snuka has died at 73 from complications from stomach cancer.
All due sympathy goes to Snuka’s loved ones.
Snuka takes to his grave a legacy as one of pro wrestling’s most colorful characters of the transformative 1980s — indeed, as the most popular star of Vince McMahon’s company, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, just before the push of Hulk Hogan and the national promotional war that eventually would leave only WWF/WWE as a major player.
Thanks to the persistence of Nancy’s sisters, Louise Argentino-Upham and Lorraine Salome, Snuka also goes down as an exhibit of celebrity entitlement and domestic violence.
But there’s another element of the Snuka-Argentino story that should never be forgotten, either: the corruption of the criminal justice system in that corner of Pennsylvania, then the home of the tapings of WWF’s syndicated television shows. Three figures, in particular, deserve black marks for their prejudicial application of law enforcement, and for lying about it for decades.
The first is Whitehall Township detective Gerald Procacyn — later chief of detectives and later still, after his retirement from the force, a double-dipping investigator for the Lehigh County district attorney’s office. At the time of the incident at the George Washington Motor Lodge in 1983, Procacyn reenacted for an Allentown Morning Call reporter, Tim Blangger, how Snuka likely pushed Argentino and caused the fall that brought about her fatal traumatic brain injury.
Yet to this reporter nine years later, Procacyn sang a completely different tune. He said Nancy had slipped on the roadside while she and Snuka were driving to Allentown and she stopped to pee. Procanyn also told me that this was Snuka’s single and unwavering account, that Nancy’s body showed no signs of abuse, and that the Argentino family was never heard from again except for the technicalities of funeral arrangements.
All were easily established Pinocchios. Earlier I had spoken to county coroner Wayne Snyder (deputy coroner at the time of the incident), whose first words to me were that “I immediately suspected foul play and so notified the district attorney.” And the Argentino family had commissioned private investigations, and they showed Snuka giving multiple, conflicting, mix-and-match versions of Nancy’s injury and of the location of it, both to cops and to personnel at the hospital where Nancy was pronounced dead.
The second inductee into the Lehigh Valley’s Snuka hall of shame is the DA at the time, William Platt, now a senior state judge. He whiffed on prosecuting Snuka and no one knows why. I don’t think Platt was bribed; nor do I think, given the local and corporate power dynamics, that Platt necessarily had to be bribed.
Third, there’s the current DA, James Martin. He was Platt’s assistant. Martin’s office would impanel the grand jury that would indict Snuka in 2015, only after Snuka’s own ill-advised ramblings about the incident in his autobiography, 29 years after the event, had reenergized the Argentino family to seek justice.
An honorary fourth is Judge Kelly Banach of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas. Her decision to dismiss the case based on Snuka’s ill health proved well-founded. But earlier, the judge had issued a gag order — from the bench, without so much as proffering a written opinion — that silenced the Argentino sisters throughout the last act of this farcical play of “justice delayed, justice denied.” Gag orders are almost always based on motions from the defense arguing that public statements would compromise the right of the accused to a fair trial. This gag order was proposed by — guess who? — the prosecution.
This leads to our nominees for the media wing of the Snuka hall of shame. I’m looking at you, CBS’s 48 Hours. Following the Snuka indictment, 48 Hours producers met on both sides of the continent with both the Argentino family and myself, and planned a documentary investigation on the region’s longest-running cold case. But when the tinhorn judge issued her kangaroo gag order, CBS folded. The network, it turns out, was only interested in a celebrity murder of the month tabloid segment, not in a story about the dysfunctions and corruption of the government that had enabled the celebrity to get away with it.
Finally, there’s the Allentown Morning Call itself. The newspaper was credited — correctly, in the narrow technical sense — for the 30th anniversary package in 2013 that dredged up the forensic pathologist’s report and Snuka’s dodgy police statements, and motivated DA Martin to do what turned out to be too little, too late. But kudos to the Morning Call are wildly overblown. The Call exercised no enterprise at the time of the incident and spent three decades keeping a lid on one of its town’s ugliest secrets.
Even the 2013 front-page story by Adam Clark and Kevin Amerman carefully pulled its punches: neither Detective Procacyn nor DA Martin was confronted with the obvious contradictions of their justifications for lengthy inaction. With the online and book publication of my 1992 article, those contradictions had been in circulation for years.
During the period between the 2013 impaneling of the grand jury and the 2015 indictment of Snuka, the Call also did no follow-up beyond self-congratulation. Most notably, the op-ed editor and the editor-in-chief gave Louise and Lorraine the run-around on an essay that was submitted, written, and then rewritten to specifications, until the women had to take it to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in order to find the light of day.
And now that Jimmy Snuka is dead, don’t expect the Allentown Morning Call or any other mainstream outlet to proceed to tell the full truth about the historical and ongoing structural corruption of Lehigh County criminal justice.