In 1983, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was at the height of his celebrity. Considered by many in the world of professional wrestling as the World Wrestling Federation’s top star just below Hulk Hogan. This was a time when the owner of the WWF, Vince McMahon Jr. was looking to expand his promotion nationally outside of the northeast where it had historically held its matches.
And McMahon would do this very quickly on the backs of stars like Hogan and Snuka. Snuka was known to fans in this time as a high flying star in an era when professional wrestling was still considered an unscripted form of entertainment, a legitimate sport. This was a few years before it transitioned into what’s known today as “Sport Entertainment”.
So Snuka was known to fans as one of the greatest athletes in the country and beloved by many as he would feud with the likes of the “Magnificent” Don Muraco. Around this time Snuka famously jumped from the top of a steel cage and influenced a young Mick Foley to become a wrestler someday.
But there were problems behind the scenes in Jimmy Snuka’s life. As was chronicled in several articles and documentaries like “Dark Side Of The Ring” Snuka struggled with substance abuse. Namely cocaine. And was prone to be difficult to be around, partly because he was so physically strong and intimidating. So he started traveling (while married to another woman) with a woman named Nancy Argentino, who he was reported to have been dating. Argentino was a young woman who met him at a wrestling event in the northeast and eventually started traveling with him from city to city where he would wrestle.
Along the way there became concerns about domestic abuse. Argentino’s sisters mention that in the “Dark Side Of The Ring” documentary and those concerns really became pronounced in January of 1983 when there was an incident at a hotel the two were staying at. Hotel stays were regular for them as they travelled from town to town for Snuka to wrestle. The Onondoga County Sheriff’s Office sent multiple deputies to reports of a domestic incident and Snuka was reported to have appeared to show superhuman strength against the multiple deputies who tried to subdue him. Eventually Argentino declined pressing charges. And Snuka through attorneys was able to stay out of jail.
Then four months later in May of 1983 is when Nancy Argentino died. The two were on the road again travelling from town to town. In this case, it was right after an event in Allentown, PA in the county of Lehigh. Snuka called an ambulance to their hotel room at the George Washington Motor Lodge. She died at the hospital shortly after. Snuka claimed she hit her head and it was an accident. Police investigated but he was never charged. However, the coroner’s report questioned this being an accident. Here’s one excerpt from the coroner’s report: “After review of the history and complete autopsy of the body of Miss Nancy Argentino, death is attributed to craniocerebral injuries, the pattern of which is consistent with a moving head striking at the stationary object but is not consistent with a single simple fall in view of the multitudeness other scalp, facial and bodily bruises and abrasions. The multiplicity and magnitude of the injuries may even be suggestive of ‘mate’ abuse.”
Following this police continued to investigate but Snuka was never charged with any crime. However, Argentino’s family did file a wrongful death lawsuit against Snuka and won a settlement of $50,000. But there are multiple reports Snuka never paid them any money.
Eventually the criminal case went cold and Snuka went back to his life as a wrestler. He lasted a few years more off and on in the WWF until the early 90′s. Then he would wrestle sporadically and make a few appearances at WWF (eventually WWE) shows in a “Legends” capacity.
The case finally began to get attention again when a newspaper called “The Morning Call” started looking into the case 30 years later. They started uncovering several documents that pointed to Snuka as a potential suspect in the case. Eventually a Grand Jury was empaneled and Jimmy Snuka was charged with third degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Nancy Argentino.
But he was never convicted for a few reasons related to his health. Snuka was dealing with severe brain issues suspected to have possibly been related to his time as a professional wrestler. Concerns over brain trauma and CTE received a lot of attention in the wrestling world following the murder-suicide of wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife and young son.
In 2016 due to his cognitive issues Jimmy Snuka was deemed by a judge unfit to stand trial. In the “Dark Side Of The Ring” episode his wife said she’s not ever sure he understood what was happening in court.
Around this time news also came out that Snuka had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then months after his case was dismissed due to being unfit for trial Jimmy Snuka died in January 2017. That means while he was charged with the murder, Snuka was never convicted for the murder of Nancy Argentino.