Procacyn also claimed to have no knowledge of any subsequent action by the Argentino family, except for a few communications between a lawyer and D.A. Platt over settling the funeral bill. In fact, the Argentinos commissioned two separate private investigations, and it’s difficult to believe that Procanyn was unaware of them. The first investigator, New York lawyer Richard Cushing, traveled to Allentown, conducted extensive interviews, and aggressively demanded access to medical records and other files. "It was a very peculiar situation," Cushing told me. "I came away feeling Snuka should have been indicted. The police and the D.A. felt otherwise. The D.A. seemed like a nice enough person who wanted to do nothing. There was fear, I think, on two counts: fear of the amount of money the World Wrestling Federation had, and physical fear of the size of these people."
Even so, Cushing declined to represent the family in a wrongful-death civil suit against Snuka. The lawyer cited the fact that Snuka and Argentino weren’t married, that they didn’t have children, and that she wasn’t working, which would make it difficult to establish loss of consortium. "Moreover, Vince McMahon made it clear to me that her reputation would be besmirched. As a lawyer, I had to determine if a contingency [fee] was in order; my business decision, not my moral judgment, was no. The family wasn’t pleased. They had a typical working-class family’s anger that justice wasn’t done."
Through the generosity of Nancy Argentino’s father’s boss, the family then retained a Park Avenue law firm. The report filed by its private investigator shows that Snuka was as creative outside the ring as he was inside it. To the Whitehall police officer who responded to the first emergency call, Snuka said "he and Nancy were fooling around outside the motel room door when he inadvertently pushed Nancy and she fell striking her head." An emergency room nurse heard him state that "they were very tired and they got into an argument resulting in an accidental pushing incident. Ms. Argentino fell back and hit her head." In the official police interrogation, Snuka first floated the peed-on-the-roadside theory. Finally, in a meeting with the hospital chaplain, he said he and Argentino had been stopped by the side of the road and had a lovers’ quarrel: "He accidentally shoved Ms. Argentino who then fell backwards hitting her head on the pavement. They then arrived at the motel and went to bed. The next morning Ms. Argentino complained that she was ill and stayed in bed…. When he came home from the taping, he observed that Ms. Argentino was clearly in bad shape."
In 1985, the Argentinos obtained a $500,000 default judgment against Snuka in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The family never collected a dime; Snuka’s lawyers withdrew from the case, stating that they hadn’t been paid, and Snuka filed an affidavit claiming he was broke and unemployed and owed the IRS $75,000 in back taxes. Since ’83, the 49-year-old Snuka has been in and out of rehab centers and has wrestled off and on both in Japan and throughout this country. His original WWF stint extended two and a half years past Argentino’s death; his most recent ended earlier this year. According to the wrestling grapevine, he’s now trying to promote independent shows in, of all places, Salt Lake City, but my efforts to track him down there were unsuccessful.
Proving negligence, of course, is different than proving involuntary manslaughter or murder. But critics of the criminal investigation find fishy the failure of the police to examine seriously Snuka’s history of drug abuse and violence against women. Former wrestling great Buddy Rogers, who’d been hired by McMahon to serve as Snuka’s TV "manager" and to get him to important matches on time, said he stopped driving with the Superfly after he brazenly snorted coke when they were in the car together. "Jimmy could be a sweet person, but on that stuff he was totally uncontrollable," said Rogers, who was also Snuka’s neighbor on Coles Mill Road in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Snuka’s wife, with whom he had four children, befriended Rodgers’ wife. "Jimmy used to beat the shit out of that woman," Rogers said. "She would show up at our house, bruised and battered. But she couldn’t leave him – he had her hooked on the same junk he was using."
Nancy Argentino’s younger sister remembered once being threatened by Snuka when they were alone at the family’s home in Flatbush. "I could kick you and put my hands around your throat and nobody would know," he allegedly said. After Nancy’s death, family members said, they received a series of phone calls from a woman who identified herself as a former Snuka girlfriend who’d tried to warn Nancy away from him. Snuka, said the woman, had once broken her ribs, and had a thing about pushing women back against walls.
Finally, there was the incident involving Snuka and Argentino at a Howard Johnson’s in Salina, N.Y., outside Syracuse, just three months before Allentown. The motel owner, hearing noise from their room, called the police, who found Snuka and Argentino running naked down the hallway. It took eight deputy sheriffs and a police dog to subdue Snuka. Argentino sustained a bruise of her right thumb. Snuka pleaded guilty to violent felony assault with intent to cause injury, received a conditional discharge on counts of third-degree assault, harassment, and obstruction of a government official, and donated $1,500 to a deputy sheriffs’ survivors’ fund. Whitehall police later decided this was all the result of "a nervous desk clerk," Detective Procanyn told me.
According to attorney Cushing, McMahon made a remark at one point in their discussions that was at once insightful and chilling. "Look, I’m in the garbage business," the promoter said. "If you think I’m going to be hurt by the revelation that one of my wrestlers is really a violent individual, you’re mistaken."
Six months after Nancy Argentino died, the Village Voice ran a prescient article entitled "Mat Madness" by the late columnist Arthur Bell, weather vane of the lower-Manhattan gay-arts demimonde. After attending a Madison Square Garden show headlined by a bout between Superfly Snuka and The Magnificent Muraco, Bell, who knew next to nothing about wrestling, commented on the spectacle’s graphic references to bodily functions and on its barely sublimated undercurrents of sexual dominance and sadomasochism. "Take my word," Bell declared, "by the end of 1984 wrestling will be the most popular sport in New York since mugging." He concluded with a vignette at the Garden stage exit, where a swarm of fans, led by a woman named Bea from West Orange, converged to taunt the wrestlers as they emerged in their street clothes.
"Hey, Superfly," Bea shouted to Snuka. "You goddam fuckin’ murderer. When are you gonna kill another girl?"