Wrestling legend Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is being charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend more than 32 years ago in an assault at an Allentown area motel, Lehigh County authorities said.
The charges were announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Snuka, 72, was arrested Tuesday morning at his New Jersey home and arraigned at 1:50 p.m. from the Lehigh County Central Booking Center. He was sent to county jail under $100,000 bail.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin re-opened the case last year, prompted in part by a Morning Call investigation that raised questions about the death of Snuka’s 23-year-old girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in May 1983. The Call story revealed a never-before-seen autopsy report that labeled the case a homicide.
The grand jury’s term ended at the end of July.
At the time of Argentino’s death, Snuka was one of the World Wrestling Federation’s biggest names, known for his high-flying finishing moves.
Reached Tuesday by phone, Argentino’s sister Louise Argentino-Upham said it’s a relief, especially since her mother turns 90 this year and may be able to see justice served.
“I think that it’s been a long road,” Argentino-Upham said. “They did the right thing in face of all the evidence.”
Snuka had been at a WWF taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds on May 10, 1983, and returned to his Whitehall Township motel room to find Argentino, of Brooklyn, gasping for air and oozing yellow fluid from her mouth and nose, records show.
Argentino was pronounced dead at Lehigh Valley Hospital the next day. An autopsy determined she died of traumatic brain injuries and she suffered more than two dozen cuts and bruises — a possible sign of “mate abuse” — on her head, ear, chin, arms, hands, back, buttocks, legs and feet.
The autopsy also determined her injuries were consistent with being hit with a stationary object. In an autopsy report, forensic pathologist Isidore Mihalakis wrote the case should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.
Snuka originally told at least five people, including the responding police officer, he shoved Argentino earlier that day, causing her to fall and hit her head, according to police interviews obtained by The Morning Call. He later told police those five people misunderstood him, and said Argentino slipped and hit her head when they stopped along the highway to urinate.
Snuka was the only person of interest in the case but was never charged.
The original Whitehall police investigation went cold June 1, 1983, after a follow-up interview with Snuka that was ordered by Lehigh Valley authorities and attended by WWF mogul Vince McMahon.
In an unprecedented move, Martin announced in January 2014 that a grand jury would investigate Argentino’s mysterious death, acknowledging the role of The Morning Call’s story. He said it was the oldest case he’s ever sent before the grand jury.
Snuka, who lives in Waterford Township, N.J., was diagnosed with stomach cancer, his wife announced earlier this month.
In 1985, the Argentino family won a $500,000 wrongful death case against Snuka by default, but Snuka never paid because he claimed he was broke and couldn’t afford a legal defense.
In his 2012 autobiography, Snuka maintained his innocence and said Argentino’s death ruined his life.
“Many terrible things have been written about me hurting Nancy and being responsible for her death, but they are not true,” he wrote. “This has been very hard on me and very hard on my family. To this day, I get nasty notes and threats. It hurts. I never hit Nancy or threatened her.”
However, less than four months before Argentino’s death, Snuka was charged with assaulting her in a New York motel and then fighting with police when they responded to the call. He pleaded guilty to harassment in the case with most of the serious charges being dropped.