This episode is titled “Jimmy Snuka and the death of Nancy Argentino”
Chris Jericho is your narrator. He describes Snuka as a “man fans loved more than anyone”.
First up with the introductions is Sam Fatu who was both “The Tonga Kid” and Tama of the Islanders. The Wild Samoans are his uncles. He had a rough go of things as a kid so he got into pro wrestling at 16. Jimmy Snuka was a guy that would protect him out there on the road.
Next up is Don Muraco. He said Snuka could it all and could’ve been bigger than Hulk Hogan had he kept his head on straight. He said Snuka basically grew up homeless in Hawaii and explains that he probably flocked to pro wrestling because it gave him a sense of belonging and being important to people.
Jericho explains that Vince McMahon realizes Snuka’s potential and makes him the top guy. Irvin Mushnick, nephew of former promoter Sam Mushnick said although Bob Backlund was the champion, Snuka was the guy. Snuka came into the WWF as a heel but they quickly figured out he was too popular to be a heel and Buddy Rogers became his manager as a babyface.
Fatu said he and Snuka was living the life. Muraco said it was wrestling, working out, partying, repeat. Fatu said that Jimmy had Nancy Argentino on the road with him.
We meet Nancy’s family here. Her sister Lorraine describes her as an innocent, beautiful woman that lived a bit of a sheltered life. Nancy had a childhood friend that was engaged to Johnny Rodz, she would go to the matches with her friend and that’s how she met Snuka. Lorraine said he was quiet and strange. Nancy, however, was in love so she took care of him on the road after Buddy Rogers couldn’t do it.
Rogers loved Snuka but he could deal with Snuka using cocaine and doing it all the time. Nancy became his handler in essence. She mapped out his schedule and made sure he got to the shows on time. Lorraine says their mom liked Snuka, but their stepfather did not. We meet another one of Nancy’s sisters, Louise. She relays a story of eating with Snuka and Nancy and she was being pretty chatty so Snuka threatened to choke her. She tells Nancy to get rid of him. He eventually apologized and offered Louise some cocaine. How sweet.
Fatu said he knew of Nancy but didn’t know her well because Snuka didn’t have her around the other wrestlers. Muraco said she met her, but they weren’t close and Muraco assumes it was because he was friends with Snuka’s wife. Snuka was still living with his wife in North Carolina and their kids, but on the road with Nancy.
We meet Kevin Amerman, a journalist from Allentown, PA. In 1983 Snuka is at a hotel with Nancy and other guests are calling the front desk complaining about what sounded like an confrontation between a man and a woman. The police try to intervene and Snuka is fighting the police and apparently the police dogs…damn cocaine is a hell of a drug. Nancy calls Lorraine for help initially but later says it was a misunderstanding. She refuses to press charges against Snuka. In an affidavit Nancy denies that Snuka was physically violent with here. Snuka gets a light charge and makes a charitable donation.
Snuka is a mess to deal with at this point because of his drug use. Allentown was a regular stop because the WWF did monthly tapings there where Snuka and Muraco are embroiled in a crazy feud that’s getting both guys over. In May of 1983, Snuka and Nancy are in Allentown for a taping. Snuka returns to the hotel that night and later in the evening there’s ambulances and law enforcement around the hotel.
We meet Shirley Reeve, a paramedic in Allentown at that time. She says Nancy was in bed and looking as if she had a head injury. Snuka told authorities that they were messing around the night before and she hit her head. They eventually went to bed that night, he got up to do a taping and she was conscious but tired, he assumed she needed more rest so he went to tape another show and she’s still in bed and was incapacitated and non-responsive. He called 911.
At the hospital Snuka was telling people was happened. When police speak to the other hospital patrons about Snuka’s behavior, they all mention that he spoke of a conflict and that he physically assaulted her in some from. Louise is woke up by the phone at 4 a.m. and she and their mom get the word that Nancy was dead. Snuka gets on the phone and he’s completely flustered, but says it was an accident and that she fell on her head. Everyone was in shocked.
Snuka is questioned by police and he offers another story — they were driving to the town, they stopped a service station so she could go to the bathroom, on her way back to the car she slipped off the curb and hit her head on the curb and that caused the injury. Muraco gets McMahon in touch with the law enforcement. Vince promises Snuka will cooperate and the police release him without charge.
Lorraine says Snuka acted strange at the funeral. He was dressed casually and went up to her coffin, crying and touching her until Nancy’s stepfather pulled him back. He told them that Nancy “looked horrible” and Lorraine says “of course she does, she’s dead”. The undertaker (not Mark Callaway) tells the family how difficult it was to make her look good because she had a huge bruise around her neck with cuts all over her body.
We get back to wrestling as the Snuka-Muraco feud was about to reach its apex. Muraco admits he was concerned Snuka might get pulled off the road and he didn’t want to lose his “golden goose”. Muraco and Fatu talked about the MSG cage match.
We meet Carole Snuka, Jimmy’s third wife and widow. She said sometimes Snuka would hear threats. She said he didn’t worry about it as much and said that he knew what he did and didn’t have to worry about what anyone else said. I think Carole came in the picture for Snuka in the 90s.
Meanwhile this case is a dead end. No evidence. No witnesses and Snuka gives 20 different accounts of the story. We meet the old Allentown police chief, Frederick Conjour, and he says the fact that someone has several different stories isn’t enough of a reason to charge him for a crime. He had no problems with how the investigation was conducted.
Louise claims that Snuka’s “promoter” offered their mom $25,000 and their mom kindly told him to fuck off. Not sure who that promoter was, probably wasn’t Vince because I think they would have said it was Vince.
Without criminal charges, the Argentino family goes the civil route and claims he was negligent in her death. Snuka didn’t show up and the family was awarded $500K. Snuka never paid, Carole says that Snuka should’ve went to the hearing and handled it. Snuka continues to get lost in drugs and the WWF drops him.
Amerman decides to re-visit the crime after 30 years and gets a copy of the autopsy. The autopsy says that Argentino’s injuries are consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object but not a single fall. The final sentence of the autopsy says it believes the case she be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise. Conjour said they investigated the case as well as they could.
Documents disclose a meeting with the police, Snuka and Vince and then the case went cold after that. Amerman says that Vince is a businessman and having one of your top guys is being charged with murder, that’s not good for business. Carole says Snuka was basically illiterate and trusted Vince with everything, contracts included. Vince tells Jimmy not to worry about the Argentino case because “it’s down”.
In Snuka’s book he portrays his relationship with Nancy as destructive and claims she ruined his life and denied that he laid a hand on her. Amerman notes that when he talked about the story later there always some different holes in the story. We learn that Fatu was a passenger in the car. He describes the ride as fun and it was a good time. As soon as they arrived they went to their hotel and Fatu went to his. He doesn’t know what Snuka told the police, when it’s told to him that Snuka claims she fell on the side of the road, he said he didn’t remember that. Conjour doesn’t seem to recollect whether he heard there was a third person in the car of.
Carole said she talked to Fatu and he never told her that, but she says the wrestlers aren’t lying, they just don’t remember everything. And she’s right. It 30+ years ago and they did a shit ton of drugs. Expecting someone healthy and sober to remember things from 30 years ago is tough enough, now imagine how much cocaine they used. Not defending anyone, just saying there is something to that.
They reopen the case after the autopsy report. They present it to a grand jury and Snuka is arrested with third-degree murder. He is also dealing with stomach cancer. Carole said Snuka was damaged, sick and injured and didn’t understand most of what was going on. Eventually the judge rules that Snuka is unfit to go on trial. Louise said that it helped a little to see Snuka receive some inconvenience. Amerman says there was no final resolution on the case and that’s why people still debate it. Snuka dies 10 days after judgment comes down.
Fatu is still hurt by Snuka’s death, he said “we lost a good man”. He is still angry about what people say about him. He says it was sad for all parties. Amerman said you can’t overlook his personal life and it will always cloud his legacy. Louise said the family never really got justice, Carole said she never met anyone in the Argentino family, but she feels for them and something should’ve been done.
The Bottom Line: Well this was a slog to get through for me. A lot of people. A lot of stories that were disjointed. Most people seem to think he killed her and there’s certainly a lot of evidence pointing that way. But the principals in this case are dead and they are the ones that know the truth.
The After Dark show had Greg Valentine and Brian Knobbs…I didn’t watch it.