Monday, 01 July 2013 19:29
District Attorney's “Fresh Look” at Jimmy Snuka Homicide Investigation Meaningless Unless Ex-Police Detective Is Pulled Off Case
by Irvin Muchnick
Though cold cases make for great prime-time TV plots, they are rarely revived in real life. It is welcome news that Lehigh County district attorney James Martin is taking a "fresh look" at the never-closed investigation of the 1983 death of Nancy Argentino, Jimmy Snuka's girlfriend, at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, around one of the old WWF syndicated tapings in Allentown.
But is this all just an orchestrated song-and-dance act by law enforcement authorities in the face of the new pressure for justice from Nancy's surviving sisters? Or is it a good-faith effort to finally get at the truth and accountability?
For observers asking themselves these questions, a key will be the continuing role of Detective Gerald Procanyn.
On May 11, 1983, Procanyn was one of the Whitehall police involved in the Snuka-Argentino investigation. By the time I passed through town in 1992 to report on the case, Procanyn was Whitehall's chief of detectives. Currently, he works for the district attorney's office.
Procanyn lied to me in '92 -- there is no nicer way to put it. He said Snuka told just one version of events: a fall outside town when Snuka and Nancy made a stop on their drive to Allentown so she could relieve herself by the roadside.
I soon learned otherwise. Two private investigators' reports, commissioned by the Argentino family, revealed that Snuka had multiple explanations for Nancy's fatal head injury. When I say that there were between three-and-a-half and five versions, depending on how you keep score, I'm not being cheeky. I am merely pointing out that Snuka's versions have composite and mix-and-match elements. In one, he and Nancy were having a "lovers' quarrel" by the roadside when she fell and got a bad knock on their head, which they first thought nothing of. In another, Nancy was out cold and Snuka had to slap her face to return her to consciousness. In yet another, they were "horsing around" and/or arguing in the motel room when he pushed her or she fell, either against a wall or not against a wall. Or she fell on her own or not on her own, and hit a chair.
And so on and so forth. The inconsistency ... the outright incoherence ... is, in combination with the medical examiner's recommendation to investigate for "foul play," extraordinarily damning.
As for those private investigators' reports -- they were followed in 1985 by a wrongful-death civil lawsuit by the family against Snuka in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The judge entered a $500,000 default judgment, which Snuka never paid, claiming poverty.
Yet according to Procanyn in 1992, the family was never heard from again after 1983!
Of course, not every ugly case has a tidy conclusion; sometimes involuntary manslaughter -- or worse -- cannot be effectively prosecuted because of evidentiary gaps, logistical hurdles, or the discretion of the district attorney in expenditure of public resources and in light of overall equities. But Procanyn didn't say any of those things to me. Instead, he put on a happy-face spin that Snuka was a sympathetic and cooperative and straight-shooting figure. This was an insult to my and my readers’ intelligence.
It got worse when a retired Whitehall detective told me that after the initial round of interrogation, Snuka dummied up into his jungle-boy wrestler's gimmick and let Vince McMahon, who apparently had rushed back down to Pennsylvania from Connecticut, do all the talking for him. I wrote as much, which would lead WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt, in a rambling 2008 email complaint to me, mostly on other subjects, to say, “[Y]our insinuation that Mr. McMahon in some unspecified way kept authorities from charging Jimmy Snuka for murder in 1983 is an odious lie.”
While reporting the story for the Village Voice, I filed a request for copies of police records, which Procanyn denied. I never followed through with freedom-of-information appeals because I soon got caught up in an editorial and business dispute with the Voice over the publication of my work. I put the Snuka investigation aside, except for publishing the article, as it was written in 1992, on various incarnations of my website beginning around 1999, and then in 2007 in my book Wrestling Babylon.
Recently, two enterprising Allentown Morning Call reporters, Adam Clark and Kevin Amerman, worked around the police and district attorney's stonewalling of release of documents in an "open" case, and found both Nancy's autopsy report and the record of Snuka's interrogation in a federal court warehouse holding exhibits from the old civil case. That was a huge contribution to the revival of interest in the Snuka-Argentino mystery on the 30th anniversary -- as was the Morning Call's decision to give it the front-page cold-case treatment. As they say, all politics is local.
I salute Clark and Amerman (along with the South Jersey Courier-Post's Randy Miller) for becoming the only journalists besides myself to go deep with the Snuka story. This is pro wrestling's answer to Ted Kennedy's festival of irresponsibility and cover-up at Chappaquiddick.
But unless they proceed to question D.A. Martin on why Gerry Procanyn is still being allowed to guide the criminal investigation, the Morning Call won't be going deep enough. According to Clark and Amerman's Saturday story, Procanyn will be among the officials who, after reviewing the state of the file, will determine "if there's anything to be gained by opening a grand jury investigation."