The 1983 death of Nancy Argentino has become one the most infamous chapters in pro wrestling history. One of the then-WWF’s biggest stars, Jimmy Snuka, was present at the Allentown, Pennsylvania motel where Argentino suffered the traumatic brain injuries that ended her life after just 23 years.
The case received some coverage in the 80s, and Argentino’s family won a wrongful death civil suit against Snuka in 1985. But it’s risen to prominence since Snuka was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in 2015. He was eventually deemed not mentally competent to stand trial just shortly before his death due to stomach cancer in 2017. Earlier this year, the tragedy was featured on an episode of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring documentary series and once again reentered the conversation.
One element of the story which has always captured wrestling fans’ attention is the role Snuka’s boss, WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon, may have played in his not being charged with a crime back in ‘83. In his ghostwritten 2012 autobiography, Snuka himself perpetuated the idea the man he called “Vince Jr.” may have swayed local officials including then Lehigh County assistant district attorney Robert Steinberg:
“Shortly after Nancy’s death, I was questioned by police and let go. At one point, I went with Vince McMahon Jr. to either a court or law office, I don’t remember which because I was still in shock. All I remember is he had a briefcase with him. I don’t know what happened. I think Vince Jr. picked me up from the hotel and took me there. He didn’t say anything to me. I don’t know if he gave Nancy’s family money or anything.”
Through legal and corporate surrogates, McMahon has always denied any involvement in the investigation into Argentino’s death. But speculation remains. And a new report by David Bixenspan for Mel Magazine is only going to lead to more people questioning Vince’s involvement in not only the aftermath of that tragic 1983 night, but Snuka’s entire relationship with the woman who died.
Bixenspan’s piece largely focuses on a January 1983 domestic violence incident in Salina, New York involving Snuka and Argentino, less than four months before her death. It’s a harrowing account of an intoxicated Snuka attacking both Argentino and the many law enforcement officials who attempted to stop and arrest him.
Argentino was apparently willing to press charges the night of the incident, but had changed her mind by the next morning. That’s not at all unusual in violent relationships. But based on the files of Detective Gerald Procanyn from the Whitehall Township Bureau of Police in Pennsylvania during his investigation into her death, there might have been another influence. Procanyn’s notes on an interview with two officers from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in New York (Sergeant Peter Bronstad & Deputy Alex Romanenko) about what happened after the scene in January includes this:
“Vince McMahon tried to talk her out of making the complaint against Snuka.”
Outside of decades old files, Bixenspan was unable to reach Procanyn, and Romanenko died in 2019. Bronstad doesn’t remember hearing about McMahon’s involvement himself. Instead, he now recounts dealing with an angry “shorter, older man wearing a hat” on the issue of Snuka’s bond.
There’s a lot more in the Mel Magazine story, and it’s well worth a read - especially if you’re interested in the convergence of true crime and pro wrestling Dark Side of the Ring traffics in.
It’s clear that the end of Argentino’s life was chaotic and scary. There are multiple reasons why no one was able to change that, and why the criminal justice system never convicted anyone for her death. Vince McMahon’s role in it will probably never be definitively disproven or revealed. But reports like Bixenspan’s ensure a lot of people will continue to ask questions.