“I threw the pieces into a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, which I had bought to make soap, and stirred the mixture until the pieces dissolved in a thick, dark mush that I poured into several buckets and emptied in a nearby septic tank. As for the blood in the basin, I waited until it coagulated, dried it in the oven, ground it and mixed it with flour, sugar chocolate, milk and eggs, as well as a bit of margarine kneading all the ingredients together. I made lots of crunchy tea cakes and served them to the ladies who came to visit, though Giuseppe and I also ate them”.
These were the words of one of Europe’s most evil serial killers; Leonarda Cianciulli, also known as The Soap maker of Correggio.
The Italian didn’t really have the most humble of beginnings. Born in Montella, Avellino on April 18, 1893, Leonarda had attempted suicide twice before her 18th birthday. At the age of 25, her parents tried arranging a marriage between her and a man from their town but she refused and got married to her love interest, Raffelle Pansardi later in 1917 against her Parents wishes. This caused a serious rift in the relationship between her and her parents up to the point of being cursed by her mother. In 1921, Leonarda and Pansardi moved to the latter’s home town of Lauria, Potenza. Here, she got on the wrong side of the law and was arrested and imprisoned for fraud in 1927. After her release, she moved to Lacedonia, Avellino with her husband. In 1930, their home was destroyed during the Irphina Earthquake forcing them to move to Correggio, Reggio Emilia.
During her marriage, Leonarda had had seventeen pregnancies. Only four survived; three dying due to miscarriages and the rest meeting their demise in their youth. Suspecting her mother’s curse was at work, (she had met a fortune teller earlier and was told that she would marry and have children, all of whom will die young) she visited a Romani gypsy palm reader and was told “in your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum”. These words would later prove to be true in the years to come.
1939 came with it’s woes. Hitler had just plunged the whole of Europe into war and the Italian Army was at the centre of it, tasked to protect its borders from the oncoming wildfire. Leonarda’s eldest son, Giuseppe was drafted into the army to defend his homeland. Being her favorite child, she was determined to protect him at all cost. This she did with the belief that the more the sacrifices she made, the greater his survival chances. These sacrifices were actually human sacrifices carried out in the most gruesome ways.
Her first victim was her neighbor, Faustina Setti, a lifelong spinster. Setti had come to her for advice and help in securing a partner and Leonarda tricked her in to believing of a certain match for her living in Pola. Setti was told not to tell anyone about it and to write letters to relatives and friends which will be mailed when she reached Pola. Before the day of her planned departure, she came to visit Leonarda. That was when it happened. During her visit, Leonarda offered her a drink which was drugged, she was then butchered with an axe and dragged into a closet. In the closet, Setti’s body was cut into nine parts, her blood collected in a large basin. The rest is what is seen in the beginning. She also took the victim’s life savings of 30,000 lire as payment for her services.
Her next victim was Francesca Soavi who Leonarda was meant to help secure a job at a school for girls in Piacenza. The murder followed the same pattern as the first and occurred on September 5, 1940. She had used the body of her victims to prepare crunchy treats. She also received 3,000 lire for her services once again.
A former soprano, Virginia Cacioppo was another unfortunate victim of the crazed killer. Like the others, she came to Leornada for help in securing a job as a secretary for an impresario in Florence. The murder followed the same pattern as the other two, the difference being that Cacioppo’s body this time around was used to make soap and cakes. Leonarda was known to have said “she ended up in the pot like the other two her flesh was fat and white, when it had melted I added a bottle of cologne, and after a long boil I was able to make some most acceptable creamy soap. I gave bars to neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet”. She also acquired 50,000 lire plus assorted jewels and public bonds from her victim.
Cacioppo’s disappearance raised suspicions in her sister who had last seen her at Leonarda’s house. She promptly reported her suspicions to the local Police superintendent who immediately started an investigation on the case. Leonarda was soon arrested but she didn’t budge, not until her son, Giuseppe became the prime suspect for the murder. She decided to own up for her crimes to prevent her son from being prosecuted. She was tried for murder in 1946 in Regggio Emilia. During the trial, she showed no remorse for her actions, going as far as correcting her prosecutor on certain details in his account. She was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. Well this proved the prophecy of the palm reader correct. I guess all those who had eaten her treats and used her soap would be puking seriously after discovering they had actually been ingesting and washing with human remains. On October 15, 1970 Leonarda passed away after suffering from cerebral apoplexy while in the women’s criminal asylum in Pozzuoli. After her death, her weapons of destruction; the axes, pot and kettle were put on display in the Criminology Museum, Rome.
Attribution: The featured image in this post was gotten from WikiMedia Commons.