Psychopath Leonarda Cianciulli
Italian serial killer Psychopath Leonarda Cianciulli lived from 18 April 1894 to 15 October 1970. She was better known as the Soap-Maker of Correggio (Italian: la Saponificatrice di Correggio), who murdered three women in the Reggio Emilia village of Correggio in 1939 and 1940, then used caustic soda to transform their bodies into soap and teacakes.
Montella, Avellino, in the then-Kingdom of Italy, is where Leonarda Cianciulli was born. In her adolescence, she made two attempts at suicide. Raffaele Pansardi, a registrar’s assistant, and Cianciulli were wed in 1917. Because she intended to marry her to a different man, her mother did not support the union. Cianciulli afterwards asserted that her mother had cursed them on this particular occasion. The couple relocated to Pansardi’s hometown of Lauria, Potenza, in 1921.
Cianciulli was convicted of fraud there in 1927 and was sentenced to prison. They settled in Lacedonia, Avellino, after being freed. They relocated once more to Correggio, Reggio Emilia, where Cianciulli built a modest shop, after their home was completely damaged in the 1930 Irpinia earthquake. In her community, she enjoyed a high level of popularity and respect.
Cianciulli had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but lost three of the children to miscarriage. Ten more died in their youth. Consequently, Cianciulli was heavily protective of the four surviving children. Her fears were fueled by a warning she had received some time earlier from a fortune teller, who said that she would marry and have children, but that all of the children would die young. Reportedly, Cianciulli also visited a Romani who practiced palm reading, and who told her, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.”
Giuseppe Cianciulli, Cianciulli’s favorite child and the oldest son, joined the Royal Italian Army in 1939 to prepare for the Second World War. She made the decision that human sacrifices were necessary in order to ensure his safety because she was determined to do it at all costs. Three middle-aged women who were all neighbors were the victims Cianciulli found.
The first of Cianciulli’s victims, Faustina Setti, was a lifelong spinster who had come to her for help in finding a husband. Cianciulli told her of a suitable partner in Pola, but asked her to tell no one of the news. She also persuaded Setti to write letters and postcards to relatives and friends. They were to be mailed when she reached Pola, to tell them that everything was fine. Preparing for her departure, Setti came to visit Cianciulli one last time. Cianciulli killed her with an axe and dragged the body into a closet, where it was cut into nine parts and its blood was gathered into a basin. Cianciulli described what happened next in her official statement:
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 had 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.
Some sources also record that Cianciulli apparently received Setti’s life savings, 30,000 lire, as payment for her services.
Francesca Soavi was the second victim. Cianciulli claimed to have found her a job at a school for girls in Piacenza. Like Setti, Soavi was persuaded to write postcards to be sent to friends, this time from Correggio, detailing her plans. Also like Setti, Soavi came to visit Cianciulli before her departure. She too was given drugged wine and then killed with an axe. The murder occurred on 5 September 1940. Soavi’s body was given the same treatment as Setti’s, and Cianciulli is said to have obtained 3,000 lire from her second victim.
Cianciulli’s third and final victim was the widow Virginia Cacioppo, a former soprano said to have sung at La Scala. For her, Cianciulli claimed to have found work as the secretary for a mysterious impresario in Florence. As with the other two women, she was instructed not to tell a single person where she was going. Cacioppo agreed and, on 30 September 1940, came for a last visit to Cianciulli. The pattern to the murder was the same as the first two. However, unlike the first two victims, Cacioppo’s body was melted to make soap. According to Cianciulli’s statement:
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 time on the boil I was able to make some most acceptable creamy soap. I gave bars to neighbours and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.
From Cacioppo, Cianciulli reportedly received 50,000 lire, assorted jewels and public bonds. She even sold all the victims’ clothing and shoes.
Discovery and trial
Cacioppo’s sister-in-law, Albertina Fanti, grew suspicious of her sudden disappearance and had last seen her entering Cianciulli’s house. She reported her fears to the superintendent of police in Reggio Emilia, who opened an investigation and soon arrested Cianciulli. Cianciulli did not confess to the murders until they believed that her son, Giuseppe Pansardi, was involved in the crime. She confessed to the murders, providing detailed accounts of what she had done to save her son from any blame.
Cianciulli was tried for murder in Reggio Emilia in 1946. She remained unrepentant, going so far as to correct the official account while on the stand:
At her trial in Reggio Emilia last week Poetess Leonarda gripped the witness-stand rail with oddly delicate hands and calmly set the prosecutor right on certain details. Her deep-set dark eyes gleamed with a wild inner pride as she concluded: “I gave the copper ladle, which I used to skim the fat off the kettles, to my country, which was so badly in need of metal during the last days of the war….”
After being found guilty of her actions, Cianciulli was given a sentence of thirty years in prison and three years in a mental hospital.On October 15, 1970, at the Pozzuoli women’s penal asylum, she passed away from cerebral apoplexy.
A number of artifacts from the case, including the pot in which the victims were boiled, are on display at the Criminological Museum in Rome.
Love and Magic in Mama’s Kitchen, a darkly comedic play about Cianciulli, was first presented by Lina Wertmüller at the Spoleto Festival in 1979. In 1983, the play’s Broadway run got under start.