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Leonarda Cianciulli might not be as maniacal lady Killer as Ted Bundy or not as demeaning as Ed Gein, wearing bodysuits made out of the victim’s skin but Leonarda Cianciulli was something of a monster herself.

 Leonarda Cianciulli murdered women and turned their bodies into soaps and cake
 Leonarda Cianciulli

Leonarda Cianciulli was an Italian serial Killer, better known as “Soap-maker of Correggio,” she murdered three women in the town of Correggio, Reggio Emilia, between 1939 and 1940, and turned their bodies into soap and teacakes.

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Early Life of Leonarda Cianciulli

Leonarda was born on 15th October 1893, as a result of pregnancy due to rape. This accounts for the reason why her mother didn’t love her and was never been good to her. Her mother had to marry the man who raped her. The emotional neglect that Leonarda experienced from the hands of her mother, led to not one but two separate suicide attempts.

Leonarda Cianciulli youth
Leonarda Cianciulli in her youth, and shortly before she died in prison at age 79. Wikipedia Commons

In 1914, Leonarda Cianciulli married Raffaele Pansardi, a registry office clerk. Her parents were against their marriage and didn’t approve of the marriage, as they have already planned her to marry another man.

Leonarda believed that her mother had cursed her and nothing good can happen in her life now. By going against her parent’s wish, she was no longer welcome to stay in the family home leaving no choice but to move to her husband’s town in Lauria.

The couple’s honeymoon didn’t last long as the law sought justice when Leonarda was charged for fraud and sent to prison in 1927. The couple moved once again as soon as Leonarda was released.

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The feeling of being at peace, at last was short-lived, in 1930 when an earthquake hit the house they newly moved in, with a magnitude of 6.6, over 1,400 people died. Helpless, the couple took what they could gather and moved to their final destination.

Leonarda Cianciulli had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but lost three of the children due to miscarriage; ten more died in their youth. This would explain her being protective of the four surviving children.

With four remaining children to raise Leonarda was incredibly protective of them, doing anything to keep them from harm’s way. Out of the four remaining children Leonarda was more oriented towards her son Giuseppe, whom she considered her favorite child.

Leonarda has always been a superstitious woman and also believed in spells and magic, she visited a fortune teller before her marriage, where she had received a warning, who said that she would marry and have children but all of the children would die before her.

The fear of losing all of her children took a drastic change when Italian men were drafted to prepare for World War II in 1939. Leonarda’s son would happen to be one out of the many young men who were chosen to leave his town and fight.

Sacrificing Human Souls

The fear went into Leonarda’s mind and the only way out of it according to her was to sacrifice another human soul, as it would take his son’s place in the afterlife.

With the desire to uncover more in her life, Leonarda sought the help of another fortune teller.

Old photos of Leonarda's kitchen
Old photos of the cozy Cianciulli kitchen. Fears and Beers

The fortune-teller who practiced palm reading told her that “In your right hand I see the prison, in your left a criminal asylum.” Regardless of her fortune teller, she put her son before foretold future teller and carried out a deviated plan in hopes to keep him alive.

Leonarda Cianciulli also worked as a fortune teller herself and found her sacrifices in middle-aged women who were hopeless and vulnerable.

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The first victim of Leonarda, Faustina Setti

The first of Leonarda’s victims, Faustina Setti was an unmarried woman who had come to her in hopes of finding her husband. Leonarda told her of a suitable match in Pola but convinced her not to tell anybody about the news.

Leonarda convinced Setti to write letters and postcards to the family and friends, only to be mailed when she reached Pola.

On the day of departure, Faustina Setti came to visit Leonarda, where Leonarda offered her a drugged wine and then killed her with an ax, and dragged the body into a closet. Leonarda cut the body into nine parts, gathering the blood into a basin. In order to make disposal much faster and easier.

“The horrible, horrible” way of Leonarda

“I threw the pieces into a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, which I had bought to make soap, and stirred the whole 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.”— In her memoir, Leonarda Cianciulli described what happened to Faustina Setti in her official statement.

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Second victim, Francesca Soavi

Leonarda trapped her second victim, Soavi by convincing her that she has found her a job at a school for girls in Piacenza.

Like Setti, Soavi was convinced to be sent a letter to friends. Similar to the first killing Leonarda killed the girl after giving her a drugged wine and killing with an ax. Soavi’s body was given the same treatment as Setti’s.

Third victim, Virginia Cacioppo

In her memoir, Leonarda included that she particularly enjoyed consuming her third victim. Going on to describe that “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 neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”

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Investigation and Trial of Leonarda Cianciulli

With the disappearance of three women, questions began to arise in the town. Virginia’s sister in law was particularly worried and needed some answers to where she was. When the sister in law asked around, she was told that Virginia was last spotted entering the house of Leonarda Cianciulli.

Leonarda Cianciulli's victims and her murder weapon, the axe.
Leonarda Cianciulli’s victims and her preferred murder weapons in the Italian Criminology Museum Wikimedia Commons

Authorities were involved, an investigation took place and in no time police arrested Leonardo Cianciulli. Once in custody, Leonarda was quick to confess from murders once discovering that police had also arrested his son, Giuseppe as a possible accomplice.

Because of the unusual circumstances of the case, many flocked to watch the trial unravel in court. Leonarda was trialed for murder in Reggio Emilia in 1946 and remained unrepentant going so far 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….”

She was found guilty of her crimes and was sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. Cianciulli died of cerebral apoplexy in the women’s criminal asylum in Pozzuoli on October 15, 1970. 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.

Now that you’ve read about Lady soap maker, read about the women who killed five of her husbands in search of true love, Nannie Doss.

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