Known as “la Saponificatrice di Correggio” (“the soap maker of Correggio”), Leonarda Cianciulli was Italy’s first female serial killer. Between 1939 and 1940, Cianciulli murdered three women in her hometown and then cooked their bodies — and she would’ve likely continued killing if she hadn’t been caught.
Cianciulli was born in 1893 in the small town of Montella in southern Italy. While little is known about her family and childhood, some sources say Cianciulli’s mother had been raped by her father and the two were then forced to marry when it turned out she was pregnant (per TWM News). The result was an unhappy marriage and a very unhappy childhood for Cianciulli, who attempted suicide twice.
When she was 21, Cianciulli married an office clerk her parents didn’t approve of. This was in part because, according to Murderpedia, they had somebody else in mind for her. Her mother was especially angry about the choice, so she cursed Cianciulli. Curses and superstition would become a big thing in her life and would eventually lead her to commit murder.
Cianciulli and her husband Raffaele moved a couple of times — once after their home was destroyed by an earthquake — finally settling down in Correggio. There, she became known among her neighbors as a kind family woman who ran a small shop.
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She killed people because of a prophecy
Leonarda Cianciulli was a superstitious woman and would often visit a fortune-teller. During one of these visits, a fortune-teller said all her children would die, something that troubled her throughout her entire life — especially as the prophecy seemed to mostly come true.
Cianciulli was pregnant 17 times during her marriage and suffered three miscarriages. Of the 14 children who were born alive, 10 died at a very young age for different causes. With only four surviving children, Leonarda became obsessed with their safety (via Weird Italy).
Then in 1939, Cianciulli’s eldest son, Giuseppe, announced he would join the Italian Army to fight in WWII. Cianciulli was filled with fear and desperation, and remembering the prophecy of all her children dying, decided to offer a sacrifice to protect him (per Murderpedia).
Rumor is Cianciulli was a bit of a fortune-teller herself, and women in town would sometimes come to her for help and advice. And this is how she ended up finding her three sacrifice victims.
Leonarda Cianciulli's victims were three lonely, friendly neighbors
Leonarda Cianciulli’s first victim was Faustina Setti, an older woman who desperately wanted a husband. According to The Serial Series, Cianciulli told the woman there was a man she was destined to be with living in a nearby town. Then she convinced Faustina to send letters to her friends and relatives to let them know she had gone away to be with him.
Depending on which version you believe, Faustina then returned to see Cianciulli one last time either to say goodbye or to pay her for her advice. Either way, Cianciulli put some drugs in a glass of wine, and when Faustina was unconscious, she killed her with an ax. She then proceeded to cut up the body into pieces, put them into a big pot, and cook them (per Murderpedia).
Victim No. 2 was Francesca Soavi, with a very similar story. Cianciulli told her she could help her go away (this time to a school job in another town) and that she should write postcards to say her goodbyes. When Francesca returned a second time to pay her 3,000 lire for her help, Cianciulli drugged and killed her with an ax, then cooked her body in a large pot in the kitchen.
Cianciulli’s final victim was a former opera singer who wanted to start a new life in the big city. Virginia Cacioppo reportedly paid Cianciulli 50,000 lire to find her a job as a secretary in Florence, but her life ended just like the previous two victims (via Weird Italy).
Killing them wasn't even the worst thing she did to her victims
Although killing three women with an ax would have been enough to make Leonarda Cianciulli a monster, it’s what she did after that made it all truly horrific. In her memoir, “An Embittered Soul’s Confessions,” Cianciulli goes into detail explaining how she threw the pieces of each body into a pot, added many kilos of caustic soda, and mixed and boiled until the flesh dissolved into “a thick, dark mush” that was then put into several buckets and dumped in a septic tank, per BBC News.
She then went on to describe even more disturbing details. Turns out that, in the case of the first two victims, Cianciulli used their blood to make tea cakes. “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,” she reveals in her memoir. She then gave some of the cakes to her husband and to elderly neighbors who came to visit, saving a few for herself (via Weird Italy).
When it came to her third victim, Cianciulli not only made cakes (which she explains were better because this victim “was really sweet”), but she also melted her flesh, added a bottle of cologne, and made bars of soap – then gifted some of the bars to neighbors and acquaintances, noted Murderpedia.
She also never seemed to feel remorse for her crimes
Leonarda Cianciulli was caught because, according to Murderpedia, her third victim turned out not to be such a lonely person after all. In fact, the victim’s sister-in-law was upset about her sudden “move to Florence” and reported her disappearance to the local chief of police. When witnesses came forward saying they had seen her visiting Cianciulli’s home before she disappeared, the police decided to ask some questions, and Cianciulli quickly confessed to all three murders.
Cianciulli never expressed any remorse for committing the murders and kept a cold, clear demeanor when describing the killings during her trial in 1946. At one point during her trial, in a statement that sounded like she was trying to redeem herself, she pointed out that, “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,” as quoted by Best of True Crime.
One of the prophecies really came true
In one of her many visits to a fortune-teller, Cianciulli had been told once that her future would be less than stellar. “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum,” the fortune-teller reportedly told her, per Murderpedia. As it happens, Cianciulli was sentenced to 30 years in jail followed by three years in an asylum.
Her son Giuseppe survived the war and both he and his father Raffaele were eventually tried for helping Cianciulli with the murders, according to Best of True Crime. While Giuseppe confessed to mailing some postcards and letters pretending to be the victims and even tossed some body parts into the river, he claimed no knowledge of any murders. Both men were acquitted.
Cianciulli died of cerebral apoplexy at the age of 76 after being moved to a woman’s criminal asylum. Today, the Museo Criminologico in Rome holds a number of items related to her case, including the ax and pot used in the murders, via Murderpedia.
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