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Giulia Tofana (also spelled Toffana, Tophana) (died in Rome, July 1659) was an Italian professional poisoner. She was famous for selling poison to women who wanted to murder their abusive husbands. She was the inventor of the famous poison Aqua Tofana, which is named after her.
The information about her background is sparse. She was possibly the daughter of Thofania d'Adamo, who was executed in Palermo on 12 July 1633, accused of having murdered her husband Francis. Tofana was described as beautiful, and she spent a lot of time with apothecaries, was present when they made their potions, and eventually developed her own poison, Aqua Tofana. It is, however, also possible that it was her mother, Thofania d'Adamo, who made the poison and passed the recipe on to her daughter. She began to sell this poison to women who wanted to become widows. Her daughter, Girolama Spera, was also active in this. She eventually moved her business to Naples and Rome.
Giulia was sympathetic to the low status of women and most often sold her poison to women trapped in difficult marriages. She became known as a friend to the troubled wife and received many referrals.
Tofana's business was finally revealed to the Papal authorities by a customer; however she was so popular that the locals protected her from apprehension. She escaped to a church, where she was granted sanctuary. When a rapid rumour, claiming that she had poisoned the water, tore through Rome, the police forced their way into the church and dragged Tofana in for questioning.
Under torture, she confessed to killing 600 men with her poisons in Rome alone between 1633 and 1651, but this cannot be confirmed owing to the torture and the widespread distribution of the poison. She was ultimately executed in Rome (in the Campo de' Fiori), together with her daughter (Girolama Spera, known as "Astrologa della Lungara") and three helpers, in July 1659. After her death, her body was thrown over the wall of the church that had provided her with sanctuary. Some of the users and purveyors were also arrested and executed, while other accomplices were bricked into the dungeons of the Palazzo Pucci.
There are incorrect references to her purported execution in Naples in 1719.
The legend that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might have been poisoned using Aqua Tofana is completely unsubstantiated.
Tofana is in many sources confused with Hieronyma Spara, "La Spara", a woman with a similar profession in Italy about the same time. Probably this is another name of the 'Astrologa della Lungara'.
- Mike Dash, "Aqua Tofana: Slow-Poisoning and Husband-Killing in 17th Century Italy." A Blast From the Past, 6 April 2015.
- Stuart, David C. Dangerous Garden. Frances Lincoln ltd, 2004.
- The most reliable source for the story of Toffana is Vita di Alessandro VII by Cardinal Pallavicini