Leonarda Cianciulli (18 April 1894 – 15 October 1970) was an Italian serial killer. Better known as The Soap-Maker of Correggio (Italian: la Saponificatrice di Correggio), she murdered three women in the town of Correggio, Reggio Emilia, in 1939 and 1940, and turned their bodies into soap (using caustic soda) and teacakes.
Leonarda Cianciulli was born in Montella, Avellino. While still a young girl, she attempted suicide twice. In 1917, Cianciulli married a registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi. Her mother did not approve of the marriage, as she had planned to marry her to another man. Cianciulli claimed that on this occasion her mother cursed them. In 1921, the couple moved to Pansardi's native town of Lauria, Potenza, where Cianciulli was sentenced and imprisoned for fraud in 1927. When released, the couple moved to Lacedonia, Avellino. After their home was destroyed in the 1930 Irpinia earthquake, they moved once more to Correggio, Reggio Emilia, where Cianciulli opened a small shop. She was very popular and well-respected within her neighborhood.
Cianciulli had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but lost three of the children to miscarriage. Ten more died in their youth. Consequently, she 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."
In 1939, Cianciulli learned that her eldest son and favourite child, Giuseppe, was going to join the Italian Army in preparation for World War II. She was determined to protect him at all costs, and came to the conclusion that his safety required human sacrifices. Cianciulli found her victims in three middle-aged women, all neighbours.
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. There she cut it into nine parts, gathering the blood 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.
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 with 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.
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...."
She was found guilty of her crimes and 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 15 October 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.
- Gran bollito by Mauro Bolognini
- La Saponificatrice – Vita di Leonarda Cianciulli by Alessandro Quadretti
- Da Lucia by Roberto Capucci Blue Suede Shoots
- Leonarda by Luca Brinciotti with Rosaria Cianciulli, 2015 short film
- Amore e Magia nella Cucina di Mamma by Lina Wertmüller
- Leonarda Cianciulli: Storia di una serial Killer by Andrea Pilato
- "Sodium: Getting rid of dirt - and murder victims". BBC News. 3 May 2014.
- "The Correggio soap-maker". Archived from the original on 2006-09-12. Exhibit at Rome's Criminological Museum.
- "Foreign News: A Copper Ladle". Time. 24 June 1946. Archived from the original on November 14, 2006.
- "Leonarda Cianciulli: Creaba jabones con humanos". Horrores Revelados (in European Spanish). 2017-03-20. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
- "Assessment". Profile of a psychopath.
- Susan Heller Anderson; Maurice Carroll (20 September 1983). "Wertmuller on Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 July 2014.