Leonarda Cianciulli

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Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli mugshot.jpg
Leonarda Cianciulli mugshot
Born18 April 1894
Died15 October 1970(1970-10-15) (aged 76)
Other namesSoap-Maker of Corregio (Italian: la Saponificatrice di Correggio)
Known forSerial killer, cannibal

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),[1] she murdered three women in Correggio between 1939 and 1940, and turned their bodies into soap and cookies.

Early life[edit]

Cianciulli was born in Montella. While still a young girl, she attempted suicide twice. In 1917 she married a registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi. Her parents did not approve of the marriage, as they had planned to marry her to another man. She claimed that on this occasion her mother cursed them. The couple moved to Pansardi's native town, Lauria, in 1921 where Cianciulli was sentenced for fraud and imprisoned in 1927. When released, the couple moved to Lacedonia. Their home was destroyed by an earthquake in 1930, and they moved once more, this time to Correggio, where Cianciulli opened a small shop. She was very popular and well-respected within her neighborhood.[1]

Cianciulli had 17 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 another Romani who practiced palm reading, and who told her, "In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum."[2]


In 1939, Cianciulli learned that her eldest son, Giuseppe, was going to join the Italian Army in preparation for World War II. Giuseppe was her favourite child, and she was determined to protect him at all costs. She came to the conclusion that his safety required human sacrifices. She found her victims in three middle-aged women, all neighbours. Sources[who?] record that Cianciulli was something of a fortune teller herself, and that these women all visited her for help.

Faustina Setti[edit]

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.

On the day of her departure,[when?] Setti came to visit Cianciulli one last time. Cianciulli offered her a glass of drugged wine, then 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.[2]

Some sources also record that Cianciulli apparently received Setti's life savings, 30,000 lire, as payment for her services.[3]

Francesca Soavi[edit]

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[3] from her second victim.

Virginia Cacioppo[edit]

Cianciulli's third and last victim was 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. Virginia 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.[2]

From Cacioppo, Cianciulli reportedly received 50,000 lire and assorted jewels.[3]

Discovery and trial[edit]

Cacioppo's sister-in-law grew suspicious at 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...."[3]

She was found guilty of her crimes and sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum.[4]

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.[2]

A darkly comic play about Cianciulli, Love and Magic in Mama's Kitchen, was first produced by Lina Wertmuller at the Spoleto Festival in 1979. The play began a run on Broadway in 1983.[5]

Media depictions[edit]




  1. ^ a b "Sodium: Getting rid of dirt - and murder victims". BBC News. 3 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Correggio soap-maker". Archived from the original on 2006-09-12. Exhibit at Rome's Criminological Museum.
  3. ^ a b c d "Foreign News: A Copper Ladle". Time. 24 June 1946.
  4. ^ http://leonardacianciulli.weebly.com/assessment.html
  5. ^ Susan Heller Anderson; Maurice Carroll (20 September 1983). "Wertmuller on Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 July 2014.