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Leonarda Cianciulli (18 April 1893 – 15 October 1970) was an Italian serial killer. Better known as The Soap-Maker of Correggio.
Leonarda Cianciulli was basically born to a narrow-minded couple. She used to live in silence and attempted suicide at a young age. In 1917, she tied the knot with Raffaele Pansardi, and her parents did not accept the groom. They wanted her to marry someone else. When Leonarda Cianciulli refused to listen to them, they began cursing and torturing her.
In 1921, Leonarda Cianciulli moved to Potenza with her husband, where she was sentenced because of fraud. After her release, the husband brought Leonarda Cianciulli to Avellino. In 1930, an earthquake destroyed their house and they then moved to Reggio Emilia.
It is said that Leonarda Cianciulli got pregnant seventeen times, but three of her children were lost due to miscarriage. Ten kids died in their youth. Gradually, Leonarda Cianciulli became a highly protective woman. She thought that she was losing her kids because of the curse of her parents. Her fear was fueled by a warning she received from a fortune teller. The person urged Leonarda Cianciulli to kill females in order to save the life of her son. This is when she became a serial killer.
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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.
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The first of Cianciulli’s victims, Faustina Setti, was a lifelong spinster who had come to her for help in finding a husband.
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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.”
Some sources also record that Cianciulli apparently received Setti’s life savings, 30,000 lire, as payment for her services
Francesca Soavi was the second victim; Cianciulli claimed to have found her a job at a school for girls in Piacenza.
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Like Setti, Soavi was convinced 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 September 5, 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 final victim was Virginia Cacioppo, a former soprano said to have sung at La Scala.
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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 told not to tell a single person where she was going. Virginia agreed, and on September 30, 1940, came for a last visit with Cianciulli. The pattern to the murder was exactly the same as the first two; 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.”
From Cacioppo, Cianciulli reportedly received 50,000 lire and assorted jewels.
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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 immediately confessed to the murders, providing detailed accounts of what she had done.
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 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
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