Leonarda Cianciulli (November 14, 1893,
Montella, Province of Avellino – October 15, 1970) was an Italian
serial killer. Better known as the "Soap-Maker of Correggio", she
murdered three women in Correggio between 1939 and 1940, and turned
their bodies into soap.
Cianciulli was born in Montella. While still a
young girl, Leonarda attempted suicide twice. In 1914 she married a
registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi: her parents didn't approve
that marriage, as they planned her to marry another man. Leonarda
claimed that on this occasion her mother cursed them. The couple moved
to Lariano in Alta Irpinia. Their home was destroyed by an earthquake
in 1930, and they moved once more, this time to Correggio, where
Leonarda opened a small shop and became very popular as a nice, gentle
woman, a doting mother and a nice neighbour.
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.
Reportedly, Cianciulli also visited another Gypsy who practiced palm
reading, and who told her, “In your right hand I see prison, in your
left a criminal asylum.” Cianciulli was a superstitious woman, and
seems to have taken these warnings very much to heart.
In 1939, Cianciulli heard that her eldest son,
Giuseppe, was to join the Italian army in preparation for World War
II. Giuseppe was her favorite 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. Some sources record that Cianciulli was something of a
fortune teller herself, and that these women all visited her for help;
others state merely that they were friends of hers seeking advice.
Whatever the reason, Cianciulli began to plan the deaths of the three
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 mate in Pola, but convinced
her to tell nobody of the news. She further convinced Setti to write
letters and postcards to relatives and friends; these, to be mailed
when she reached Pola, were merely to tell them that everything was
On the day of her departure, 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. In
her memoir (titled An Embittered Soul's Confessions),
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
whole 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
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 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. 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
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
From Cacioppo, Cianciulli reportedly received
50,000 lire and assorted jewels.
Discovery and trial
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.
The Correggio soap-maker
VICTIMS: Faustina Setti, Francesca Soavi, Virginia Cacioppo
PLACE AND DATES: Correggio (RE), 1939 - 1940
MATERIAL EVIDENCE: hammer, hacksaw, kitchen knife, axes, hatchet,
PROVENANCE: Reggio Emilia, Public Prosecutor’s Office, 1949
Montella di Avellino in 1893 and marked by an unhappy childhood, in
1914 Leonarda Cianciulli married Raffaele Pansardi, a clerk in the
registry office, and went to live in Lariano in Alta Irpinia. In 1930
an earthquake destroyed their home, and the couple moved to Correggio,
in the province of Reggio Emilia. Leonarda had seventeen pregnancies:
three were miscarriages, while ten of the children died at a tender
age. The four surviving children were to be protected at any price,
for Leonarda had not forgotten the words of a gypsy fortune-teller who
many years earlier had predicted a terrible fate for her: “You will
marry and have children, but all your children will die.” Later she
had had her palm read by another gypsy, who told her: “In your right
hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.” In 1939, when she
heard that her eldest and favourite son Giuseppe was to join the army,
as Italy’s entry into the war became increasingly imminent, Leonarda
decided what she had to do: she had to make human sacrifices to save
her son’s life. She had three friends, lonely middle-aged women who
would give anything to escape from the routine and solitude of
Correggio. All three asked Leonarda for help, and she decided that the
time had come to act.
to fall into her trap was Faustina Setti, the oldest, drawn by
Leonarda’s promise that she had found her a husband in Pola. Leonarda
convinced the woman not to tell anyone about the news. On the day of
her departure, Faustina went to say goodbye to her friend, who
convinced her to write some letters and postcards to her friends and
relatives, which she was to send as soon as she reached Pola, telling
them that everything was fine. But Faustina Setti never reached Pola:
she was killed with an axe by Leonarda Cianciulli, who dragged the
body into a closet and cut it into nine parts, gathering the blood in
a basin. Then, as she wrote in her statement, “I threw the pieces into
a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, which I had bought to make
soap, and stirred the whole 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.”
victim was Francesca Soavi. Leonarda had promised her a job at the
girls’ school in Piacenza. On the morning of 5 September 1940, she
went to say goodbye to her friend before setting off.
was the same: Leonarda convinced the woman to write two postcards,
telling her she should send them from Correggio to inform her
acquaintances that she was leaving, but without saying where she was
going. Leonarda then attacked the woman and made the second
“sacrifice”. The third and final victim was Virginia Cacioppo, a
former opera singer, then 53, reduced to living with her memories of
the past, in poverty. Leonarda offered her a job in Florence as the
secretary to a mysterious theatre impresario, begging her not to tell
a soul. Virginia was enthusiastic about the proposal, and kept the
secret. On 30 September 1940 she went to Leonarda’s house, where: “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.”
sister-in-law, whose suspicions were aroused by her sudden
disappearance, and who had last seen her going into Leonarda
Cianciulli’s house reported the facts to the Police Superintendent in
Reggio Emilia who, by following the many clues left by the murderess,
unmasked “the soap-maker”. Under questioning Leonarda Cianciulli
immediately confessed to the three murders.
found her guilty of the atrocious crimes, and sentenced her to thirty
years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. She died in the
women’s criminal asylum in Pozzuoli on 15 October 1970, struck down by
Also known as the "Soap Maker of Correggio"
Italy -- 1893 - October 15th 1970
Leonarda married Raffaele Pansardi in 1914. She had
17 pregnancies; 3 miscarried, 10 of the children died at young ages
and the remaining 4 she was compelled to protect, since she had had
her fortune told by a gypsy who warned her that all her children would
In 1939 her oldest son, Giuseppe, joined the army.
In order to keep him alive, Leonarda started doing what she thought
best: making human sacrifices.
The woman had three female friends, all lonely and
who had asked her at some point or another to help them. They wished
to escape from the grinding life that Correggio offered.
The oldest woman was Faustina Setti. She was
promised a husband in Pola and told to keep it a secret. Leonarda had
her write postcards and letters before she left telling friends and
family that all was well. She was instructed to mail them on arrival
in Pola. And then, before even getting a chance to leave, Leonarda
killed her with an axe, cut her body into nine pieces, and gathered
her blood into a basin.
Her body was dissolved in caustic soda and dumped
into a septic tank. Her blood was used to make tea cakes, which
Leonarda served visitors, as well as fed to Giuseppe.
Francesca Soavi was promised a job at an all girls
school in Piacenza in the same way that Faustini had been. She was to
keep it under wraps, write the postcards, mail them when she arrived.
On September 5th 1939 she went to bid her friend and rescuer farewell.
Leonarda killed her and sacrificed her.
Virginia Cacioppo had been an opera singer in her
past. At 53, she was reduced to living an impoverished life in
Correggio. Leonarda promised her a job in Florence and the woman
accepted, under the terms that she could not tell a soul. On 30th
September 1939, she too, ended up a sacrifice.
Leonarda turned her body into bar soap, which she
gifted to neighbors and acquaintances. She also said, after her
capture, that her friend had been much sweeter in the cakes than the
Virginia had a sister-in-law, who became suspicious
of her disappearance. She had last been seen going into Leonarda's
house. The sister-in-law went to the police with this information.
The murderess, when questioned, immediately
admitted to the murders. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 3
years in a criminal asylum. She died in Puzzuoli, in the women's
asylum, in 1970, struck down by cerebal apoplexy.