Leonarda Cianciulli (The Soap-Maker of Correggio, La saponificatrice di Correggio) (14th November 1893, notableIn::Montella - 15th October 1970, notableIn::Pozzuoli; 76 years old) was a profession::serial killer who murdered 3 women in notableIn::Correggio between 1939 and 1940 and turned their bodies into soap.
Much of the information available about Cianciulli comes from her autobiography, Le confessioni di un'anima amareggiata (Confessions of a Bitter Soul) however the veracity of some of her claims has been questioned, especially since Cianciulli herself was only semi-literate and there are claims that the 700+ page book was ghost written by her lawyers in order to garner sympathy for her.
Cianciulli did not have a happy childhood. Her mother resented her birth as she had been conceived by rape; when her husband died she remarried and had other children by him and the resentment towards her daughter grew; she once told her daughter she was sorry to see her alive.
Cianciulli tried to commit suicide whilst still a young girl. She tried to hang herself twice and ate shards of glass.
In 1914 aged 21 she married Raffaele Pansardi, a government clerk, against the wishes of her family who had wanted her to marry another prospect. On the eve of the wedding her mother cursed her and broke off any further contact. Following the wedding, Cianciulli moved away with her husband to Lariano where they remained until their house was destroyed by an earthquake in 1930. During this period Cianciulli (who went under the name Lauria or Nardina) had minor brushes with the law and spent some short periods in prison. On one occasion her mother denounced her to the police.
Following the earthquake, the couple moved to Correggio where they opened a small shop using the compensation they received for losing their house. Lea - as Cianciulli called herself - began a small side business telling fortunes and acting as a matchmaker. Her husband began drinking and became violent towards his family.
During her marriage Cianciulli became pregnant 17 times. Three of the children were miscarried and 10 died whilst infants. The surviving 4 children were heavily protected by the mother, especially her eldest son, Giuseppe.
As he was old enough to be called up for military service, Cianciulli decided that she needed to protect him in some way. She read and studied black magic and in the end she elected to perform 3 human sacrifices to keep him safe.
Cianciulli used her position in the village as a well liked and respected matchmaker and fortune teller to lure the victims to their deaths.
The first victim was Faustina Setti, a local spinster who came to Cianciulli with help for looking for a husband. Cianciulli convinced her that she had found her a husband in Croatia. She told Setti to keep this secret from her friends and family, but instead she should write letters and postcards purporting to come from Pula and talking about how wonderful her life was there.
She then invited Setti round for the last time. She offered her a drugged drink, killed her with an ax and then chopped the body into 9 parts. She boiled them up with caustic soda until a viscous pulp remained which she emptied into the septic tank. She mixed the remaining blood in the basin with other ingredients and made cakes which she offered to her visitors although she and her husband also ate them.
The second victim was a local teacher, Francesca Soavi. Cianciulli told her she had found her a job in Piacenza at the women's college there. As with Setti she persuaded Soavi to not tell a soul and also to write letters saying how good life was in Piacenza and apologising for not seeing her family and friends in person.
She killed Soavi in a similar way to Setti and also stole the money Soavi had collected to help set herself up in Piacenza; she also sold her possessions and kept the money. Cianciulli's son Giuseppe went to Piacenza to send the letters, however Soavi had told a friend about her impending transfer.
The final victim was Virginia Cacioppo who had been a well known soprano. Cianciulli told her she had connections to get Cacioppo a job working for a famous Florentine impressario with the possibility of singing again. Again Cianciulli told her not to tell a soul and to write some letters purporting to come from Florence saying how good life was there.
However Cacioppo wrote also to her sister in Naples about the job with details of how she had found it.
Cacioppo was killed in the same way as the first two victims. Cianciulli wrote that she was very white and made good soft soap which she gave out to her neighbours and friends. She also said the cakes tasted very sweet this time around.
Albertina Fanti, Cacioppo's sister-in-law, grew suspicious of the sudden disappearance and came from Naples to Correggio. She started to look into the details and began to raise questions with the disappearance of the other women. Convinced that something was amiss, she approached the police in Reggio Emilia with her suspicions and they began to look into the case.
The police soon found complaints of fraud and embezzlement had been raised before against Cianciulli and her husband. They visited the house and discovered jewellery belonging to Cacioppo.
Cianciulli was arrested and soon after she made a full confession. At her trial in 1946 the prosecution tried to show the murders were made purely for financial gain whilst Cianciulli herself claimed it was all about protecting her son; she claimed she had had a dream of her dead mother who promised to take the lives of her children if she did not shed innocent blood.
The prosecution also raised the possibility that her son Giuseppe had helped (Cianciulli was a small woman whom they said would not have the physical strength to kill and dispose of the bodies in the way they had been). The son was charged as an accomplice; Cianciulli vociferously denied his participation and - according to legend - she was taken to a morgue and demonstrated how with knives and saws she could dismember a body in 12 minutes thus proving she did not need his help. He was subsequently released without charge.
With expert testimony, the jury were convinced that Cianciulli was at least partially mentally unstable. Eventualy Cianciulli was found guilty of the 3 murders, robbery and defiling the corpses of her victims. She was sentenced to 30 years in jail and 3 years in a criminal asylum.
She died in Pozzuoli Criminal Asylum in 1970.
A number of works have been based on the story, notably Gran bollito a film starring Shelley Winters as Cianciulli and three men playing the part of the victims.
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