Interesting Facts: Leonarda Cianciulli

So while I sit here unable to travel (much) I have been reading more. I am not your typical person when it comes to reading. I love my books that come from Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, non-fiction murder mysteries, and weird stories about strange things people do around the world. As I am sure you have noticed in some of my earlier blog posts, I love learning a little bit of history about places I have been or interesting names I have come across. Today in my reading I came across the name Leonarda Cianciulli, did some research, and figured I would share. A little different than the travel and food than I usually do, but sometimes different is good.

Leonarda Cianciulli, also known as the ‘Soap-Maker of Correggio’, was born on April 18, 1894, in Montella Italy. As a young girl, she did not have a happy life and attempted suicide twice. To see if her future was any brighter she visited a fortune teller who told her she would marry and have many children but they would all die young. At twenty-three she married a man her parents strongly disapproved of, going against their plan to marry her to another man. After her marriage, she claimed her mother cursed them. A few years after she was married she was imprisoned for fraud. Three years after that her home was destroyed by an earthquake. It is believed that at some point throughout all of this she went to a palm reader who told her “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.” She believed her claim of a curse was validated when she went through seventeen pregnancies, three miscarriages, and the loss of ten children at very young ages. Due to this, she became extremely protective of her four living children. With a fortune teller’s words coming true, her belief in a curse from her mother, and a prediction from a palm reader, Leonarda became extremely superstitious. When her son, and favorite child, Giuseppe, came to her telling her he was joining the Italian Army, she knew she had to protect him at all cost and did the only thing she could think of to keep him safe. Human Sacrifice.

Her first victim, Faustina Setti, was a local spinster who believed she was being set up with a husband. She believed she was to be visiting a man in Pola, Croatia and was told not to tell anyone of her plans, only to write letters to friends and family that would be mailed when she arrived. Upon arrival at the Cianciulli home, Miss Setti was given a glass of drugged wine, murdered with an axe and drug into a closet. There, she cut Setti into nine pieces, collecting the blood in a basin, and, according to her official statement upon arrest: “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 have it on record that she received 30,000 lire as payment for setting Setti up with a husband.

Leonarda’s second victim, Francesca Soavi, believed she was being set up with a position at a school for girls in Piacenza. She was also asked not to tell anyone of her plans and to write letters to family and friends that would be mailed out upon arrival, letting them know of her plans and that she was fine. Prior to departure she came to visit, was drugged, murdered, and her body was treated the same as Miss Setti’s. Records show Leonarda received 3,000 lire for her services.

Leonarda’s third, and final, victim, Virginia Cacioppo, believed she was getting a job with a mysterious impresario (a person who organizes and finances plays, concerts or operas). As with the other two victims, Ms. Cacioppo was told not to communicate her plans to anyone, only to write letters to family and friends that would be mailed out upon arrival. Virginia agreed, and much like the other victims, she was drugged with a glass of wine, murdered with an axe, and cut up into nine pieces. However, according to Leonarda’s statement, things went a little differently here: “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 neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet”. Records show she received 50,000 lire and assorted jewels from Virginia Cacioppo. Unfortunately for Leonarda, unlike the first two victims, Miss Cacioppo had family. Nosy family. Her sister-in-law saw her enter the Cianciulli house the night of her disappearance and became suspicious at the suddenness of it all. A report was made to the superintendent of police in Reggio Emilia. They quickly opened an investigation and arrested Leonarda, who maintained her innocence until they claimed her son, Giuseppe, was involved in the murders. Leonarda Cianciulli immediately confessed to the murders and gave detailed accounts of each one. Being found guilty of her crimes, Leonarda was sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum, proving the palm reader’s prediction to be true.  Even while being tried for three homicides, Leonarda Cianciulli remained unrepentant as she spoke with pride of what she did with the ladle used during the cooking of her victims…”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….”


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