Leonarda Cianciulli was a loving Italian mother who sought to protect her kid during World War II. But then, she went berserk and became known as “The Soap-Maker of Correggio,” who murdered three women and used their remains to make soap and teacakes.
At the turn of the 20th century, her tale begins. She had 17 pregnancies while she was married. Three of those 17 pregnancies were lost due to miscarriages, and ten kids died before adulthood.
But those who made it couldn’t have wished for a more protective mother.
Giuseppe Pansardi, Cianciulli’s eldest son and beloved kid, declared in 1939 that he would enlist in the Italian Army. He wanted to contribute to the war effort, like many other Italians.
As a result of this declaration and her faith in superstitions, Leonarda Cianciulli became one of the most notorious female serial killers of the 20th century.
The Early life of Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli had a tragic life from the day she was born on April 18, 1894, in the sleepy village of Montella in southern Italy.
Before she was 18, she made two suicide attempts. Cianciulli asserted that her mother cursed her when she wed registry clerk Raffaele Pansardi in 1917 because she didn’t like the union.
Cianciulli was incarcerated for fraud in 1927. After her release, she and her family relocated from Potenza to Lacedonia, far from her childhood home. In 1930, the Irpinia Earthquake occurred.
Later, it would rank among the most devastating quakes in Italian history. Cianciulli was one of the thousands of people who lost their homes in the catastrophe.
Leonarda Cianciulli recognized that her life, between her suicide attempts, the rumored curse of her mother, and her numerous miscarriages, was, to put it mildly, awful.
She sought advice from a fortune-teller as a result. The traveling Romani fortune-teller did not soothe her anxieties.
The fortune teller informed her, “I see the prison in your right hand. An asylum for criminals is on your left.”
Leonarda Cianciulli falls Into Deep Depression
It is now widely acknowledged that a woman may have anxiety and despair following just one loss, much alone three. Not to mention how her sorrow would have been exacerbated by the loss of the ten children she carried to term.
Leonarda Cianciulli would probably receive a clinical depression diagnosis, be referred to therapy, and start taking medication if she were living today.
But Leonarda Cianciulli turned to superstition and paranoia in the 1930s while residing in a small region tucked away in the Matese and Picentini mountains in southern Italy.
It turns out that some evidence exists to support the idea that Cianciulli’s superstitious beliefs were a symptom of more pervasive anxiety and sadness. Many clinical psychologists today believe that superstitions develop due to a damaged mind’s attempts to make sense of the absurd.
Of course, it is hard to say whether the following events might have been avoided with current medical technology.
Leonarda Cianciulli developed severe superstitions from ruminating on her mother’s purported curse and the Romani fortune-prophecy. Cianciulli turned to the one thing she thought would keep her son Giuseppe safe when he informed her in late 1939 that he planned to join the Italian Army: human sacrifice.
Cianciulli’s inspiration to sacrifice people to prevent her son from perishing in World War II is unknown. Roman Catholicism forbade human sacrifice, which Cianciulli encountered at the time since God viewed it as an abomination.
Furthermore, no Romani superstition or belief accepts human sacrifice.
However, Leonarda Cianciulli would kill three women before she was apprehended, regardless of where she obtained her inspiration.
Leonarda Cianciulli Becomes the Soap Maker of Correggio
Faustina Setti, a local spinster, was Leonarda Cianciulli’s first victim. Setti was invited to Cianciulli’s house in 1939 under the pretense of finding her a husband. Cianciulli instructed her to write letters to her family informing them that she would visit the man abroad.
But then Cianciulli drugged her with tainted wine and used an axe to hack Setti to death.
Cianciulli then divided Setti into nine pieces and collected her blood in a container. Following her arrest, she detailed what she did next in an official statement:
“I put the pieces in a pot, added seven kilograms of caustic soda that I had purchased to manufacture soap, and stirred the entire concoction until the fragments dissolved in a thick, dark mush that I poured into many buckets and dumped in a nearby septic tank.
“Regarding the blood in the basin, I allowed it to congeal before drying it in the oven, grinding it, and combining it with flour, sugar, chocolate, milk, eggs, and a little margarine while kneading the mixture. Although Giuseppe and I ate them, I baked many crunchy tea cakes and presented them to the ladies visiting.”
In addition, Cianciulli allegedly stole Setti’s life savings of 30,000 Italian lire, equal to $17.94, approximately $332, after accounting for inflation through 2020. Setti had paid Cianciulli for her help in matching Setti with a husband.
Cianciulli discovered Francesca Soavi, another victim, on September 5, 1940. Like Setti, Cianciulli forced Soavi to write letters to her friends about her travels while she pretended to have arranged for her to work as a teacher abroad.
She also fed her poisoned wine, killed her with an axe, turned her into teacakes, and took her money, just like she had done to Setti.
However, her third victim would also be her last.
Renowned soprano Virginia Cacioppo once performed in Milan’s illustrious La Scala opera theatre. Cacioppo visited her on September 30, 1940, after Cianciulli had offered her a position working with an impresario in Florence.
Cianciulli fed Cacioppo poisoned wine and then used an axe to murder her, just like she did with her first two victims.
This time, however, Cianciulli melted her flesh into soap instead of only baking her body into teacakes to distribute to her neighbors.
“Like the other two, she ended up in the pot… Her flesh was white and fatty. After melting it, I added a fragrance bottle, and after a lengthy boil, I produced some excellent creamy soap. I distributed bars to friends and neighbors. The cakes were also fabulous since that woman was so lovely.”
The Arrest, Death, And Legend of Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli could not have mistakenly believed she had carried out the ideal murders.
Cacioppo had a very frightened sister-in-law, unlike her prior two victims, who had few worried family members. She had seen Cacioppo enter Cianciulli’s house the night before she supposedly “left,” so she didn’t accept Cacioppo’s letters that described her hasty departure.
She alerted the Reggio Emilia police to her sister’s abduction immediately, and they started looking into Cianciulli right away.
Leonarda Cianciulli initially defended herself. Her breakdown and admission to everything came only after the authorities placed the blame on her adored son Giuseppe.
In 1946, Cianciulli faced a murder trial in Reggio Emilia. She showed no signs of repentance and even corrected the official account when she was being questioned:
Leonarda quietly corrected the prosecutor on a few points during her trial last week in Reggio Emilia while holding the witness stand rail with weirdly sensitive hands. “I gave the copper ladle, which I used to skim the fat off the kettles, to my nation, which was so badly in need of metal during the dying days of the war,” she said, deep-set dark eyes gleaming with a passionate inner pride.
The trial for Cianciulli barely lasted a few days. She was found guilty of her crimes and given a 33-year sentence, which included 30 years in prison and three years in a mental hospital. This punishment eerily echoed the Romani woman’s prognosis.
Leonarda Cianciulli Cause of Death
While still a patient at the asylum, Leonarda Cianciulli passed away on October 15, 1970, from a cerebral hemorrhage known as cerebral apoplexy. Age-wise, she was 79.
Although her murderous tools, including the pot in which her victims were boiled, were presented to the Rome Criminology Museum, her body was returned to her family for burial. Visitors to the museum may still view her collection of axes and look inside the vessel she used to cook people.
But that is not where the narrative ends.
The play Love & Magic in Mama’s Kitchen, based on Leonarda Cianciulli’s life, was staged for the Spoleto Festival in 1979 by Lina Wertmüller, who is most known for her work on the infamous Italian film The Seduction of Mimi.
And in 1983, Leonarda Cianciulli transitioned from the isolated hills of Avellino to Broadway with the debut of Love & Magic in Mama’s Kitchen.
More Female Serial Killers in History
Whether this is accurate or not, women have traditionally been viewed as nicer, gentler, and more nurturing than men. That may be why we tend to associate serial murders with men.
Unfortunately for anyone with those names, Dahmer, Bundy, Gacy, and Rader are all well-known figures, but it is erroneous to assume that all serial killers are male.
It’s also incorrect to assume that all female killers use poison, don’t enjoy getting their hands bloody, or only target their own families. Yes, some do, but what about others?
Well, let’s say that there have been numerous female axe murders and that the methods used have been rather inventive. There are many violent women worldwide, even though they don’t appear to receive as much media attention.
Nannie Doss: The Jolly Black Widow
The murdering spree of Nannie Doss, sometimes referred to as “the Jolly Black Widow” and “the Giggling Granny,” began in the 1920s and lasted until 1954. Nancy Hazle, born in Alabama, did not have a good childhood because she had to live with a man who was more of a dictator than a parent.
It’s not entirely shocking that she got engaged to a man within five months of meeting him, considering that her father prevented her from speaking to boys until she reached 21.
As you could expect, things rapidly became worse. In three years, they had three children, and an abusive husband and a controlling in-law dictated those three years.
The two middle kids passed soon after the couple had their fourth child. The official diagnosis was food poisoning, but her husband fled with their oldest, believing there had been actual poisoning. And in the end, he was the only husband she spared.
Through a lonely-hearts column, she found her second husband, and they were married for a great 16 years before, well, you know. Her daughter claimed to have seen her mother stab the infant with a hatpin after giving birth in 1943. But there was never any evidence to support her claim.
More of her children and grandkids passed away “mysteriously,” and it wasn’t until the death of her fifth husband—a decent, upright man—that an autopsy was carried out, and it was discovered that he had a stomach stuffed with arsenic. According to Tulsa World, she passed away in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1965, with an estimated death toll of 11.
Amelia Dyer: The Baby Farmer
Although becoming a baby farmer seems awful, it wasn’t. It was just a person who would take in and look after other people’s unwanted children. The Ultimate History Project reports that many early foster care babies perished from neglect and abuse, but the truth was frequently hard to hear.
After it came Amelia Dyer.
Dyer was born in a small English town in 1837, and family relatives claim that when she suffered typhus as a youngster, she was never quite the same. She was violent, so it’s no surprise that she quickly fell out of favor with her family.
She received nursing and midwifery training before opening a boarding facility for expectant mothers. Many people paid for her help with the delivery and then left their children in her care.
It was fairly typical material but jump ahead to March 30, 1896, and according to the BBC, it was when a parcel was pulled from the Thames. A baby girl’s body, strangled with a piece of white tape, was found inside.
Fortunately, the baby’s box included essential details like stamps and an address. That led law enforcement to Dyer, and when they discovered that they were looking into a lady who was already widely known to medical professionals for having a disproportionately high number of kids die.
At the same time, in her care, well, that was that. After killing more than 300 children, she was detained and hung a short while later.
Clementine Barnabet: The Axe Murderer
The first axe murders occurred in Rayne, Louisiana, in November 1909, when a mother and her three children were killed. Four members of another Louisiana family were the next group, followed by a couple and their son. And the list goes on.
Police finally focused their attention on Raymond Barnabet. Even though his children, Zepherin and Clementine, swore they had seen him covered in blood and heard him boasting that he had killed an entire family, it is evident that he wasn’t the culprit when another family was murdered while he was in detention.
After returning to the scene to further investigate, police detained Clementine after discovering blood and brain matter on some of her clothing.
Nevertheless, the killings persisted, and in 1912 Clementine confessed. She belonged to the Church of Sacrifice, a voodoo sect that held the belief that endangering the lives of others would bestow immortality and provide protection through their charms.
And this is where things start to become quite perplexing. The evidence indicates that while she was guilty of some of the murders—first confessing to 17, then to 35—she did not commit all of them on her own. The circumstances behind the fictitious “Church of Sacrifice” are still unclear.
Clementine spent ten years in prison before being released after some “treatment” was performed on her.
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