Mugshot Mondays: The Soap Maker of Correggio by Linda
Leonarda Cianciulli was a bitter soul from the moment of her tragic birth. Born April 14, 1894 in Montella, Italy, as a product of rape, Leonarda grew up without the proper love from a mother’s warm embrace. Her mother resented her daughter and isolated her from her other siblings leaving her to live a life of being ostracized. During her younger years, Leonarda attempted to commit suicide, not once but twice. It wasn’t the quantity of murders that Leonarda committed between 1939 and 1940 that coined her “The Soap Maker of Correggio” rather than the sick manner in what she did with the bodies after death.
In spite of her Mother’s wishes, Leonarda married a registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi in 1917. Only about 3 years later, Leonarda was imprisoned for fraud until 1927. After an earthquake destroyed the couple’s home in 1930, they moved to their last destination in Correggio. In Correggio, Leonarda opened a small shop where she was seen as a nice, gentle, woman, a humble neighbor and attentive mother leaving behind her troubled past. Or so it appeared.
Didn’t they ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover?
Leonarda had always been a superstitious woman. She lived off the readings she received from gypsies and fortune tellers. One fortune teller foretold that all of Leonarda’s children would die. Partly true, Leonarda had 17 pregnancies – 3 of them lost in miscarriages and 10 dying at very young ages. With that being said, Leonarda was beyond protective of the 4 children that managed to survive. However, the one gypsy basically nailed her legacy on the head. She told Leonarda, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left, a criminal asylum.”
In 1939, Guiseppe, Cianciulli’s beloved, most favored, oldest son was joining the army to serve for World War II. In an effort to protect him at all costs, Leonarda’s troubled mind came to the conclusion that human sacrifices would save her son from harm. Yes, human sacrifices (it wasn’t a typo). Choosing her victims didn’t prove to be difficult for Leonarda as they were 3 middle-aged, stereotypically lonely women who sought advice and help from her at one time or another. Cianciulli was so manipulative that she even managed to trick all three of these women to write post-cards from their ‘said destination’ to their loved ones saying they were safe and all was well where they were supposed to be.
Case in point – let’s introduce the first victim.
Leonarda caught her first victim with a tall tale of a man suitor waiting for her in Pola. Faustina Setti had taken Leonarda’s bait in hopes of finding true love. As instructed, Faustina kept the news quiet and wrote letters to loved ones which were to be mailed when she reached Pola. The day arrived when she was to leave and she visited the Cianciulli home one last time. Leonarda offered her a glass of wine… that was drugged. Upon falling into a stupor, Leonarda killed Faustina with an axe and dragged her body into a closet. While in the closet, Faustina’s body was strategically cut into 9 pieces with the blood collected in a basin. In Leonarda’s memoir (which she wrote while imprisoned) she described what she did next:
“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 Guiseppe and I also ate them.”
Francesca Soavi, the second victim, was promised a job at a school for girls in Piacenza. Just like Faustina, Francesca wrote letters to relatives and loved ones with a detailed repertoire of her plans. Again, the grateful friend visited Leonarda the day of her departure, September 5, 1940, only to meet the same fate as the last victim: a drugged glass of wine, a kiss goodnight with an axe and a sweet after life of reincarnating into crunchy tea cakes.
The third human sacrifice was Virginia Cacioppo who was a former opera singer. Cacioppo was told there was work for her as a secretary for some random business promoter in Florence. Again, Virginia agreed to keep her lips sealed about the plan and write the letters. On September 30, 1940 Leonarda murdered Virginia in the same fashion as the other two but with an added adjustment which she later described in a 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 neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”
In addition to killing these three women and using their remains, Leonarda received all of their inheritances and belongings. After her last victim Virginia went missing, the woman’s sister-in-law grew suspicious and reported to the superintendent of police in Reggio Emilia that she was last seen going into Leonarda’s home. Reggio Emilia opened an investigation and eventually arrested Cianciulli who openly confessed to the murders.
In 1946, Leonarda was tried for murder and showed no remorse for the crimes she had committed. She even had the audacity to correct the official accountant while on the stand stating how she gave the copper ladle she used to skim the fat off the kettles to her country when they were in need of metal during the final days of war. Needless to say, she was transparently found guilty. Leonarda was sentenced to 30 years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. On October 15, 1970 she died of a stroke while in the asylum. Many of the artifacts from this case are still on display at the Criminological Museum in Rome.
Want more vintage mugshots? Check out the James Dean Wannabe who inspired the movie Natural Born Killers.