Leonarda Cianciulli – Soap Star

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 and had an unhappy childhood. Her mother Emilia Marano, didn’t love her because her pregnancy was due to a rape. Leonarda attempted suicide twice. In 1914 she married a registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi and they moved to Correggio, where Leonarda opened a small shop and became popular as a doting mother and a nice neighbour. Leonarda had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but lost three of the children to miscarriage; ten more died in their youth. She was protective of the four surviving children. Leonarda visited a Gypsy who told her, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.” In 1939, Leonarda 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. She decided his safety required human sacrifices.

The first victim, Faustina Setti, was a spinster who went to Leonarda for help in finding a husband. Leonarda told her of a suitable mate then convinced her to tell nobody. She also convinced Faustina to write letters to relatives and friends to be mailed when she met him. Faustina visited Leonarda one last time. Leonarda offered her a glass of drugged wine, killed her with an axe and dragged the body into a closet. She cut it into nine parts and gathered the blood into a basin. She made Faustina into soap and “crunchy tea cakes” that she served to her guests.  Francesca Soavi was the second victim. Leonarda claimed she found her a job at a school for girls. Francesca was convinced to write postcards to be sent to friends detailing her plans. She also visited Leonarda before her departure, was given drugged wine then killed with an axe. Leonarda’s final victim was Virginia Cacioppo, a soprano singer. Leonarda claimed she found her work as a secretary. As with the other two women, Virginia was told not to tell a single person where she was going. Virginia’s  sister-in-law grew suspicious at her disappearance and had last seen her entering Leonarda’s house. Leonarda was soon arrested and immediately confessed to the murders, providing detailed accounts of what she had done. She was found guilty of her crimes and sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. Watch drama of Leonarda murdering a victim.

Leonarda died of cerebral apoplexy in the women’s criminal asylum 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. Leonarda remained unrepentant.

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