Leonarda Cianciulli: The Soap-Making Serial Killer
Some serial killers horrify us with the number of their slain; others don’t have to kill many before they are remembered as monsters. Leonarda Cianciulli, an Italian woman born in 1894, only killed three women, but when she made them into teacakes and soap, she entered Italian history as one of its most memorable killers, known to horror buffs as la Saponificatrice di Correggio, or the Soap-Maker of Correggio.
Cianciulli had, by all accounts, a tough life. She attempted to kill herself at least twice when she was a young girl, and she was a melancholic child. She also paid a great deal of heed to the superstitions and folklore of the day. When she married a man her parents disapproved of, she claimed her own mother cursed her. Two fortunetellers told her, among other things, that she would have many children but they would all die.
Over the course of her life, Cianciulli was pregnant 14 times, but only four of her children survived. When she heard that her son Giussepe, her favorite, was due to be drafted into Italy’s battles in World War II, she came to the conclusion that it was only by human sacrifice that he could be saved.
In the language of our modern criminologists, Cianciulli was an organized killer. She did not run into the streets, stabbing people and unable to control herself. Instead, she plotted her murders, and even worse, she targeted women who knew and trusted her.
Her first victim was Faustina Setti, a local spinster. Setti took Cianciulli into her confidence, and told her that she had made a match for the lonely woman. She persuaded Setti to send letters and postcards to all of her friends, telling them she was leaving without warning. When the woman came to her home one last time, she drugged her, killed her with an ax and drained the body of blood. The corpse she dissolved in caustic acid, which she then dumped into a septic tank. Instead of disposing of the blood, Cianciulli chose to bake it into crunchy tea cakes, serving them to her neighbors and her beloved son Giuseppe.
Clementina Soavi met the exact same fate. Cianciulli said she had found her a job at a girls’ school, and then Soavi was never seen again.
Cianciulli repeated the procedure with Virginia Cacioppo, a former singer to whom she promised a job as a secretary. However, with Cacioppo, not only was her blood used to for teacakes, her fat was rendered to make soap. Most chillingly, Cianciulli stated in her memoirs:
“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 neighbours and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”
With Cacioppo, Cianciulli had made a fatal error. Cacioppo’s sister was suspicious of her disappearance, and alerted the police. When the police appeared, Cianciulli admitted to her crimes readily and calmly, making no protest at her arrest.
During her trial for murder in 1946, she showed no shame for her crimes. As she told the judge, “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….”
Though she was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 3 years in a criminal asylum, she died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1970.
The fortuneteller that Ciunciulli saw spoke more prophetically than she knew when she told the young woman, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.”