“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.” – The Correggio Soap-Maker
Some serial killers horrify us with the sheer number of their kills; others on the other hand, don’t have to murder many before they are remembered and revered as literal ‘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’ to you and I.
Now, due to Leonarda having only killed three people and it happening so long ago – there’s not a great deal of information about her available. Nevertheless, her crimes were too impressive to miss out on. I won’t be going into as much detail as the others – as there simply isn’t much to delve into, but here’s what we know about the Soap Maker of Correggio…
Occupation: Serial Killer/Fortune Teller/Shop Owner
Date of birth: November 14th 1893
MO: Turned their bodies into soap and tea cakes
Number of victims: 3
Victims names: Faustina Setti, Francesca Soavi and Virginia Cacioppo
Time of murders: 1939-1940
How she did it: Bludgeoned them with an axe
Location: Correggio, Emilia Romagna, Italy
Cianciulli had, by all accounts, a tough life. She attempted to kill herself at least twice when she was a young girl and was described as a ‘melancholic child’.
She was a great believer in the superstitions and folklore of the day. When she married a man her parents disapproved of in 1917 (a registry clerk), she claimed that her own mother cursed her and she visited two fortunetellers who told her, among other things, that she would have many children but they would all die…
Over the course of her life, Cianciulli was in fact pregnant 14 times – but only four of her children survived. When she heard that her son Giussepe, her favourite, 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. Well, duh. Obviously…
Cianciulli’s spiritual belief’s didn’t falter throughout her life and upon a subsequent visit to a palm reader, she was brought more bad news: “In your right hand I see prison,” said the palm reader. “In your left, a criminal asylum.” (I seriously need to get me an Italian Psychic!)
It would appear that Leonarda was something of a fortuneteller herself, a trade she often practiced with the women of her village. Her trusting-clients made perfect targets. A-ha!
Leonarda’s chosen women for this ‘self sacrifice’ were – Faustina Settie, Francesca Soavi, and Virginia Cacioppo.
She cunningly gave each woman a reason to leave town – a prospective husband in Faustina’s case and promises of employment in the case of Francesca and Virginia; she convinced the women to keep their plans secret prior to departure. In addition, Leonarda instructed her first two victims to preemptively write letters, addressed to friends and family postmarked from their respective destinations, claiming that all was well and not to worry…
Prior to her departure, Faustina Setti visited Leonarda one last time. The ‘fortuneteller’ provided Faustina with a glass of wine – a toast, perhaps, to brighter days ahead. But… the wine was drugged!
Soon after the sedatives took hold, Leonarda bludgeoned Faustina to death with an axe. 😐 The second victim, Francesca Soavi, met a similar end.
Leonarda cut Faustina’s body into nine pieces. She collected the blood and placed the chunks into a pot with caustic soda (used for making soap). Once the body dissolved into a mush, Leonarda poured the goo into a septic tank. She dried the blood in an oven, then mixed it with flour, sugar, chocolate, milk, eggs and margarine and made teacakes that she served to neighbours! (That really shouldn’t sound appetising to me) According to her memoir, Leonarda and her son also enjoyed the bloody pastries. SHE ATE THEM HERSELF!
Leonarda’s final victim, Virginia Cacioppo, was a former soprano (and so a bit ‘hefty’). She had flesh that was “fat and white” and, according to the killer, made a “most acceptable creamy soap” when boiled down. The murdered singer received the same culinary treatment as Leonarda’s previous victims; her remains were cooked into treats and distributed among neighbours. (This is why anything given to me by strangers goes straight in the bin ✋🏻) Leonarda noted that “the cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.” Each to their own, love. Each to their own.
Virginia Caccioppo proved to be Leonarda’s last victim. Virginia’s sister-in-law grew suspicious of her disappearance and told the superintendent at the local Police Station that she had last seen Caccioppo entering Cianciulli’s home. (What a snitch)
Leonarda was then promptly arrested, admitting to her crimes. During her trial in 1946, she remained unrepentant, going so far as to correct lawyers on grisly details and proudly claiming that she had donated the copper ladle – originally used to skim human fat – to the war effort. #Hero ✊🏻
Cianciulli was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. (That crazy-ass palm reader was right!)
She died of cerebral apoplexy in 1970. While she was behind bars, she wrote a memoir called An Embittered Soul’s Confessions, in which she coolly described her crimes. The murders have inspired a handful of plays and films, and several pieces of evidence from the case, including the pot in which the victims were boiled, remain on display in Rome’s Criminological Museum.
I know where I’m going for my next holiday…
Why So Serial?
We’re not sure why Leonarda was so miserable during her early years. But whatever it was, it certainly paved the way for her murderous intentions. This melancholia mixed with her superstitious citations were basically a recipe for disaster. Almost as fucked up as her tea cake recipe.
There just isn’t enough information out there to understand dear old Leonarda Cianciulli – but she’s a true psycho for sure and deserves her place on this list.