The Serial Killer who Turned her Victims into Soap and Tea Cakes

‘The Soap-Maker of Correggio.’

Leonarda Cianciulli (18 April 1893–15 October 1970) was an Italian serial killer. Better known as the Soap-Maker of Correggio. She murdered three women in the town of Correggio, between 1939 and 1940, and turned their bodies into soap and teacakes.

Born on April 18, 1894, in the quaint southern Italian town of Montella, Leonarda Cianciulli had a tragic life from the start. Before she was known as ‘The Soap-Maker of Correggio.’ Leonarda Cianciulli was a devoted Italian mother who wanted to keep her son safe during World War II.

Her story begins at the turn of the 20th century. Leonarda Cianciulli was not loved by her parents. It’s known she was a product of rape. In order to save her image, Leonarda’s mother was forced to marry the man she was raped by, and the two raised Leonarda together.

Leonarda Cianciulli never had a perfect life, and little is known about her childhood, but it’s documented that she attempted suicide twice in her adolescence and then married a man her parents strongly disapproved of. In fact, Leonarda believed that her marriage to an office cleric was cursed because of her parent’s strong content for their union. Leonarda was married in the 1930s and ran a small shop out of Corregio, Italy. What did the shop sell you might ask? The answer is soap.

When she married Raffaele Pansardi in 1917, Cianciulli stated her mother cursed her because she objected to the marriage. Between her suicide attempts, her mother’s alleged curse, and her various miscarriages, Leonarda Cianciulli realised that her life, sucked.

Around the 1930s, Leonarda’s life was far from perfect. Besides a small jail sentence for fraud, her home being destroyed in an earthquake, and an endless battle with her parents, Leonarda was also suffering immense losses. Leonarda had been pregnant 17 times, but she lost three children because of miscarriages and 10 died at very young ages. As any sensible parent would be, Leonarda was extremely protective of her children and grew dangerously superstitious. So, when it came to her four surviving children, they couldn’t have asked for a more protective mother.

She went to see a fortune-teller for some insight. The fortune-teller, a travelling Romani woman, did nothing to quell her fears. ‘In your right hand I see prison,’ the fortune-teller told her. ‘In your left, a criminal asylum.’

The fortune teller also told her, the only way she could prevent her children from dying young was a human sacrifice.

However, Leonarda did not act on the fortune-teller’s advice right away. It wasn’t until 1939 when her son told her he was going to join the military that Leonarda decided she had no other choice but to follow the advice of the fortune teller.

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In 1939, Cianciulli’s son Giuseppe Pansardi — her eldest son and favourite child — announced that he was going to enlist in the Italian Army. Like many Italians during that time, he wanted to do his part in the World War II effort.

This announcement, combined with her belief in superstitions, set the wheels in motion for Leonarda Cianciulli to become one of the most infamous female serial killers of the 20th century.

In the years 1939-1940, Leonarda had lured three women into her soap shop and killed them. She killed each of the women with an axe and disposed of their bodies by boiling them in caustic soda. Leonarda had tricked each of the women into her shop by saying she could help them find whatever they were looking for. Leonarda drugged wine and gave it to all three of her victims, making axe murder easier for herself.

Someone reported the third victim going into the soap shop and never returning. The police came to investigate the report and arrested Leonarda that day. They held her trial in 1946, and Leonarda not only confessed to everything, but she described in great detail how she cooked and turned her victims into soap and desserts.

Here is a brief passage of what she had to say about her third victim:

‘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 neighbours and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: That woman was really sweet.’

Observers of her trial noted that she seemed unfazed and unemotional when she was explaining what had happened. Not only had she admitted to killing three innocent women, but eating them and also giving the human soap to her neighbours.

Below you can read the words of Leonarda Cianciulli herself detailing what she did to her first victim:

‘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 Giuseppe and I also ate them.’

She was found guilty of her crimes and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her dark deeds. They also sentenced her to three years in an asylum for the criminally insane, where she died of a medical condition. To this day, the pot that Leonarda cooked her victims in can be found in the Criminological Museum in Rome.

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