“I was able to make some most acceptable creamy soap”
Born on 14 November 1893 at Montella di Avellino, Italy Leonarda Cianciulli had an unhappy childhood. In 1914 she married Raffaele Pansardi, a clerk in the local register office. They made their marital home at Lariano in Alta Irpinia but in 1930 an earthquake destroyed it. They moved to Correggio, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Cianciulli fell pregnant 17 times, suffered three miscarriages and ten of her children died at an early age. The other four Cianciulli protected with the ferocity of a lioness.
A gypsy fortune-teller had told her, “You will marry and have children, but all your children will die.” She went to another gypsy who told her, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.”
In 1939, as her eldest son Giuseppe was about to be conscripted, Cianciulli claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary who told her to sacrifice humans for her sons. Her first victim was Faustina Setti who was told that a husband had been found for her in Pola. Swearing her to secrecy, Cianciulli persuaded Signorina Setti to write some letters and postcards to her friends and relatives to be posted when she reached Pola. In them, she wrote of her good fortune.
But the deluded woman never reached Pola. Cianciulli killed her with an axe and dragged the body into a closet, cut it into nine parts and gathered the blood in a basin. As she later told police, “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.”
On 5 September 1940 Cianciulli murdered Francesca Soavi who was promised work at a Piacenza girls’ school. She was also convinced to write postcards and then murdered. The third and final victim was Virginia Cacioppo, a 53-year-old former opera singer, who was murdered on 30 September 1940. “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.”
Correggio, Reggio Emilia, Italy
She was arrested after the sister-in law of her last victim went to the police. Cianciulli readily confessed and was sentenced to 30 years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. She died of cerebral apoplexy in a Pozzuoli asylum on 15 October 1970.