If you search Leonarda Cianciulli on the website for Rome’s Museo Criminologico, you’ll see that her nickname was “la Saponificatrice di Correggio.” What’s so sinister about a soap maker? Well, because she crafted it out of at least one of her murder victims ... and then gifted the bars to her friends.
That’s right: victims. Leonarda didn’t just kill one woman, she killed three, between 1939 and 1940. Her motive, apparently, was superstitious in nature. She was haunted by a fortune-teller’s prediction that all of her children would die. (Apparently, this prophecy came dangerously close to being true; Murderpedia reports she was pregnant 17 times, and 13 of the children died, including three miscarriages.) Somehow, she began to believe that she needed to sacrifice other souls as some kind of black-magic exchange to protect her surviving children, including Giuseppe, her favorite son, who’d just joined the Italian Army as the war approached.
As the BBC recalls, Leonarda was a well-liked shopkeeper in the town of Correggio. But she couldn’t resist going through with her diabolical plan. Three customers who were also friends fell into her trap; the women were drugged, then dispatched with an axe. The first, Faustina Setti, believed that Leonarda had found her a husband. But that’s not at all what happened, and we have Leonarda’s own words—from her memoir, the luridly-titled An Embittered Soul’s Confessions—to reveal all the gory details:
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 also apparently made off with Faustina’s life savings. And it didn’t end there. She then robbed, snuffed out, and similarly disposed of Francesca Soavi, who believed Leonarda had found her a teaching gig; and Virginia Cacioppo, who fell for the same ruse and was richer than the first two women put together. All three women had trusted Leonarda enough to keep the supposed good news about their husband/jobs a secret, and had all been convinced to pen postcards to family and friends reassuring them how happy they were.
But Cacioppo’s final fate was the most chilling:
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.
Her final victim’s sister-in-law reported her missing relative to the police, who closed in on Leonarda when it was revealed she was the last person to have seen Virginia alive. She confessed, but she never apologized for her actions. She was sentenced to 30 years in jail and three years in an asylum; she died at the age of 76 while confined to the latter in 1970.
As it happens, another dreadful prophecy that Leonarda had been given was fulfilled. In her younger days, she’d apparently been told by a palm reader that “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.”