The Soap-Maker: The Chilling Crimes of Italy’s First Female Serial Killer

Leonarda Cianciulli led a life dotted with ominous premonitions. In her youth, fortune tellers warned her of a dark, turbulent future. Leonarda would become one of the most infamous murderers in Italy, and in fact has been dubbed Italy’s first female serial killer.

Her horrendously grisly crimes are sure to turn the stomach of even the bravest people.

Between the years of 1939 and 1940, Leonarda murdered three women. The fact that she became known as the “Soap-Maker of Correggio” is but the beginning of the twisted extent of her murders.

Leonarda was born in Montella, Italy in 1894, and did not have a happy youth. She attempted suicide twice as a young girl. At the age of 23 she married a man of whom her parents did not approve. Ever since her marriage, Leonarda believed that her mother put a curse on her on their wedding day.

During her marriage Leonarda became pregnant 17 times, but only four children survived. Three babies were lost to miscarriage, the other ten died in infancy.

Her husband eventually became an alcoholic and abandoned the family.

Paranoid from her years of misfortune, the dark premonitions from fortune tellers, and her belief that her mother had cursed her, Leonarda became desperate to protect her surviving children. She was incredibly superstitious.

She owned a clothing store to support herself and her children. There, Leonarda was considered kind and one of the more friendly people in the neighborhood. She befriended everyone, and would frequently invite her friends and neighbors inside for refreshments, including her famously delicious teacakes.

She also touted supernatural powers, and offered local women potions and spells to improve their lives.

All of these fears came to a head in 1939, as Italy geared up to enter World War II. Leonarda’s oldest son was called up to join the Italian military—which shattered Leonarda. Her son, Giuseepe was her favorite child, and felt compelled to do all in her power to try to keep his life protected.

She was convinced that the only way to protect her sons from the impending conflict was through the sacrifice of human lives.

She found three victims, all middle-aged women from her neighborhood.

Faustina Setti, Leonarda’s first victim, was a spinster who had come to her for help in finding a husband. Leonarda lured Setti away from her relatives, persuading her that she had found a perfect man for her.

Setti was convinced that arrangements had been made to meet a man in Pola, and told her family she was leaving town for him. On the day she was meant to depart, she visited Leonarda.

Leonarda never intended on setting Setti up with anyone, drugged the woman and then killed her with an ax. She drained her of blood and cut Setti’s body into nine parts.

In her graphic confession, Leonarda admitted to cooking the body into soap. She then powdered the leftover blood, and cooked it into teacakes which she and her son ate, and served to their houseguests.

Leonarda’s second and third victims, Francesca Soavi and Virginia Cacioppo, met similar fates.

She was finally caught when one of the victims’ relatives grew suspicious, and came searching for them. Cacioppo was last seen at Leonarda’s alive, which her sister-in-law reported to local police.

Leonarda was investigated, and quickly arrested. She confessed while in custody.

According to reports, Leonardo showed no remorse during her trial. She was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison, and three in an asylum.

She died in the asylum in 1970. Some of the items she used—including a pot she used in her gruesome soap-making—are reportedly on display in Rome at the Criminological Museum.