Jan. 22, 2023

Leonarda Cianciulli // 147 // The Soap-Maker of Corregio // Part 1

Leonarda Cianciulli // 147 // The Soap-Maker of Corregio // Part 1

Leonarda Cianciulli is known as "The Soap-Maker of Correggio".  Her oldest and favorite child Giuseppe Pansardi was getting ready to head off to war and she wanted to protect him.  She was a very superstitious woman who believed she needed to take a life, to save her son.  She murdered 3 women and turned their remains into soap and teacakes.   
Website: https://www.drinkingthecoolaid.com/  

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Transcript

Could someone truly be cursed before their life even begins? This case makes people wonder if that's a possibility. Curse, or true monster? Regardless of what you believe, Leonarda's story began long before she was even born. Montella, Avellino, was a Kingdom of Italy at the time. Emilia di Nolfi was born into wealth and noble status. Once she was of age, her parents began looking for potential suitors. They had no idea that a man in town had been watching young Emilia. Mariano Cianciulli (Chin-Choo-li) was not on the list of potential suitors for Emilia because they were not in the same social circles. This is precisely why Mariano despised her, even though he was obsessed with her. She was out of his reach and he wanted to ruin her.



In 1893, Emilia went to a chaperoned dinner party with her friends and some potential suitors and she was heading home alone. Mariano was drunk, he had been drinking a bottle of cheap wine and he was waiting to catch her. He saw Emilia and followed her. He drug her into the bushes and at first, Emilia actually thought it was a friend playing a prank on her. As Mariano started tearing at her clothes, Emilia believed she was being robbed and she said she didn't have a purse. 



She had been raised in a very sheltered environment and her parents had never talked to her about sex or anything else. She had no idea what was going on when Mariano raped her. Emilia went home afterwards and didn't tell a single person what happened. She was confused and ashamed. She was also afraid of what people would think if they did find out. Emilia had a Catholic upbringing and the Italian had very strict views on sex before marriage. We obviously call it like it is, it was rape, but Emilia felt that she had sinned. She decided she would keep this a secret, but she couldn't hide it for long because....she was pregnant. 



When her parents realized that she was with child, they were furious. They demanded to know who the father was. At first, she refused to say anything, but her parents said they would go door to door until they found out who it was. So, she was forced to tell them the name, Mariano Cianciulli. This brought great shame to the family because she was pregnant before marriage and it was a man from a lower status. Her parents did something horrifying and Emilia never expected this. They invited the Cianciulli family to their home and told them that Emilia was pregnant. To preserve her honor, the two of them would need to get married. 



They had a small ceremony, but Emilia and Mariano hadn't spoken a word to each other. Their parents had done all of the wedding planning and made negotiations. Once the wedding was over, Emilia's family cut her off. She was no longer welcome in their home. The newlyweds were sent to live in the poorest part of town. It wasn't anything like the home Emilia had been used to. It didn't have any furniture and the bathroom was outside and they had to share it with a row of other houses. 



Everything she loved was taken away from her and she was forced to marry her rapist. Emilia refused to consummate the marriage, so Mariano raped her again. He also beat her when she failed to keep the house clean or cook the meals to his liking. Mariano wasn't home often because he was either working or drinking, so Emilia was home alone. She had grown up in wealth, but now she lived in poverty. She hated Mariano and she hated the baby growing inside of her.



Leonarda Cianciulli was born on April 18th, 1894. Emilia was home alone because Mariano was out drinking and no one showed up when she was screaming. Emilia was finally able to make her way into the streets and she begged for help as drunks were walking by. Finally, a local woman took pity on her and sent a runner to get the town's midwife. The labor was extremely long and Emilia slipped in and out of consciousness, but Leonarda was finally born. She was never able to bond with her daughter and was not affectionate towards her. 



Emilia felt that Leonarda was responsible for ruining her life. She would have never been forced to marry Mariano if she wasn't pregnant. The family had to move around town many times because they were thrown out of homes because they couldn't pay. Emilia and her daughter survived for the most part on money they received through the church. Emilia felt ashamed that she constantly needed the donations to get by, but she didn't have any choice. She frequently beat her child and told her that she was worthless. Things got so bad that Leonarda actually attempted suicide twice. When she was 13, she tried to hang herself. She made a noose by tying together old bed sheets and hung them over the rafters in the farmhouse they were staying in, but the noose came apart before it was able to kill her and she spent a week unable to speak because her larynx was crushed. Her mother made sure to tell her that she was disappointed that she didn't succeed. A few years later, she tried to swallow glass, but this just made her sick. 



One night, three years into the marriage, Mariano didn't return home. This wasn't super abnormal initially because he often got drunk and didn't come home for a few days. After several days, Emilia realized this may not be a normal drinking binge, so her and her daughter wandered the streets looking for him. They found him at his friend's home. He had been running a fever and he was in a deep sleep, so no one could wake him up. They brought him home and Emilia put him in a separate room and just left him there until he died. She was relieved when he finally died because she was free from him and she had a chance to get a new husband. On the day of the funeral, it took everything she had to keep the smile from her face. 



She waited until everyone had left that day, even the gravediggers were done filing in the hole. She stepped forward and spit on his grave before heading home for dinner. She soon began going on dates again and she fell for a man that spent a lot of money on her. What she didn't realize was that her new husband didn't actually make a lot money and he burned through all of his money by showering her in gifts. Leanarda was left home alone often since her mother was out with her new husband. She actually started getting beatings more often from her mother, as if she was a constant reminder about her troubled past. Since her mom had never paid attention to her, Leonarda had no idea that she was planning to use her to climb her way back up the social ladder.


When Mariano died, Emilia thought she would be welcomed back home, but her parents still saw her as an embarrassment. Her new husband didn't earn enough money and she was getting desperate. Emilia started meeting up with other families and looking for a wealthy man to marry her daughter. She made arrangements with someone, but she never thought to tell her daughter about this. Leonarda had plans of her own. She craved attention and had already been out searching for a man. She met Raffaele Pansardi who worked as a registry office clerk. He asked for her hand in marriage, and she said yes. 



Leonarda told her mother the good news and Emilia said that she had placed a curse on her and Raffaele for ruining her life a second time and she refused to show up to their wedding. Leonarda never saw her mother again, but the rejection and curse lingered in her mind forever. Even though she was finally removed from the abuse, she struggled with all of the trauma. She began having seizures, she cried often and had high anxiety. She was not able to afford a doctor, so she couldn't be diagnosed or treated. Raffaele was a kind and patient man, but he had also lost many jobs and they figured Leonarda's mother was spreading gossip around the town to turn people against them. They needed to move, but they couldn't.


Leonarda had been brought up with her mother's Catholic faith, but she was very superstitious and began developing an interest in the supernatural and this lead her to a fortune teller. She asked if the curse was going to cause her to die. The fortune teller told her that she wasn't going to die for a long time, but her life would be filled with sadness. She said that Leonarda was going to outlive every one of her children. She left with a lot of grief and regret. What if she chose to listen to her mother? Would that have given her a chance to be happy? Raffaele thought the predictions were hogwash. The couple had trouble conceiving their first child, but in 1920, which was three years into their marriage, Leonarda was pregnant. 



Unfortunately, this catapulted her into a fear bubble. She was terrified that the fortune teller would be right and all the worry and anxiety made her sick. Leonarda started having more seizures and often fell or injured herself. Her biggest fear soon came true when she ended up having a miscarriage. To her, this was proof that the curse existed. Raffaele knew he had to do something, so he decided that they had to move. Not just once. Many times. Over the next year, they moved from one small town to the next and they finally settled down in his hometown of Lauria, Potenza. Being far away from her mother actually calmed Leonarda down a great deal. She even showed less symptoms of her illness and was hopeful that things would get better.



In 1922, Leonarda gave birth to Giuseppe (jew-sep-pay) Pansardi (Pan-sir-dee) and she devoted all her time to her son. This soon turned into over protectiveness or helicopter mom because she worried that he would be a victim of the curse. She isolated her son from the other kids and always wanted him to stay home. The family began having money issues again, so Leonarda actually had to find a job herself. Both her and Raffaele wanted more children, so they kept trying, but this resulted in more miscarriages. It took a few years and she finally birthed a baby girl and then she soon had two more children, a boy and a girl. So, she had 4 kids at this time. The oldest daughter got a cough and this soon passed down to the other other daughter. They both had fluid in their lungs and were struggling to breath, but Leonarda and Raffaele didn't have money for a doctor, so all they could do was stay up with them and keep them comfortable.



Leonarda went out again and got a job so she could get money to take her daughters to the doctor. Then, her youngest son developed a rash that covered his whole body and the next day, he was found dead in his crib and the two daughters also passed away. Leonarda knew that the curse was killing everyone she loved. She fell into a deep depression, stopped working, stopped leaving the house, and stopped eating. She became even more protective of Giuseppe because he was her miracle baby. Over the next few years, Leonarda had 5 successful pregnancies and they were all boys. Each one of the five boys died from sudden illnesses by the time they were toddlers. Leonarda said, “Almost every night I dreamed of small white coffins, swallowed one after the other by the black earth.”



It should be no surprise that Leonarda fell into another depression. Raffaele begged her to help him with finances. He needed her to get a job, but she couldn't bear to leave her only son by himself. She needed to watch him to make sure he didn't get sick too. It took some time and persuasion, but Leonarda did get a job as an evening bank cleaner. By the time she would get to work, all the clients and clerks were gone, so it worked great for Leonarda so she didn't get so overwhelmed. She was expected to clean the bank, but her employers made her bring her own cleaning supplies.



Leonarda started experimenting with different raw materials and she learned how to make her own soap. It gave her a sense of purpose and she desperately needed that. It also gave her A LOT of time to herself and it gave her time to realize how poor her family was. While she was at work, her tenth child died, but nobody went to the bank to tell her because, how could you? Who would possibly want to break this kind of news to someone? She found out when she arrived home from work. One night, she decided to go into the restricted area of the bank where they kept the ledgers. She created a fake account and assigned a decent amount of money to this account. I saw this next part cited different in both books. One says that when Leonarda showed up for work the next day, she was apprehended by the police and charged with fraud, but the other says that she attempted to clear out the account one day and that's when she was apprehended. She told the police that her crime was impulsive and she had been “seized by madness.” She was convicted of fraud in 1927 and faced 18 months in prison. 



She was sent to an institution which had once served as a nunnery. She had been so severely tortured by her mother, so they ended up not being able to break her. The mother superior could not intimidate Leonarda. She didn't cause any problems during her sentence and ended up being released in a little over a year. When she got home she found out that Raffaele had lost his job and his reputation was ruined. He had also changed. He used to be kind and gentle, now he was cruel and angry. Raffaelle lost his job, his wife was sent away for a year, the town looked down on him, and his own family had turned on him. 



He had some extended family that was willing to give them a little money so they could move away. They ended up in Lacedonia (Lace-doan-ya), Avellino, and hoped to start over again. Leonarda suffered more miscarriages, but two more children did survive. She had been pregnant about 16 times and only 3 survived. In their new town, Raffaele was able to get a good paying job and Leonarda was able to stay home with the kids. She ended up visiting another fortune teller. She held her palms out and the fortune teller said in one hand she could see a prison, on the other, she saw an insane asylum. She soon gave birth to her 17th and final child, a baby boy, so she had 4 surviving children at this time.



The odd thing about this pregnancy is it felt very different to Leonarda. Giuseppe was still her favorite child and she gave him the majority of her attention. She still took care of her other kids, it just wasn't in the same way. And with this new child, she felt really confused. She was just waiting for the next terrible thing to happen. The sense of impending doom hung over her and this only increased her anxiety, which meant that she started having seizures again. She pulled away from her baby a bit because she was so scared that she would drop him or have a seizure while holding him.



Leonarda decided that she should accept that she was cursed, but she was determined to stay one step ahead. She started visiting the fortune tellers and palm readers more often and she took special interest in learning how to predict things herself and she took lessons in divination. She also got books on herbs and charms. Her new obsession with finding out the future was actually driving a wedge between her and her family. She was no longer present.



In the town the family lived in, people would gather together in the fields after a long day's work and they would celebrate the harvest. There was singing and dancing, and people would fall asleep under the stars. Leonarda and Raffaele decided to take the kids out to join the celebration and it was exactly what they needed. The kids were running around playing with others and their parents were finally getting some time to bond again. They danced all night until they finally fell asleep for a few hours. Leonarda woke up and something was wrong. She tried to get up, but she lost her balance. The 1930 Irpinia (Ear-peen-ya) earthquake was a six point six on the Richter Scale and it was highly destructive. The death toll was a little over 1,400 people. Leonarda blamed her mother's curse for this. 



The whole town had been reduced to dust, they lost their home and the family decided to once again, move to a new area. They headed to Correggio and moved into a home attached to a general store that was shut down. Raffaele had a good paying job and they were no longer living paycheck to paycheck. Leonarda even decided to open up the abandoned storefront for palm readings and she started making her soaps again. Her store was a huge success and the townspeople were raving about her soaps. Requests started rolling in from all over Italy and in her spare time, she started to learn other forms of magic as well which included three different forms. 


Stregheria (Struh-gear-ee-ya): It's a branch of modern interpretation of folk magic that celebrates early Italian witchcraft. It's sometimes referred to as La Vecchia Religione (La-vek-iya Relij-ee-oh-nay) meaning the Old Religion. This was a modern offshoot of the older witch cults that dominated the area before the rise of Christianity. Some academics consider it to be a form of Wicca because they both have similar beliefs and practices.


Stregoneria (Stray-goh-nee-ria): A darker form of magic that is defined as a magical practice intended to produce harm or illness. 


Benediciaria (benee-die-care-rhea): This means way of blessing, but it's referred to as Folk Magic or Witchcraft. It was the Tuscan traditional folk magic revolving around ancestor worship and household gods that stretched back to the Roman Empire. The traditions are almost exclusively used for healing, cleansing, spirituality, and religious devotion. Practices are linked with Italian popular devotions found in Traditional Catholicism. 


Leonarda believed that she could fight her mother's curse if she practiced and learned magic. She wanted to free herself and her family of this curse and defend herself. To break the curse that bound her, she would need to learn how it was cast, meaning she would have to continue to venture down the path of studying darker magic. She learned how to make brevi bags which are small cloth sacks that held items such as herbs, ashes, or precious stones. Her “spells” made from herbs and oils became very profitable. She was telling the townspeople's futures, helping them find matches for marriage, and she was providing input about where the crops were planted in fields. 



Around this time, Benito Mussolini was in power and Italy was heading into war. They were recruiting as many healthy young men as possible. The recruits were led to believe that with their help, the Kingdom of Italy could return to the glory of the Roman empire. In 1940, Leonarda's son, Giuseppe was a literature student studying at the local university. He wanted the opportunity to join the fight in World War II to become a hero and finally get away from his over protective mother. He knew this decision was going to break her heart though, so he decided to keep it secret. He figured by the time she found out, it would be too late to beg him to stay.



Things hadn't been easy for Giuseppe. His mother was always consulting her cards or reading tea leaves before making any decisions. She read palms, dished out warnings to others and spoke of omens and curses. If Leonarda had a bad dream about something, she would spend the day purifying herself in the woods. There were nights that Giuseppe would wake up to find his mother standing over him, muttering something. One time he found a talisman under his pillow, made of bird bones and bright thread. He was so disgusted that he chucked it out the window. He knew his mother cared for him, but she was also a bit difficult to live with and he wanted to try something different. His mother had always been so afraid that he would die, that she didn't allow him to live. 



Leonarda ended up finding out that her son signed up for the war when she was shopping. One of the locals came up to her to express their admiration and offer well wishes. She simply smiled and played it cool, finished her shopping, and headed home. She basically fell to the floor and cried. She thought things were finally turning around and now her son was leaving her. When Giuseppe returned home that night, the house was quiet, but he could hear his mother turning pages of a book and talking to herself. He was instantly filled with dread because it was hard to predict which version of his mother he would be walking into. He slowly crept to the top of the stairs and turned the door handle. As the door opened, he saw his mother sitting at her desk, her back was turned to him. At least a half a dozen books were lying around her and she was feverishly writing.



Giuseppe reached out to touch his mother on the shoulder. He was expecting her to go mad because he knew she found out that he signed up for the war, but instead, she smiled at him and they went to the kitchen to get some dinner. Giuseppe was very surprised with how calm his mother was, he wasn't expecting this at all. Leonarda did try to talk him out of going. She asked if there was any way he could take back his consent? Was there a legal way out of this? Giuseppe told her that was impossible and he had already made his mind up anyways.



So, she took matters into her own hands. She turned to all those books she had been studying and she found exactly what she was searching for. In the study of Alchemy: the law of equivalent exchange. Giuseppe's safety would come at a steep price. To save his life, she would have to take somebody else's. It was the only way! She truly believed that it was morally justified to sacrifice someone to break the curse. It was for the greater good. Leonarda also had to work out how to transfer the protection spell to her son once she completed her task. She knew how to make the brevi bags, but when he was fighting in a war, he couldn't be expected to carry that on him at all times. She needed to smother his entire body in her protection spell somehow. 



Since Leonarda had studied so many herbs, she knew that could easily come up with a remedy to overdose someone that came into her shop. Even though this would be the easiest way to do it, it could also cause her a lot of trouble too. If she overdosed someone, it could take awhile for them to die. So, they may wander around the streets before dying and then there would just be a body somewhere in town and someone else could find them first. She would need to come up with an idea that would give her full control so they would die in her shop. As she crafted her plan, she realized that if she found a way to use soap and food, she could protect her son inside and out. Once she figured out the plan, she also knew who the sacrifice would be.



There was a local who visited her store often, Signora Faustina Setti. She was unmarried and didn't have any children. She was a lonely woman, but she never gave up on the possibility of finding true love. That's why she frequented the shop and had been going there for about a year. She was seeking help in finding a husband. Faustina believed that Leonarda was her friend. Leonarda started twisting things in her own mind. Maybe she was doing this woman a favor by killing her? She was a spinster and they were looked down upon and ridiculed by the others. Leonarda had tried to help her, but not even her magic could do the trick. It was clear that it wasn't Faustina's fate to be wed. If Leonarda sacrificed her, it could ensure that Faustina's life was meaningful. 



On the next day that Faustina came for an appointment, Leonarda told her that she found her a husband. Faustina was shocked and she couldn't wait to hear who it could be. Leonarda told her that there was a man that she met through her work and he had seen her picture and it was love at first sight. Leonarda said that she had been exchanging letters with the man on Faustina's behalf and he was ready to meet and marry her. This was all Faustina had ever wanted and this was her friend, she had no reason to question the story. 



Leonarda said that this man lived in Pula, a city that would eventually become part of Croatia. Since she could tell the future, she knew that Faustina's friends and family would try to interfere with her new love if they found out she was leaving. She told her to write a series of letters to describe her excitement and talk about her journey. Then, in a few days, Leonarda would mail the letters. She explained that the mail service wasn't always the best and she wouldn't want Faustina's friends to worry, that's why it was better to write the letters ahead of time. Besides, Leonarda could see the future and she already knew that things would work out and travels would be safe. Faustina did everything she was told and even gave her entire life savings to Leonarda to show her gratitude.




On the morning of Faustina's intended travels, she headed to Leonarda's shop. It was very quiet. She was quite nervous about her new journey, so Leonarda poured her some wine. It made her feel very sick and drowsy. Her limbs were growing heavy and she couldn't talk. Leonarda walked away briefly and returned with an axe. She attempted to strike her in the center of her head so she would die right away, but she missed. The head of the axe went into Faustina's shoulder, stuck in the bone of her shattered clavicle and she was still alive. Tears were running down Faustina's face as Leonarda tried to get the axe out of her bones.



She got the axe free, shut her eyes, and swung again. This time, it went through her skull, but Faustina was still alive and watching every movement. Leonarda started frantically swinging and Faustina did die. Leonarda started scrubbing the shop down, then she stripped the clothes and hair off the body. She had some experience in the past with butchering animals for meat, so she knew how to section off pieces and cut through the bone. She preserved as much blood as possible and hung pieces of flesh on hooks to dry. She massaged the meat to squeeze out all excess blood into a large basin. 



The blood was placed into trays in the oven for drying. The flesh went into big pots of caustic soda to render into fat which is what she needed to make soap. She heated and stirred the pots on the very same stove where she cooked her family's meals. She took the trays from the oven and there was a thin rust colored coating along the bottom of each. She had to scrape it off into the bowl. Once the blood was dry, Leonarda mixed it with flour, sugar, and eggs to make her tea cakes. She even added a sprinkle of vanilla to make sure the blood wouldn't be tasted. She messed things up with the fat from Faustina's body and that became completely unusable. When she lifted the lid on the pot, she was stunned to see a thick sludge, it wasn't the right consistency for soap. She had murdered her for a specific reason, but the flesh and fat were now useless. She emptied the pots into buckets and poured them in the septic pit. The exchange needed to be equal, otherwise the sacrifice wouldn't work. She decided that she would just have to keep killing until she got the process right. 



Leonarda actually blamed Faustina for this failed ritual. She felt that she had done everything perfectly and she went over her books again to double check. She came to the conclusion that the exchange wasn't equal. That's the only explanation. Faustina's life wasn't even comparable to Giuseppe. She would have to find someone better.



Weeks went by and no one noticed that Faustina was missing. And no one suspected something odd in the tea cakes that were served in Leonarda's shop. In August of 1940, she found her next victim, a local woman named Francesca Soavi. She was a spinster who had been a schoolteacher and she was a respected member of the town's community. She didn't have any children, but she had been married once. She was widowed and quit her teaching job to care for her husband. She was having a tough time finding a new job that paid enough for her to support herself and that's why she reached out to Leonarda for help.



Once Leonarda decided that Francesca was her next victim, she crafted a story to bait her. She said there was a job opening at a swanky girls school up north, but Francesca would need to get there fast if she wanted a shot at getting hired. It took her a month to “pull the strings” for Francesca with this job. She made her do the same thing as Faustina: write letters to friends that talked about her new happy life. Leonarda would have the letters sent out when the time was right. 



Francesca was so excited about this new opportunity. She arrived at the shop early one morning in September. She was handed a glass of red wine which she gladly accepted. She felt too heavy too move after drinking the wine and she was close to falling unconscious. Leonarda swung the axe and managed to hit Francesca's skull on the frist try. She followed the same process as before where she stripped away all the pieces she needed to bake the tea cakes and make the soap. Leonarda did not end up with the results she had hoped for. The tea cakes came out fine, but the soap didn't work. It was another wasted attempt. When her son Giuseppe came home that evening, she fed him the tea cakes and had him carry out a bucket of sludge to pour in the septic tank.



Time was running out. It was almost time for Giuseppe to leave and Leonarda hadn't been successful in saving him. She was positive that something was wrong with the spell. It took her almost a full month of studying to realize what happened. She had approached both victims with the wrong intent. She was so focused on the event rather than the larger meaning of her actions. She was focused on the murders, not the rituals. She had learned that magic was all about intent. She only had time to try one more time. 




The third victim was Signora Virginia Cacioppo. She was a former soprano opera singer who performed in major cities such as Milan. She was retired and widowed, but she was a bit of a celebrity around town and she had a lot of money. Virginia and Leonarda were actually friends. Virginia wanted to leave the small town life and move somewhere bigger, so Leonarda took this as a betrayal. She believed that this was a very equal sacrifice for her son because she actually cared about Virginia. Leonarda made up a secretary job in the city of Florence and she also turned it into a big game. Virginia wanted to know more details and would try to get her friend to spill the tea every time they were together, but Leonarda would only give her tidbit of info if she promised not to tell anyone. The job was for an organizer of fine arts events such as the operas. Virginia would be managing the household and businesses affairs for the man. She would be involved in parties and socializing with other famous people. She would be helping out with new stars that were on the rise and there was a possibility that she could get back into singing later on. The man she would work for had heard of Virginia and specifically wanted her for the job and they were going to set her up in an apartment. Just like the others, she wrote some letters and handed them over. On September 30th, 1940, Virginia stopped by the shop to say goodbye to her friend.



Leonarda handed her a glass of wine which she repeatedly refused, but she eventually gave in and drank it. She became very heavy and sick and Leonarda brought out the axe. Leonard took off all of Virginia's expensive jewelry before she murdered her. She put the axe through the center of Virginia's chest and shattered her ribs. She began the process of taking everything she need from the body to make the tea cakes and soap and this time, it worked. She later recalled that, “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 neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”



With the other two victims, Leonarda had noticed that the tea cakes had turned out a little dry and there was a hing of an iron taste. Not these ones though. They were far sweeter and she knew that she had finally picked the right person to sacrifice.


Once the soaps were made from Virginia's fat, she handed a piece to her son Giuseppe. She asked him to pull down the old bath so he could get cleaned up. He felt that this was a reasonable request, but she had a strange look in her eyes. He always obeyed her orders, so he began carrying the pans of hot water from the kitchen to the living room. The soaps smelled delightful, they were a brand new recipe full of perfumed oils. She told him to undress in front of her. When he adamantly refused, she took his clothes off and ordered him to get into the tub and she scrubbed his entire body with the special soap. When she was done, she wrapped him in a towel, brought him to the kitchen, and forced him to eat the tea cakes. After this ritual was done, Leonarda finally felt that she could relax. She had finally protected her son.




She didn't get to enjoy the calm feeling for long though. In her haste to get rid of Virginia, she never thought to see if she had family members that would notice her absence. Virginia's sister-in-law, Albertina Fanti showed up at her door. Leonarda just stared at her in shock while she was being questioned. She wanted to know if Leonarda heard about Virginia's new job? Did she tell her where she was headed? What's the address? Where was she now? Why was there so much secrecy? Leonarda said she had no idea where Virginia was. Albertina certainly didn't get the warm fuzzies after speaking with Leonarda. She had more questions than answers and that didn't sit well with her.




Leonarda composed herself, grabbed the woman by the hand and brought her in for a cup of coffee and a palm reading. Albertina didn't believe in this sort of thing and had always strayed away from fortune tellers. Leonarda went through the whole reading and promised health and prosperity to her grandchildren. Once it was over, Albertina asked about Virginia and Leonarda's demeanor changed. She apologized and said she really didn't have any information. She knew about the trip, but that was all. When she got teary eyed, Albertina got very suspicious. Why would Leonarda have any reason to cry if they didn't know anything was wrong yet? 




Albertina went around town and questioned others. She was shocked to learn that two other women had gone missing as well and they had all been last seen entering Leonarda's shop early in the morning. The police brought Leonarda in for questioning and she was very uncooperative. She said she knew all three of the missing women and they had stopped by her shop, but that wasn't unusual. Many women in town stopped at her shop before a journey. The letters were the only physical evidence that the police had to work with. They examined the envelopes and calculated the delivery times. They were able to track the specific dates that the three letters had been sent. From there, they followed the postmarks to the local post offices and interviewed people until they found out who sent the letters. All of the letters had arrived around the same time, even though all three ladies had different departure dates and they had all been mailed by the same person, Giuseppe Pansardi.



The police had enough evidence to search the house and soap shot. They found all of the women's belongings in a closet. There was a chest containing all of the money, public bonds, and a few pieces of jewelry. Everyone in town knew that Giuseppe was leaving town soon and the motive appeared to be money, so police believed he was the murderer. They brought him in for questioning and he didn't have any idea what they were talking about and he certainly didn't know where the bodies were. While they were questioning him, Leonarda showed up to the police station a few hours later and she was banging on the door. She said she was ready to make a full confession.



They actually didn't believe that a woman was capable of this kind of crime. They thought it was laughable that she was trying to cover up for her son's crimes, but things started to change quickly when she described the murders in detail. She told them how she had poisoned and chopped up all three victims. She very clearly knew too much, so they thought, aha, she must be an accessory to the murders. She said she could show the police her tea cakes, soap, and septic tank.



The police were not familiar with caustic soda, so she had to explain the effects of the compound in great detail before they understood that they weren't going to find any of the bodies. She had liquified them and poured them out or turned them into soap. The police hoped that there was a different explanation. This couldn't be real. They told the story to Giuseppe and he told them about her study, the curse, and her occult obsessions. He felt guilt and shame over what his mother had done.



In her official statement after her arrest, she was describing what she did after the murders and said, “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.”




The police wanted to know why she had murdered the three women and she said that she did it to protect her miracle child. Giuseppe disowned his mother once she was locked up and he was deployed months later and did not let his mother know. From the moment the town found out about everything, the Pansardi family was shunned, so he was probably glad to leave so soon. Leonarda didn't care because she had carried out the sacrifice, so she knew that he would survive the war. She waited for 6 years for her trial. The pots, basins, trays, and axes were all laid out on the bench and she identified them and explained what she used them for. The copper ladle wasn't there that she'd used to skim the fat off the top of the pots as the caustic soda dissolved her victims. and she was convicted of murder. She was asked where it was and she said that she had donated the metal to the war effort. She easily recounted all of her murders in court and cracked a few jokes. She interrupted others when they spoke and she very clearly enjoyed the spotlight.



An expert witness discussed the method that she used to dispose of the bodies. He was a coroner with experience in acids and he claimed that a body couldn't be destroyed with caustic soda in the way that Leonarda described. Leonarda said “Bring a body to court. Give me a body of any age, right now, and I shall prove it.” It took only three days for her to be convicted. She received 30 years in Pozzouli Prison, followed by 3 years in a mental asylum to make sure she could safely return to society. IF YOU RECALL, I mentioned that she had visited a fortune teller earlier in her life who said, “In your right hand I see prison. In your left, a criminal asylum.”



She was very popular in prison. When she arrived, she received a standing ovation which filled her with pride and this made her stay very comfortable. She was able to get a job in the kitchen, which truly blows my mind that she ever allowed near food again. But, she made huge meals for everyone in the building and she started baking for the other inmates. The guards refused to try any of her tasty treats, but the inmates sure loved them. Leonarda started offering advice to the other women, just like she had for her business. 



While serving her sentence, she found out that the public was interested in her tragic life. She wrote a memoir that was over 700 pages titled: The Confessions of an Embittered Soul. It started with her mother's rape and then it went into her story. Her abusive upbringing, suicide attempts, and her obsession with the occult when she got older. She claims that throughout the years, about half of the population of rural Italy had slept with her. She was apparently banding all of her friend's husbands. The book was also filled with many recipes and she described the dismemberment of her victims in gruesome detail. She even provided the cannibalistic teacake recipe, minus the blood, but it was right alongside the depiction of her draining her victims. It was never officially published and it's said to be very difficult to track down. However, it's supposedly one of the most complete collections of traditional Italian baking techniques ever written and is still referred to by some of the top chefs in Italy today.



20 years into Leonarda's sentence she suffered a minor stroke. She recovered quickly, but she had recurring symptoms and a doctor finally realized that she was bleeding in her brain. The doctor couldn't figure out the cause though because it wasn't actually linked to the stroke. While reviewing her case notes, doctors figured out what happened. Caustic soda vapor poisoning. The same material that she used to burn through the flesh of her victims had burned holes in her brain.




The intracranial bleeding went on throughout the years and this caused her to start losing her sight and her seizures started again. She completed her 30 year sentence and was transferred to the mental asylum. Most of the records haven't survived, but the doctors all seemed to agree that her relationship with her mother was the root cause of her behaviors, they just couldn't seem to agree on a single diagnosis past that point. On October 14th, 1970, a year before she would be released, there was too much blood building up in her skull and Leonarda went into a coma and a day later, she died. Her official cause of death was cerebral apoplexy and she was 76 years old. Her family couldn't be contacted to claim her remains and the Italian authorities didn't want her grave to be desecrated, so they secretly cremated and disposed of her remains. After her death, many of her belongings were sent to the Criminology Museum in Rome and that includes the pots and axes used for the murders.




There have been several films and plays written about this story. Most famously the 1977 film Gran Bollito and the 1983 Broadway play 'Love and Magic in Mama's Kitchen.' It's difficult to find information on the Pansardis, but it appears that they attempted to distance themselves from Leonarda and the children may have changed their names. Under Italian law, if you change your name outside of marriage, there is a paper trail and anyone can access the public documents to confirm your original identity. Since this doesn't exist for any of the children, it's more likely that they informally changed their names. Giuseppe did go off to war, there are records of this, but there's nothing after that. Meaning, he either died in the fields of Africa, or he was able to pass himself off as someone else and fool the military. Leonarda's husband Raffaele sank into alcoholism and drank until his heart gave out. He died well before the trial even took place. Leonarda Cianciulli became known as “The Soap-makeer of Correggio”, one of Italy's most infamous serial killers.


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