Jan. 29, 2023

Leonarda Cianciulli // 148 // The Soap-Maker of Corregio // Part 2

Leonarda Cianciulli // 148 // The Soap-Maker of Corregio // Part 2

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/  




Emilia di Nolfi was born into wealth and noble status, but she lost everything when she was raped by Mariano Cianciulli and her parents forced her to marry him because she got pregnant. When Leonarda was born, her mother didn't want her, she blamed her for ruining her life. She received many beatings from her mother when she was growing up and she desperately wanted a way out. When she was old enough to wed, she married a man named Raffaele Pansardi, a registry office clerk. Emilia was horrified because she wanted to use her daughter to climb the social ladder, she wanted her to marry into wealth. Since Leonarda wouldn't listen to her, she said that she placed a curse on the newlyweds for ruining her life a second time. 

Leonarda visited a fortune teller who told her that she would have a life full of sadness and she was going to outlive every one of her children. She got pregnant 17 times and only 4 children survived into adulthood. The family struggled with money over the years and eventually, Leonarda had to get a job to help out. She started working overnights at a bank and she learned how to make her own soap. One night, she created a fake account and assigned money to herself and she got caught and served 18 months in an institution. When she got out, she decided to accept the fact that she was cursed, but she wanted to stay one step ahead. She became obsessed with fortune tellers and palm readers and she began taking lessons in divination. She was trying to protect her family, but she found out that her oldest and favorite son Guiseppe had signed up for the war and she was determined to save him.

Leonarda learned about the law of equivalent change. To save a life, you have to take somebody else's. She needed to come up with an idea to kill someone in her shop and she was going to protect her son inside and out by using soap and food. When we left off in part 1, Leonarda had just decided who the perfect 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 and she was a virgin, so Leonarda assumed this meant she was the perfect sacrifice because she was pure. 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 (Poo-la), 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 home. It was very quiet as they sat in the dining room area. 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 and she screamed 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 her home 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 first 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 soap was a thick sludge again. In a fit of rage, she grabbed the pot to threw it across the room, but she pulled her hands back because she had burned her palms. It was another wasted attempt. When her son Giuseppe came home that evening, she fed him the tea cakes and since she wasn't able to carry the pots due to the burns on her hands, she had him carry out a bucket of sludge to pour in the septic tank. She said it was a batch of soap that got messed up.

Time was running out. It was almost time for Giuseppe to leave and go to war 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 sacrifice.

The third victim was Signora Virginia Cacioppo (Ca-cho-po). 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 hint 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. EVERY SINGLE INCH OF HIM. 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. Her son was fully protected.

She didn't get to enjoy the calm feeling for long though. In her haste to get rid of Virginia, she never thought to consider just how well known this woman was in town. 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 shop. 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 to help convince them.

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 and that's what she'd used to skim the fat off the top of the pots as the caustic soda dissolved her victims. 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 (Put-zolee) 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, an insane asylum.”

Leonarda 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 was 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 banging 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 (app-a-plexy) or stroke 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 (Ball-i-toe) 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 a paper trail 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 at war 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. And that's the story of Leonarda Cianciulli who became known as “The Soap-maker of Correggio”, one of Italy's most infamous serial killers.