Leonarda Cianciulli: The dark side of soapmaking

When I think of soapmaking, I imagine someone working in their kitchen making cold process soap with colourful swirls. I don’t think of death, crime and cannibals. Yet that’s all swirling in the murky past of this beautiful-and dangerous-hobby.

The Soap-Maker of Correggio: Leonarda Cianciulli

Forget Sweeney Todd. This real-life soapmaker from Italy killed three women and turned them into soap. And teacakes.

Leonarda Cianciulli was a respected middle-aged woman, a mother of four sons, but who had lost ten children in infancy and had three miscarriages.

Taking her time to groom her victims, she picked women who lived alone and she claimed to have solutions to their biggest problems.

Her first victim, Faustina Setti, was desperate to find a husband, and Leonarda claimed to have found the perfect man for her.

Her second victim, Francesca Soavi, was in need of a job, and Leonarda told her she knew of a school, far away, which was recruiting.

Her third victim was a former opera singer, Virginia Cacioppo, who wanted to work in theatre, and was only too willing to believe Leonarda had found her a job working in Florence.

Instead of helping these women (I mean, she’s not called “the life-fixer of Correggio”, is she, we know she did something pretty grim), she killed them with an axe, cut them up, then used sodium hydroxide to turn them into soap. Which she then handed out as gifts to her neighbors. Not only that, but she then baked them into her teacakes which she also (you guessed it) handed out to all her neighbors as well as eating them herself and feeding them to her four children.

Why did she do this?

Good question.

Her oldest son had decided he was going to join the Italian army during the second world war and Leonarda, having lost ten babies before, and being superstitious and visiting fortune tellers besides, decided the only way she could protect her son was by making human sacrifices.

Yep, Italy is still a Catholic country. And Catholicism is still a major world religion which doesn’t do human sacrifice. I don’t know what bizarre mental leaps she had made but this woman’s actions were and still remain completely irrational. She died in prison in 1970 of a brain apoplexy (a bleed in the brain) so maybe she’d had one before. Or maybe she had undiagnosed post-natal depression.

Moral of the story? Don’t believe do-gooders who give you offers that are too good to be true. Or don’t eat teacakes given to you by middle-aged women. Or don’t sacrifice people. Who knows?

Happy Halloween.

The dark side of soapmaking

When I think of soapmaking, I imagine someone working in their kitchen making cold process soap with colourful swirls. I don’t think of Mafia, crime and cannibals. Yet that’s all swirling in the murky past of this beautiful-and dangerous-hobby.

The Soap-Maker of Correggio: Leonarda Cianciulli

Forget Sweeney Todd. This real-life soapmaker from Italy killed three women and turned them into soap. And teacakes.

Leonarda Cianciulli was a respected middle-aged woman, a mother of four sons, but who had lost ten children in infancy and had three miscarriages.

Taking her time to groom her victims, she picked women who lived alone and she claimed to have solutions to their biggest problems.

Her first victim, Faustina Setti, was desperate to find a husband, and Leonarda claimed to have found the perfect man for her.

Her second victim, Francesca Soavi, was in need of a job, and Leonarda told her she knew of a school, far away, which was recruiting.

Her third victim was a former opera singer, Virginia Cacioppo, who wanted to work in theatre, and was only too willing to believe Leonarda had found her a job working in Florence.

Instead of helping these women (I mean, she’s not called “the life-fixer of Correggio”, is she, we know she did something pretty grim), she killed them with an axe, cut them up, then used sodium hydroxide to turn them into soap. Which she then handed out as gifts to her neighbors. Not only that, but she then baked them into her teacakes which she also (you guessed it) handed out to all her neighbors as well as eating them herself and feeding them to her four children.

Why did she do this?

Good question.

Her oldest son had decided he was going to join the Italian army during the second world war and Leonarda, having lost ten babies before, and being superstitious and visiting fortune tellers besides, decided the only way she could protect her son was by making human sacrifices.

Yep, Italy is still a Catholic country. And Catholicism is still a major world religion which doesn’t do human sacrifice. I don’t know what bizarre mental leaps she had made but this woman’s actions were and still remain completely irrational. She died in prison in 1970 of a brain apoplexy (a bleed in the brain) so maybe she’d had one before. Or maybe she had undiagnosed post-natal depression.

Moral of the story? Don’t believe do-gooders who give you offers that are too good to be true. Or don’t eat teacakes given to you by middle-aged women. Or don’t sacrifice people. Who knows?

Happy Halloween.

Author: Torie Adams

I am a thirtysomething travel writer, lifestyle blogger, photographer, and USA Today bestselling author in Northern Ireland, aka Mama Adventure. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.mamaadventure.com Twitter: @mamaadventurez

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