Leonarda Cianciulli

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Leonarda Cianciulli was an Italian serial killer and cannibal known for transforming the corpses of her victims into soaps and teacakes. Between 1939 and 1940, she murdered three people in Correggio. Cianciulli, a Montella native, tried suicide twice as a child. She married a man her parents didn’t approve of in 1917 and relocated to Lauria with him. For the remainder of her life, she believed her mother cursed their marriage. In 1927, she was arrested and condemned to prison for fraud in Lauria. Following her release, the couple moved to Lacedonia, where their house was later destroyed by an earthquake. They ultimately settled in Correggio, where she established a successful soap shop. During her marriage, Cianciulli had 17 pregnancies, three of which resulted in losses. She also lost ten more children before they reached adulthood. As a result, she was fiercely protective of her remaining four children. She had been interested in palm reading and fortune telling since she was a child, and her interest only grew after she became a mother. When World War II broke out and her oldest son was about to join the Italian Army, she reasoned that she could protect him by making human sacrifices. Faustina Setti, Francesca Soavi, and Virginia Cacioppo were her three victims. She made soap and teacakes from the bodies of her victims and distributed them to her neighbors. Cianciulli was finally apprehended and prosecuted in 1946. She was found guilty of murdering the woman and sentenced to thirty years in jail and three years in a mental institution.

Youth and Adolescence

Leonarda Cianciulli was born in Montella, Avellino, Republic of Italy, on April 18, 1894. She was a rape victim’s kid. After her pregnancy was found, Emilia di Nolfi was forced to marry her rapist Mariano Cianciulli. Leonarda had a difficult childhood.

She was raised in one of the poorest areas of late 19th and early 20th century Italy, and she lost her father at a young age. Her mother remarried, but this did not significantly improve their financial position. She was also emotionally abused by her mother and attempted suicide on two different occasions.

Mom and Marriage

Leonarda Cianciulli married a registry office clerk, Raffaele Pansardi, who was much older than her, against the desires of her parents, who had chosen a wealthy suitor for her. Throughout her life, she claimed that her mother cursed her and her spouse on this occasion. While the idea of putting a curse on someone may seem absurd, her life was filled with misery and pain from that moment forward.

In 1921, Cianciulli and her spouse relocated to Lauria, a town and commune in the modern province of Potenza. They had money problems from the start. Pansardi’s meager earnings could not sustain their growing family as they began to have children. Cianciulli also labored. However, in 1927, she was caught and imprisoned for fraud.

After her release, she and Pansardi chose to relocate the family to Lacedonia, a commune in the province of Avellino, Italy. They were searching for a new beginning, but tragedy and misery followed them. Their home was destroyed in an earthquake in 1930. The family relocated once more, this time to Correggio, a village and commune in the Province of Reggio Emilia, Italy.

It was in Correggio that the family started to feel financially secure. Cianciulli establishes a small soap store. She was a well-liked part of the community, and her shop was well-known.

She had 17 babies over the years, three of which resulted in miscarriages. Ten of her offspring died when they were young. She grew excessively protective of the four survivors. She was a superstitious person who believed in fortune-telling, numerology, and palm reading.

Her fear of losing more children was exacerbated by a discussion she had with a fortune teller years before she married. The fortune teller foretold that she would marry and have children, but that they would all perish young.

She allegedly encountered another Romani, a palm reader, who claimed to have seen a prison in Cianciulli’s right hand and a criminal asylum on his left. World War II had begun in 1939, and Italy, headed by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, was planning to join the war on Germany’s side.

They had started recruiting for their military, and Cianciulli’s eldest son, Giuseppe Pansardi, had been assigned to the Italian Army. Giuseppe was her favorite kid, and she was worried about his safety. She determined that the only way to protect him at all costs was through human sacrifice.

Faustina Setti Cianciulli was a fortune teller herself, and she had a good name. All three of her victims were clients who had gone to her for assistance. Faustina Setti was a middle-aged single woman searching for a husband. During her visit, Cianciulli informed her that there was a suitable partner for her in Pola (modern-day Croatia), but she was not to notify anyone. Setti was also instructed to write letters and postcards to be sent back to her family and friends once she arrived in Pola.

She came to say farewell to Cianciulli on the day of her departure, who had given her drugged wine to drink. Cianciulli murdered her with an axe after she had fallen unconscious, then dragged her corpse into a closet and hacked it into nine parts. She also put the blood in a container.

Cianciulli provided a detailed account of what she did with Setti’s remains after her arrest. She told the police that she tossed the pieces into a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, and stirred until the mixture thickened and darkened. She then collected it in buckets and dumped it in a neighboring septic tank.

She let the blood coagulate in the basin before drying it in an oven, grinding it, and mixing it with flour, sugar, chocolate, milk, eggs, and margarine to create a number of teacakes. She gave many of these to visiting women and ate the remainder with Giuseppe. According to some accounts, Cianciulli was paid for her services with Setti’s life savings. It cost around 30,000 lire.

Soavi, Francesca

Francesca Soavi was the name of her second victim. She, like Setti, was a middle-aged woman who had been promised greater opportunities than she had at the time. Cianciulli informed her that she had secured a job at a girls’ school in Piacenza (modern-day northern Italy).

Soavi, like Setti, was requested to correspond with friends, but she was instructed to do so by Correggio. She, too, arrived to say goodbye to Cianciulli, drank the drugged wine, and was murdered with an axe. Her body was treated similarly to Setti’s, and Cianciulli got 3,000 lire from the death of her second victim. The crime was allegedly committed on September 5, 1940.

Virginia Cacioppo is a lawyer

Virginia Cacioppo, a former soprano star, was said to have performed at Milan’s La Scala opera theater. Cianciulli told her about a position as a secretary for a mysterious impresario in Florence. She, like the other two women, was told not to inform anyone about her destination.

“She wound 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 create some most acceptable creamy soap,” Cianciulli later explained. I distributed bars to neighbors and friends. The cakes were also better: that lady was really lovely.” Cianciulli had allegedly amassed 50,000 lire and various jewels from Cacioppo.

Arrest, Prosecution, and Sentence

Her final victim, Cacioppo’s death, proved to be her downfall. Cacioppo had a sister-in-law who became increasingly suspicious of her abrupt departure. She reported it to Reggio Emilia authorities, telling them she last saw Cacioppo entering Cianciulli’s home. Cianciulli was later apprehended.

She initially denied ever murdering anyone. However, after Giuseppe was implicated in Cacioppo’s death, she confessed fully. Her hearing was held in Reggio Emilia in 1946. She was convicted guilty of all three murders and sentenced to 30 years in prison. She was also sentenced to three years in a mental institution.

Leonarda Cianciulli’s Death

Cianciulli died on October 15, 1970, in the Pozzuoli women’s criminal hospital, after suffering from cerebral apoplexy for a long time. She was 76 years old at the time. Many of the case’s artifacts, including the pot she used to boil her victims in, ended up at the Criminological Museum in Rome, where they are now on exhibit.

Throughout Popular Media

Her tale has been adapted several times, both on stage and in film. Lina Wertmuller presented a play called ‘Love and Magic in Mama’s Kitchen’ at the Spoleto Festival in 1979. It told the story of Cianciulli’s life in a grimly comedic tone. Mauro Bolognini’s 1977 film ‘Gran Bollito’ starred American actress Shelley Winters as Cianciulli.

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