True Crime

The Soap-Maker of Correggio — Her Secret Ingredient: Her Victims

Not only she made soaps out of her victims, she also used their blood to make teacakes — which she ate and fed to her own son.

Leonarda Cianciulli — the famous soap maker of Correggio. Source: Stories from the Neighbourhood.

Have you watched Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?

Do you recall a certain Mrs Lovett — the lady in the movie who chopped off Todd’s victims and turned them into meat-pies?

This lady we’re about to discuss reminds me a lot of Mrs Lovett.

Except — instead of turning her victims into meat-pies, she made them into teacakes. And soaps.

The Lady

Leonarda Cianciulli was born on April 18, 1894 in Montella, a beautiful southern Italian province.

Her childhood was not a good one.

She attempted suicide twice before entering adulthood. Against her mother’s wish, she married a registry employee named Raffaele Pansardi in 1917.

She believed that her mother had put a curse on her marriage because she didn’t approve of the marriage. To make matter worse, a fortune teller told her that all her children will die. A gypsy she visited read her palm and told her she saw prison in her right hand and criminal asylum in her left.

Both prophecies would prove to be true.

Leonarda was pregnant 17 times — 3 of which ended in miscarriages and 10 of her children died in their youth.

She would later on murder and turn her victims into soaps and teacakes to protect her living son.

The Murders

As previously mentioned, Leonarda lost many of her offsprings.

She was a very superstitious woman. When 1939 rolled around and her eldest son — her favourite child no less— Giuseppe was called to join the Italian army to prepare for the World War II, she decided to leave nothing to chance.

She had lost many of her children and she wasn’t about to lose another one — her favourite one at that.

She decided she would do whatever it takes to protect her son.

She decided she needed human sacrifice.

So she set about finding her victims.

Leonarda owned a small shop selling soaps and cakes. She also offered her fortune telling service, where she ultimately found her victims.

Her first victim was Faustina Setti, a local spinster looking for love.

Leonarda posed as a suitor and wrote letters to Setti, giving her false hope and promises. On the day Setti was to go meet the non-existent suitor, Leonarda drugged her, killed her with an axe and used her blood to make teacakes, which not only she ate herself, she also fed to her own son and the ladies who paid her a visit.

In her own words in her memoir, Leonarda described what she did with Setti’s body after she cut her into 9 pieces and gathered her blood in a basin:

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.

Her next victim was to be Francesca Soavi, a lady looking for a little adventure in life.

Leonarda told Soavi she had arranged a teaching job for her abroad and asked her to write letters to her loved ones telling them about the trip she was about to embark on.

Soavi was to meet the same fate as Setti.

Drugged, axed, and ended up in teacakes.

Leonarda’s last and final victim would be her downfall.

Unlike her first 2 victims who are fairly alone in life, Virginia Cacioppo was an ex-soprano who once sang at the famous La Scala — a well established opera house in Milan.

Virginia has a sister (some sources say sister in law) who grew suspicious after not hearing from her for quite some time.

This suspicion sparked an investigation, which eventually led to Leonarda’s arrest and conviction.

Although Virginia also ended up being drugged, axed and made into teacakes, Leonarda went a step further with her dead body.

She melted her flesh and turned it into soap bars, which she later distributed to her neighbours and acquaintances.

Hence, the infamous name — the soap-maker of Correggio.

In her own words, Leonarda described what she did with Virginia’s corpse:

She ended 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 make some most acceptable creamy soap. I gave bars to neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.

She had tried to deny her crime upon her arrest but when the police tried to implicate Giuseppe — her beloved son — in the crime, she broke down and confessed to everything.

The End of the Soap-Maker

Leonarda was found guilty and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

On top of serving her prison sentence, Leonarda was also to spend 3 years in a criminal asylum.

The gypsy’s prophesy came true.

The notorious soap-maker of Correggio would never leave the asylum.

Leonarda died at the age of 79 years old from cerebral apoplexy, a type of brain haemorrhage on October 15, 1970. She died in the asylum.

Her famous murder weapons — the axe, the knife and the pot she used to boil her victims in — were donated to the Criminology Museum in Rome and can be viewed by the general public to this day.

Writer by heart. Teacher (English, Yoga, Pilates) by trade. Avid reader. World traveller. Model. You can reach me at

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