It’s a good thing that when Marie Antoinette declared, “Let them eat cake!” Leonarda Cianciulli wasn’t around. After all, her cakes were famous. For those counting carbs, Leonarda also made soap! (And yes. I know that Marie Antoinette never actually said “Let them eat cake,” thank you.)
Known as the “Soap-Maker of Correggio,” Leonarda Cianciulli is one the most notorious serial killers (and cannibals) to come out of Italy. Not only would she murder and rob her victims, she’d make them into desserts! After all, Italians are known for their bakeries. And when the body parts weren’t being used for confection, they’d be melted into soap, which she’d hand out as gifts.
Born in 1893, Leonarda did not have an easy time growing up. As a youth, she attempted suicide twice. As a young woman, she was told by a fortune teller that she would marry, but all of her children would die at an early age. When Leonarda did eventually get married, it was to a man her parents disapproved of, causing her mother to put a “curse” on them.
Sadly, the fortune teller was right. Thirteen out of her 17 children died. Understandably, Leonarda became obsessed with protecting her remaining four children, doing whatever it took to keep them alive. So, when her favorite child, Giuseppe, announced he was joining the army in 1939, she became manic. Desperate to keep him safe while at war, Leonarda believed that if she sacrificed the lives of three middle-aged women, her son’s life would be spared in return.
Leonarda owned a small shop in town and was quite popular. In fact, many women came to visit her, seeking life advice. (WHAT UP, IRONY?) Faustina Setti was one of these women. Hoping to meet a man, Faustina asked Leonarda to help her find one. Leonarda told Faustina that she had found someone, but he lived far away and she’d have to travel there to meet him. She then convinced Faustina to write multiple letters and postcards to her family and friends, letting them know she was going on a trip. As she was about to embark on her journey, Leonarda handed Faustina a glass of poisoned wine. She then took an axe and chopped up her body into nine pieces.
She would later confess, “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.” Damn. This is right up there with having to eat that shit-filled pie in The Help.
Next up was Francesca Soavi, who came to Leonarda looking for work. Leonarda told Francesca that she had found her a job, but it was in another town. Once again, Leonarda was able to persuade her victim into writing letters to family and friends. When she had finished, Leonarda handed her a glass of poisoned wine. More tea cakes, anyone?
The third and final victim was Virginia Cacioppo, who Leonarda described as “really sweet.” (She meant tastewise.)
“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,” she said in her statement. “I gave bars to neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.”
The sinister soap-maker went to see a palm reader to find out her fortune and was told, “In your right hand I see prison, in your left a criminal asylum.” Leonarda was soon caught and found guilty. Her sentence? Thirty years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum.
If you’re ever wondering what type of cooking pots work best for preparing human, you can check out the ones used by Leonarda herself. They’re currently on display at the Criminological Museum in Rome.
Carrie Bradshaw Voice: I couldn’t help but wonder. What is Little Debbie Cakes were actually made out of Little Debbie?