This Killer Made Soap and Tea Cakes With Her Victims

In the annals of criminal history, few stories are as disturbing and chilling as that of Leonarda Cianciulli, a female serial killer who terrorized Italy during the 1930s. With a macabre twist to her crimes, Cianciulli lured and murdered three women, turning their remains into soap and tea cakes before serving them to unsuspecting friends. 

Her motivation? Believing that these heinous acts would serve as sacrifices to protect her son during World War II. This article delves into the life, crimes, trial, and ultimate demise of Leonarda Cianciulli.

Background and early life

Leonarda Cianciulli was born on April 18, 1893, in Montella, a small town in the province of Avellino, Italy. Raised in a superstitious and religious environment, she grew up learning about various folk beliefs and traditions. She attempted suicide twice in her youth.

Cianciulli’s married in 1917 and had seventeen pregnancies during her marriage, but lost three of the children to miscarriage. Ten more died in their youth. Consequently, Cianciulli was heavily protective of the four surviving children.

This loss of offspring had a profound psychological impact on her and further deepened her attachment to her surviving son, Giuseppe.

The grisly crimes

In the 1930s, Cianciulli moved to the town of Correggio with her third husband. There, she began to practice fortune-telling and palmistry, establishing a reputation as a skilled seer. This, however, was only a facade for her darker ambitions.

Between 1939 and 1940, Leonarda Cianciulli befriended three middle-aged women, Faustina Setti, Francesca Soavi, and Virginia Cacioppo, under the pretense of finding them suitable husbands or job opportunities. Once she gained their trust, she lured them to her home under the guise of arranging these supposed opportunities. Instead, she drugged and murdered each of them, using an axe to dismember their bodies.

The sinister rituals

Cianciulli’s crimes took an even more sinister turn after the murders. She believed that by creating human soap and tea cakes from the victims’ remains, she would protect her son from the impending war. She boiled the flesh of her victims, mixed it with various ingredients, and then crafted bars of soap. Additionally, she used the remains of blood to bake tea cakes and other pastries, which she served to her friends and family. Cianciulli described what she did in her official statement:

I threw the pieces into a pot, added seven kilos of caustic soda, which I had bought to make soap, and stirred the 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.

Here’s her statement after the last victim:

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 neighbours and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet.

Discovery and capture

Leonarda Cianciulli’s gruesome actions were finally uncovered when her final victim, Virginia Cacioppo, was reported missing by her sister-in-law. Suspicions arose, and the police investigated Cianciulli’s home, where they found evidence linking her to the murders. Cianciulli initially denied any wrongdoing but later confessed to her heinous acts, showing no remorse for her crimes.

Trial and sentencing

During her trial, Leonarda Cianciulli’s defense argued that she was mentally unstable, partially due to the trauma of losing so many children. Nevertheless, the court deemed her competent to stand trial. In 1946, she was found guilty of her three heinous murders and sentenced to 30 years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum.

Death and legacy

Leonarda Cianciulli spent the remaining years of her life in prison, suffering from mental health issues. She died on October 15, 1970, at the age of 77.

Her chilling legacy remains a haunting reminder of the depths of human depravity and the destructive power of superstitions. The case of Leonarda Cianciulli has continued to fascinate criminologists and psychologists, prompting further examination into the intersection of mental health, belief systems, and criminal behavior.


Leonarda Cianciulli’s murderous spree shocked Italy and the world, leaving behind a legacy of terror and disbelief. Her twisted belief in human sacrifices and her macabre rituals turned her into one of the most infamous serial killers in history. The tragedy of her lost children and her disturbed mental state, while offering some understanding, can never fully justify the heinous crimes she committed. The case of Leonarda Cianciulli stands as a somber reminder of the dark potential within the human psyche and the importance of understanding and addressing mental health issues in society.

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