Serial Killer

Leonarda Cianciulli – Neighborhood killer does the unthinkable

Leonarda Cianciulli: The Shocking Story of Italy's Soap-Maker of Correggio

Leonarda Cianciulli is the main character in a chilling tale set in a small town in Northern Italy during the 1930s. Foreign films typically have really big plot twists at the end, and today’s story is no different. However, the plot twist today is so unexpected, so abrupt, so shocking, so horrifying, that I thought it would be interesting if you all tried to guess the ending as you’re watching it.

And you put your guesses in the comments section, and then we’ll see if anybody comes even remotely close to what the ending actually is. I gotta be honest, I don’t think anybody is gonna guess this one.

In the late summer of 1930 Raffaele Pansardi and his wife Leonarda Cianciulli moved with their four young kids to a little town in Northern Italy called Perezio. A terrible earthquake had destroyed the family’s previous Village and killed nearly all of their neighbors and so this family was feeling very lucky to be alive.

Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli

But when they arrived in Garessio they really had nothing and were hoping that the people of this town will just be very welcoming and generous and kind of help them get set up again. And the people of this town did exactly that.

Croatia was this beautiful place inside of a fertile Valley where people lived in these Cottages surrounded by rice fields and mulberry trees. The people who lived there were very tight-knit and looked after each other, cooked for each other, and had parties together. I mean, this was a real community.

Italian Cottage
Italian Cottage

So when Raphael and Leonarda Cianciulli arrived, the townspeople immediately found them this cute little cottage by a stream with a whitewashed front door and a beautiful stone hearth for cooking. There was an attached storefront on this Cottage that they were giving them.

Once the family had moved in, the family’s new neighbors helped get Raphael a job and they also helped Leonarda Cianciulli set up the attached storefront that was part of their Cottage so she could sell her homemade soap bars out of the shop. Very quickly the family just completely fell in love with Correggio, especially 36-year-old Leonarda.

Leonarda Cianciulli had been born into poverty. Her mother had actually come from a very wealthy family but they had cut Leonarda’s mom off when she became pregnant with Leonarda.

So when Leonarda’s mom gave birth to her, she blamed Leonarda for their poverty and all of their problems.

She beat her relentlessly. Leonarda’s father died when she was very young, so she was stuck at home being abused constantly by her mother.

When Leonarda was 21, she met Raphael and fell in love with him. He was a very kind and gentle man, making a strong impression on anyone who met him.

But when Leonarda went to her mother and introduced Raffaele to her and said I’m going to marry this man I love him, her mother flew into a rage and then literally cursed Leonarda.

She muttered the spell out loud and then told Leonarda that because of the spell, Leonarda would have evil following her forever.

Of course, Leonarda Cianciulli was used to her mother’s terrible behavior and didn’t think she was at risk of this curse affecting her life.

However, not long after marrying Raffaele, Leonarda began to see evidence that this curse might be real. She had sudden fits of seizures for no particular reason and every time she got pregnant, she would miscarry and lose the baby.

Feeling desperate because all she wanted was a family, Leonarda went to a fortune teller in hopes that they would tell her that in the future her life got better, not worse. After studying her palms, the fortune teller gave her grave news. She said Leonarda would have living children but they’d all die young and she saw a prison and an insane asylum in her future.

This experience shocked Leonarda and confirmed for her that her mother’s curse must be real. Over the following years, Leonarda and Raphael had 14 living children, tragically losing 10 of them as babies or toddlers.

And so by the time Leonarda Cianciulli had arrived in Croatia with her family in 1930 she was absolutely petrified that her last four precious children would die because of this curse.

So, in order to keep her kids safe, she basically never let them out of her sight. She made sure they always adhered to these strange rules and beliefs that Leonarda had come up with about Good and Evil that were designed to somehow protect the kids from this curse.

But the incredible show of generosity and support and kindness that Leonarda and her family had experienced when they arrived in Garessio had really done something to Leonarda. In fact, it really kind of changed the way she viewed the world.

Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli

Suddenly she was less concerned with this curse and how to protect her family from it, and instead, she was just kind of intent. She felt safe, she felt happy.

The women in the town loved Leonarda Cianciulli and always came by the house to say hi to her and eat some of the amazing tea cakes that she would make. Also, Leonarda had become best friends with this woman named Virginia Cacioppo, who was a former opera singer from Milan, elegant and beautiful.

Virginia Cacioppo
Virginia Cacioppo

Every time she went to a dinner party, she would invite Leonarda. Leonarda and her family were becoming financially stable, really for the first time ever. Leonarda’s soap shop that she ran out of their Cottage was really successful.

People came from all around to buy her soaps because nobody could make them like she could. Raphael’s job as a clerk was very steady, and he too was becoming well respected in town.

So, because of how well this transition to Correggio had been, at some point, Leonarda Cianciulli made a promise both to herself and to the universe.

Instead of focusing all of her time and energy on this curse which had plagued her her whole life, she said she was going to focus on helping the people of Garessio any way she could, because they had done so much for her. And that is exactly what Leonarda did.

But in a kind of ironic way, because of the fear Leonarda had for her mother’s curse, she had gone to that fortune teller many years ago.

Even though the news she got when she saw the fortune teller was horrible, Leonarda had left that experience kind of fascinated with the art of fortune telling and magic and sorcery. It just really appealed to her.

Now that Leonarda was running this very successful soap shop out of her house, there were all these people coming from far and wide that would ask to barter for her soaps. Bartering is like trading one item for another item versus paying for something outright with money.

So, Leonarda Cianciulli began bartering with these travelers whenever they had books about fortune telling, about magic, about sorcery, about how to make potions, about the occult.

After reading through all of the books and learning as much as she could, Leonarda, in addition to selling her soaps, began offering fortune-telling services to the people of Garessio.

Leonarda Cianciulli – Neighborhood killer does the unthinkable
Leonarda Cianciulli – Neighborhood killer does the unthinkable

It turned out she was really good at predicting the future to the point where people in town basically began going to her for all kinds of advice.

She helped women find love, told farmers what crops to plant, created charm bags for people and told them they would protect them.

She also began creating herb potions for people when they got sick. It actually got to the point where people trusted her so much that when they got sick, they didn’t even go to the doctor, they just went to her.

So very quickly, Leonarda Cianciulli felt very proud of the fact that she had lived up to the promise she had made both to herself and to the universe to always help the people of Garessio at every turn.

But more than that, Leonarda was starting to think that this newfound sense of purpose and happiness she was getting in helping the people of Garessio through her various services had finally broken her mother’s curse.

By 1939, Leonarda and her family had been living in Garessio very happily for almost 10 years. At the time, Leonarda’s oldest son Giuseppe Pansardi was 17 years old. Giuseppe was tall, he was handsome, he had dark hair, he had dark eyes, and all the girls loved him.

Giuseppe Pansardi
Giuseppe Pansardi

Giuseppe and Leonarda had always had a very close relationship. Every day Giuseppe would come home, and he and his mom would sit in the kitchen and they would chat for a while and eat some of her tea cakes.

But now in 1939 when Giuseppe was 17, he started to act a little bit different. He would come home and instead of going into the kitchen to sit with Leonarda, he would just go straight to his room and shut the door.

When Leonarda Cianciulli or Raphael would ask him, “Hey, is everything okay?” Giuseppe would get very defensive and say he was fine and to please just leave me alone.

But to Leonarda, it seemed really obvious that her son was not fine. She thought, you know, maybe he has some sort of crit he’s keeping, and that’s what’s making him act this way. He’s hurting on the inside, but he can’t share it with the world.

Leonarda had no idea what the secret might be. Then, one day late that same year, Leonarda was walking through town when one of her neighbors approached her.

“Hey, are you aware that your son Giuseppe has signed up for the military? He’s leaving for training in just a few months,” the neighbor informed her.

Leonarda Cianciulli had not heard about this. People were talking a lot about World War II, which had just started around this time, but she had never considered that her precious son would go off to fight in that war.

But now, Leonarda realized that Giuseppe’s recent strange behavior suddenly made sense. This was the secret he was keeping – he had joined the military and hadn’t told his family.

Leonarda turned around and went straight home. She went right into her bedroom, shut the door, and she just sobbed. To her, it felt like her mother’s curse was back, and now her precious son was going to go off into the war, and he was going to die unless she found a way to combat this evil that was now following her again.

Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli

For the next several days, Leonarda did not open up her soap shop. She didn’t come downstairs. She just stayed locked in her bedroom and read through all of her books about magic and sorcery and the occult, looking for some sort of solution for how to fight this curse. And finally, she figured out what she had to do.

She read that if she gave something beautiful to the universe, the universe would reward her. And in Leonarda’s mind, that reward would be sparing her son.

So, Leonarda Cianciulli decided that the most beautiful thing she could offer the universe would be to help the people of Garessio, which she was already doing. But in her mind, she thought she could really ramp up her efforts and really try to change people’s lives.

She thought if she could do that, the Universe was sure to notice and it would save her son’s life.

Leonarda decided that the first person she would really go above and beyond to help inside of Garessio was a woman named Faustina Setti. Faustina, who was in her 70s, was desperate to get married. But to many people in town, including Leonarda, she seemed kind of beyond help. She was totally anti-social, awkward, and given her age, it seemed like marriage was just not in the cards for her.

Faustina Setti
Faustina Setti

But this is where Leonarda thought she could step in and change everything for Faustina. She would find her a husband.

So, Leonarda Cianciulli reached out to Faustina and told her about a friend of hers—a man who lived in a city to the north, also alone in his old age, likely looking for marriage. She could set them up if Faustina was interested.

Faustina was immediately interested and wanted to meet this guy. But Leonarda did tell her, “You know, this guy, the reason he’s not married is that it’s kind of difficult to be around.

He’s kind of a jerk, but he’s got a wonderful heart. I think he’d be a great fit for you.” Faustina replied, “Great! I want to meet him. I want to marry him. I’m ready.”

Finally, the day came when Faustina went to this other town and met this guy in person. They fell in love, and Faustina moved right in with him. Before long, she was sending happy postcards back to Garessio, telling everyone about how happy she was and how thankful she was for Leonarda’s help in setting them up.

Leonarda Cianciulli was thrilled, not only for her friend’s happiness but also because it really felt like she had checked the box in terms of going above and beyond to help someone in Garessio in an effort to get the universe to spare her son.

However, her son was still a couple of months away from leaving for training, and Leonarda, being very superstitious, was unsure if that was enough.

So in September of 1940, Leonarda began her next good deed project with another woman in town—a widow in her 50s named Francesca Soavi. She had worked as a teacher, but when her husband got sick, she quit her job. Then, when her husband ultimately died, she was left with nothing.

Leonarda Cianciulli reached out to Francesca and offered to contact her own mother’s rich family to see if maybe they had a job they could arrange for Francesca.

Francesca Soavi (Clementina Soavi)
Francesca Soavi (Clementina Soavi)

Leonarda wasn’t excited about talking to her mother’s family, who had disowned her mother and had shown no interest in Leonarda. But she wanted to do this for Francesca and for the sake of her son, to get the universe to notice what she was doing.

Sure enough, Leonarda reached out to her mother’s family, and they were remarkably open to the idea. They got a job for Francesca in Switzerland.

Eventually, Francesca jetted off to Switzerland and then, a couple of days later, she was sending postcards back to Correggio, saying how happy she was and how thankful she was for Leonarda’s help.

Again, Leonarda Cianciulli was so happy about this outcome, both because she cared about Francesca and also because this was yet another kind of check in the box of her good deeds that the universe was going to notice, which in turn would save her son.

But after Francesca didn’t need any more help, Leonarda found herself looking at her son, who was getting closer and closer to leaving for training.

She thought to herself, “Have I done enough to protect him? Have I really stopped this curse from killing him after he leaves?” Leonarda eventually decided that no, she had not done enough. She needed to do at least one more really big good deed for someone in this town.

And who better to help than her best friend Virginia Cacioppo, the former opera singer? Leonarda knew from all her talks with Virginia that she really missed living in the big city and going to the opera house. So Leonarda reached out to Virginia and said, “You know what? I can reach out to my mother’s rich family, and maybe they can find a job for you in a big city if you’re interested.”

Virginia Cacioppo
Virginia Cacioppo

Virginia replied, “Wow! Yes, I would love that. That’s an amazing opportunity.” Leonarda, again, contacted her mother’s rich family. They came through, finding this job as a social planner for a very rich guy in Florence, Italy, who often funded plays and operas. This job was perfect for Virginia.

When Leonarda Cianciulli told Virginia about this opportunity, Virginia cried tears of joy. After packing up all of her things, Virginia made a stop at Leonarda’s house to say goodbye and thank you. The two women hugged, laughed, cried, and drank wine together.

Finally, when it was time for Virginia to go, even though Leonarda was very sad, she was also quite happy because she felt like this good deed was enough to get the universe to spare her son.

However, Leonarda, being a very superstitious person, had one more thing she wanted to do with Giuseppe before he left for the military. She wanted to bathe her 18-year-old son with a particular bar of soap and feed him a special kind of tea cake.

She believed these items, infused with special herbs and ingredients from her books of magic and the occult, would form a protective barrier for Giuseppe.

On the same night that Virginia headed off to Florence, Leonarda approached Giuseppe and insisted on giving him the bath and feeding him the tea cakes. Though Giuseppe was not enthused, knowing his mother’s superstitions, he agreed.

Despite Giuseppe’s annoyance, Leonarda Cianciulli felt ecstatic. She believed she had done everything she could to ensure her son’s safety. However, her relief was short-lived. A few days after this ritual, the police showed up at Leonarda’s door.

They informed her that the three women she supposedly helped, who had left town, were reported missing by their families. Shocked, Leonarda insisted she received regular postcards from them, showing them to the police as evidence. The letters seemed authentic, leaving both Leonarda and the police puzzled.

The police left, promising to keep in touch. Over the next couple of days, Leonarda continued receiving numerous postcards from the missing women, all appearing normal. She felt confident that it was a mix-up. But weeks later, the police returned unannounced, revealing a shocking discovery.

They traced the letters back to a small town to the north of Caregio, finding they were all sent by the same person, described as a tall, handsome young man with dark hair and eyes: Giuseppe.

The police barged into Leonarda’s house and accused Giuseppe of murdering the three missing women. They took him into custody for questioning about the location of the bodies.

When the last police officer left Leonarda’s house, Leonarda walked outside and just stood there wondering what she was going to do. It was like she had done everything in her power to protect her son from this curse, but somehow this curse she knew had done this to her son.

So now she knew there was only one thing she could do without saying anything to her husband. She went inside, got her things, and began making her way to the police station.

At this point in her life, Leonarda Cianciulli looked much older than her actual age of 46. She had very gray hair, her face was very wrinkled, and she was stooped over.

She was always carrying these charm bags, magical potions, and little stick figures that she claimed protected her family. Her overall appearance when she wandered into the police station was that of a very frail old woman who was also very strange.

Leonarda Cianciulli
Leonarda Cianciulli

Leonarda Cianciulli hobbled her way up to the front desk and in a trembling voice asked the attendant if she could speak to the detective who was working on her son’s case. A moment later, she was led into an interview room where she was told to wait. Eventually, the lead detective walked in, sat down across the table from Leonarda, and asked, “What can I do for you?”

Giuseppe Pansardi
Giuseppe Pansardi

Immediately, Leonarda said, “My son Giuseppe is innocent.” The detective, when he heard this, was not remotely surprised. He fully expected this conversation as he knew Leonarda loved her son very much and would naturally claim his innocence.

Deciding not to stop her, the detective let the distraught mother speak, promising to follow up on whatever she said and then drive her back home.

However, the detective was not prepared for what came out of Leonarda’s mouth over the next couple of hours. Her story about why Giuseppe was innocent was so shocking and bizarre that he outright said, “I don’t believe you. This can’t be true.”

Other officers were called in to listen, and they too found the story unbelievable. Nevertheless, the police followed up on the details she gave, and it all checked out.

It would turn out that back in late 1939, on the day Faustina Setti, the first woman that Leonarda Cianciulli pledged to help in order to save her son, was set to go north and meet her future husband, something unexpected happened. Faustina visited Leonarda’s house to say goodbye.

Faustina Setti
Faustina Setti

Excited about meeting her potential future husband, Faustina was shaking with excitement and smiling ear to ear.

Leonarda, noticing Faustina’s excitement, handed her a glass of wine. As Faustina sipped the wine, she immediately started feeling dizzy and began to lose her balance.

The wine had been poisoned by Leonarda. With an ax in hand, Leonarda struck Faustina in the chest, expecting her to die. When she didn’t, Leonarda struck her head repeatedly until Faustina fell dead.

Leonarda then disposed of Faustina’s body by cutting it into nine pieces, boiling the pieces with caustic soda, turning her body into a horrible black mush, and dumping it into the septic tank. She also used Faustina’s blood to make tea cakes, which she fed to her friends and her son Giuseppe.

Leonarda Cianciulli even asked Giuseppe to mail letters from the little town north of Caregio, pretending to be Faustina, making it seem like she was alive and well.

Even though Leonarda basically got away with killing Faustina, her plan for Faustina had not really gone the way Leonarda had hoped. When she boiled Faustina’s chopped up body parts and this caustic soda, they didn’t really mix the way she wanted them to.

Leonarda was convinced that the reason for this is because Faustina was too skinny, and so there wasn’t enough fat on her body for the mix to be perfect.

So, Leonarda Cianciulli had come up with another elaborate story, this time for another woman, Francesca, about that job in Switzerland she got through her mother’s rich family.

Of course, none of that was true. When Francesca came by Leonarda’s house to say goodbye, she was offered a glass of poisoned wine. After she sipped from it, she became dizzy, and then Leonarda showed up with an ax and hacked Francesca to death.

But again, when the body parts and the caustic soda were in the pot on the stove boiling together, they were still not coming together the way Leonarda wanted.

So again, with a look of disgust, she just dumped the pot down on the septic tank and made tea cakes from Francesca’s blood. Then the next day, she fed those tea cakes to her friends as well as Giuseppe.

Feeling totally unsatisfied with how the last two killings had gone, Leonarda moved on to her third target, her best friend Virginia. This time, when Virginia came by Leonarda’s house to say goodbye, everything went to plan. Leonarda was able to poison Virginia, kill her with the ax, chop her up, and put her in the pot.

This time, the nine chunks of her body mixed beautifully with the caustic soda. After adding a few fine perfumes into the pot, Leonarda Cianciulli was finally able to create a beautiful, rich, creamy bar of soap from Virginia’s body.

She also again made tea cakes from Virginia’s blood. That night when Giuseppe came home, Leonarda demanded that she be allowed to bathe him with her magic soap, i.e., the soap made from Virginia’s body.

So, she did that. She scrubbed him with Virginia’s body soap and fed him the tea cakes that were made from Virginia’s blood.

It would turn out Leonarda did, in fact, believe that in order to save her son from this curse, she would need to give something beautiful to the universe. At first, she really had believed that the way to do that was by helping the people of Garessio above and beyond anything she had ever done before.

But at some point during her interactions with Faustina, the first woman, Leonarda had decided that it wasn’t enough. She really needed to make sure that her son was going to be safe. So, the only way she could guarantee her son’s safety was if she actually took a life and gave that back to the universe. That would save her son.

Three Victims
Three Victims

The reason Leonarda Cianciulli wound up taking three lives and not just one life is that she also decided that as an extra protective measure, she wanted to make sure that she actually bathed her son literally in the body parts and kind of essence of the life she had taken.

And so that’s where the idea of the soap came in. However, the first two women, their body parts didn’t mix right, and so she couldn’t turn them into soap. But then Virginia came along, and her body did mix with the caustic soda, so Leonarda was able to make her soap. She was able to bathe her son with Virginia’s body and feed him Virginia’s blood. So, in Leonarda’s mind, she had done everything she could to protect her son.

At that point, Leonarda would ultimately be sentenced to 30 years in prison, as well as three years in an insane asylum.

Leonarda Cianciulli's Mugshot
Leonarda Cianciulli’s Mugshot

Just as the fortune teller had predicted, Leonarda Cianciulli died in 1907 when she was 76 years old. As for her family, they fled Correggio , and three of her children changed their names and vanished. Her prized son Giuseppe, whom she had killed to protect, had gone on to join the military. He would go to war and either was killed in combat or simply changed his name and vanished as well.

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