Also Known As: “The Soap Maker of Correggio”
Born: November 14, 1893
Died: October 15, 1970 (cerebral apoplexy)
Active: 1939 to 1940
Method of Disposal: Drugged, axed and used as a condiment
- Faustina Setti (acquaintance)
- Francesca Soavi (acquaintance)
- Virginia Cacioppo (acquaintance)
Leonarda Cianciulli was a resourceful woman. She knew how to make use of any leftovers, knew how to stretch a lira. It was the 30s, and money was tight. In those times, you made do.
Leonarda had good reason to be frugal. She had recently lost her home and all her worldly possessions in the Vulture Earthquake in 1930. She and her husband Raffaele cut their losses and moved to Correggio, where she started up her own business as a local fortune teller and self-appointed matchmaker for the local women. She soon became well known among the locals as a nice lady and a good neighbour.
During the course of her marriage, Leonarda was blessed with 17 pregnancies. Unfortunately, 3 resulted in miscarriages, and 10 died while they were still young. Leonarda was thus fiercely protective of the remaining 4 children. She would go to the ends of the earth to protect them, and would often consult with other fortune tellers and psychics to allay her fears that another child would be taken from her. Once when she was younger, she had been told that she would get married and have children, but that all her children would die. Leonarda would have none of it!
It was at about this time that her eldest and most favoured child, Giuseppe, became old enough to be conscripted. As it appeared Italy would indeed join the war effort and her son would be called up, Leonarda agonised over how she could protect him when he would be so far away. She again turned to the occult arts, employing ever darker means by which she could hold onto her remaining children.
It was at this time she had her epiphany: If another was to take the place of her son, this would balance everything and Giuseppe would not need to be taken from her. It just might work.
Leonarda had gotten to know quite a few people through her work. She knew what they wanted most dearly. Leonarda’s mind wandered to her neighbour Faustina Setti, who desperately wished for a husband, and had come to her seeking help. Yes, Leonarda had told her, she would do her best to find one.
She spoke to Faustina, advising her that Leonarda had in fact found her a husband, but he was quite far away, in a town called Pola. She told Faustina to tell no one about her departure, but to write some letters and post cards which she could send later so that everyone would know she was fine. After the drug laced wine she’d served to her friend had done its work and Leonarda had done what was necessary to appease the higher power, she wondered whether there was a further use for what remained of her neighbour. She had been considering adding to her repertoire of skills, and had dabbled in soap making recently. She already had the caustic soda she had picked up just that morning at the market. And, well…waste not, want not!
With the caustic soda and the remains of Faustina, Leonarda soon had a compliment of soap products. To Leonarda’s delight, she was also able to add some of the blood she’d saved to a mixture of flour, sugar, chocolate, milk and eggs. The blood added a wonderful crunchy texture to her patented tea cakes. Leonarda took great pride in serving the cakes to her friends and neighbours, watching as the cakes were quickly devoured.
It could have been that Leonarda felt that once the soap and tea cakes were gone, she needed to replenish the pantry. It could have been that she thought the fates might have blinked and missed her sacrificial offering. Or that she needed one life sacrificed for each of her surviving children. Whatever the reason, Leonarda was soon looking among her neighbours again for potential soap making and baking supplies. Francesca Soavi was another of her neighbours who had come to Leonarda, requesting help with attaining a new job. It just so happened that Leonarda had procured a position for her at another faraway location in Piacenza, at a girls’ school. Leonarda thought it might be a nice surprise for Francesca to keep her new job a secret, so Francesca was to simply tell her kith and kin she was going away.
A quick drug-laced wine and a slip of her axe later, and Francesca was bubbling away nicely on the stove, garnished with caustic soda. She was followed by Virginia Cacioppo, who had beseeched Leonarda to help her restart her opera career. Virginia, like the others, was sworn to secrecy about her impending trip away where she would work with a theatre director. Leonarda was especially pleased with her third sacrifice. After preparing Virginia in the pot, Leonarda added some cologne. She noted that the resulting soaps were particularly sweet, as were the tea cakes. Yes, that Virginia woman was really sweet!
However, consternations were stirring among Virginia’s family members. Her sister-in-law had seen Virginia enter Leonarda’s home, but had not seen her since. She took her concerns to the local constabulary who investigated her claims, finding a number of clues. Leonarda had not been as good at cleaning up after herself as she had been at cooking up a storm. When interviewed, Leonarda immediately admitted to everything. Denying everything might have undone all the cosmic good she had created with all her sacrifices.
Leonarda was given a thirty year jail term, along with three years in a criminal asylum. Leonarda survived her stint in jail, but once in the asylum she suffered a stroke from which she did not recover.
Leonarda had tried to secure her children’s safety by offering the lives of others in place of her nearest and dearest. In the process she had managed to find a use for the leftovers. You could say many things about her, but you could never accuse Leonarda of being wasteful.