WWII Serial Killer Mom Sacrificed Victims to Keep Her Son Safe at War

By Karen Harris

Leonarda Cianciulli was a particularly callous and brutal serial killer who killed her victims as a form of human sacrifice to ensure that her favorite son would emerge from the war unscathed. Cianciulli poisoned her victims, chopped them into pieces with an ax, made soap from their flesh and teacakes from their blood, earning her the nickname the "Soap Maker of Correggio.” Her trial caused a sensation in her native Italy in 1946, which at the time, wasn't exactly familiar with serial killers, let alone women serial killers.

A Fortune Teller Told Cianciulli “I See Prison or an Asylum”

Leonarda Cianciulli was a dark and superstitious woman who lived from 1894 to 1970 in Italy. As a teen, she frequently visited fortune tellers. One prophetically accurate fortune teller read her palm and stated, “In your right hand, I see prison. In your left hand, I see a criminal asylum.” Another fortune teller told Cianciulli that she would marry and have several children, but that all of her children would die young. This prediction proved to be partially accurate. She did, indeed, get married and she got pregnant 17 times. She had three miscarriages and watched ten of her babies die as young children. She became insanely protective of the four remaining children…so protective, in fact, that she would do anything to keep them safe.

When Her Son Left for WWII, the Superstitious Cianciulli Vowed to Keep Him Safe

As World War II raged across Europe, Italy was plunged into war. Cianciulli learned in 1939 that her oldest son, Giuseppe, was joining the Italian Army. She fretted and worried about his safety, certain that the fortune teller’s prediction meant that he would die in battle. Somehow, Cianciulli decided that the only thing that would keep Giuseppe safe during the war was a human sacrifice. Or three, just to be sure.

Cianciulli Lured Her Victims by Promising to Help Them

Cianciulli’s first victim was Faustina Setti, a middle-aged spinster who was a nearby neighbor. Setti lamented to Cianciulli about her lonely spinsterhood and her desire to find a husband. The cunning Cianciulli told Setti that she knew of an eligible bachelor in a neighboring town and that she would write him a letter arranging the marriage. She lied to Setti, saying that the bachelor had agreed to a wedding and that Setti should travel to his home. Cianciulli convinced the naïve Setti to tell no one of her plans to run away and elope. She even convinced her to pre-write letters to her family letting them know she was safe.

On the day Setti was to leave, she stopped by for one last visit with Cianciulli. Cianciulli offered her a celebratory glass of poisoned wine and the unsuspecting Setti drank heartily. When she collapsed dead, Cianciulli drained Setti’s blood into a basin and chopped her body into pieces. She boiled the body parts in a large cauldron with soap making supplies, such as lime and soda, until the flesh had dissolved into sludge. She dumped the sludge into a septic tank then made teacakes with the coagulated blood. Most of the teacakes, she later claimed, she fed to visitors, but she admitted that both she and Giuseppe ate some as well.

Victims Two and Three Were Also Dismembered and Boiled

Like her first victim, Cianciulli pretended to help her next two victims, Francesca Soavi and Virginia Cacioppo, escape their dismal lives by secretly moving far away. Instead, Cianciulli poisoned them and then chopped up their bodies with her ax. With her final victim, Cacioppo, however, Cianciulli rendered her body into soap, claiming that her flesh was so white and fat than it made a lovely, creamy soap. With both victims, Cianciulli continued to make her teacakes with their blood.

Cianciulli Was Arrested and Tried

The local police became suspicious of Cianciulli when the sister-in-law of her last victim reported her disappearance and noted that Cacioppo’s last known whereabouts was at Cianciulli’s house. At first Cianciulli denied any involvement in the disappearances for the three women. Then the police turned their attention to Cianciulli’s son, Giuseppe. Cianciulli despaired that her son would be arrested for the crimes so she finally confessed. She provided the authorities with all the gruesome details about her morbid crimes.

Cianciulli’s trail took place in 1946 and the soap maker was calm and unrepentant. She even corrected the prosecutor when he got some of the details of the murders wrong. She then, proudly told the judge that she donated her copper kettle to the war effort because she was committed to helping her country.

Cianciulli was found guilty and was sentenced to thirty years in jail and three years in a criminal asylum, fulfilling the fortune teller’s prediction about her life. Cianciulli never saw the light of freedom again. She died in 1970 in a criminal asylum for women in Italy.

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.