In your right palm I see a prison, in the left one a criminal asylum.” That’s what a Roman furtune teller predicted when she read Leonarda’s future. Her forecast would prove her right some years later.
Leonarda Cinciulli has been one of the most famous criminal minds in Italy. After committing only three murders, which is a small number compared to other serial killers, she has been the only female serial murderer in her country, and the graphic way she chose to reclaim her victims afterwards was what made her famous across Europe.
Born in 1893 in Montello di Avellino, Leonarda was the least loved child of her family since her mother never loved her because she was the seed of a rape. Leonarda grew up isolated and miserable but at the age of 17 she became an outgoing, kind person. In 1914, she got married only to lose her husband a few years later.
Raffaele Pansardi worked at the registry office and, after their marriage, he and Leonarda moved to Lariano where they lived happily for 16 years. In 1930, an earthquake destroyed their house obliging them to move to Correggio where Raffaele will become an alcoholic. A few years later, he will abandon his wife and their four children. No one saw him alive ever since.
Leonarda Cianciulli’s children were the only ones to survive after 3 miscarriages and 10 children she lost when they were a few months old: “You will get married and you will have many children, but they will all die,” another fortune teller had told her when she was a teenager.
Trying to provide them with everything they needed, Cianciulli opened a small clothing store which became quickly popular. Due to her kindness, she was considered as one of the most friendly people in town and, when people were not visiting her store, they would pay a visit to her house to eat her infamous cupcakes and listen to her reading poetry. However, Leonarda Cianciulli was also popular because, for some reason, she managed to convince local women that she was a witch and that she could change their lives with her potions. Three of those women would become her victims.
In October 1939, Italy started assembling its military forces to participate in World War II and Giuseppe, Leonarda’s oldest son, was enlisted in the army. Leonarda was not ready to say goodbye to her boys and she came up with a conclusion: if she sacrificed three women -one for each one of her sons- they would not die at war. Of course, her customers were her most reachable targets.
Faustina Setti, 50, wanted desperately to find a husband, and Cianciulli had convinced her that she had found her a perfect match in Pola. In order to commit the perfect crime, she advised Setti not to talk to anyone about her “brand new future,” because if people started talking about it, they would make her good luck go away. Faustina Setti listened to her and she even wrote letters to her family and friends explaining that she was going to find the man of her dreams. The night before her trip, she visited Leonarda for a goodbye wine. Leonarda drugged her, killed her, chopped her in 9 pieces, and took her money:
I threw the bones into a pot,” Cianciulli later testified, “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.”
In September 1940, Leonarda’s second son joins the war and it was time for another human sacrifice. Francesca Soavi was convinced by Leonarda that a perfect working position was waiting for her at a girls’ school and, for one more time, they drank together a glass of wine -the last glass of wine Francesca ever drunk. The same happened later that month, when Leonarda told Virginia Cacioppo, an ex soprano, that she would work for a theater producer far away. Cacioppo visited Leonarda’s kitchen, she drunk her wine and ended up in the pot:
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 neighbors and acquaintances. The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet,” Leonarda Cianciulli testified.
Virginia’s sister in law could not accept the fact that her husband’s sister would leave town without even saying goodbye. Seeing her entering Cianiulli’s house before her disappearance, she addressed the issue to Reggio Emilia, police chief of Correggio.
Leonarda Cianciulli was tried for murder in 1946 remaining unrepentant. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 3 years in a criminal asylum, where she died in 1970 struck cerebral apoplexy