I didn’t kill out of hatred or greed, but only for the love of a mother.
Born in 1893 in a small town in Italy, she had a difficult childhood. She suffered from epileptic attacks and constant nightmares. Lack of love from her family distorted her personality to the point that she attempted suicide twice in her early life.
In 1917 at the age of 23, she decided to marry Raffaele Pensardi but her family didn’t approve of this decision and wanted to marry her off with one of her cousins. On the day of the marriage, her mother cursed her and didn’t attend the ceremony. This will leave a lifetime scar on young Leonarda and carved the path for her future murders. She had 17 pregnancies but only 4 of the children survived. She linked back this misfortune to the malediction of her mother and was determined to protect her sons at all costs.
She believed that their safety required a human sacrifice and choose her friends as the victims. It is believed that she was a fortune teller herself and these ladies usually came to visit her to seek advice and taste her famous biscuits.
Her first victim was Faustina Setti, an elderly unmarried woman and used to visit her friend for help to find a husband. She matched her with Pola, a rich and handsome man who she told Setti is willing to take her in his home. She told the old lady to not tell anybody as it might provoke the envy in people and further convinced her to write down some letters to her friends and relatives assuring that she is fine. While Setti was rereading her letters, Leonarda reached her from behind and killed her with an ax.
“I threw the pieces into a pot, 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.”
Her next victim was a teacher Francesca C. Soavi. She asserted to have a job for her in a girl’s college in Piacenza, convinced her to write the letters, murdered her and robbed her of her money (3000 lire). His son Giuseppe went to Piacenza to mail the victim’s letters.
Her last victim was a former soprano, Virginia Cacioppo. She attracted the attention of this 59-year-old lady by claiming to have a job for her as a secretary of a mysterious theatrical impresario. She underwent the same brutal treatment.
This is how she’ll describe her in her memoir titled “An embittered soul’s confessions”
‘ 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. ‘
She called the remains of her victim very sweet and wrote, ‘The cakes, too, were better: that woman was really sweet’.
But she wasn’t successful in hiding her crimes for long. The investigation started and the assets of the victims were found to be sold by Leonarda who to defend herself claimed that these victims gifted her their goods. The questioning turned towards his son who confessed on his turn about mailing the letters of the victims and got arrested by the police.
When Leonarda heard the news of the arrest, she immediately confessed her crimes. The trial lasted for three days and she was sentenced to spend thirty years in prison and three in a criminal asylum. She died at the age of 76 with cerebral apoplexy.
Many of the artifacts from the case and her personal effects are on display at the Criminological Museum in Rome.