Most of the true crime cases I bring to you are ones from the last century or so. This one, is one from the 1600’s in Sicily/Italy and it’s reported she may have helped kill over 600 men. So let’s dive into the fairly unusual case of Giulia Tofana.
Giulia was born in Palermo in 1620, in a place and time where divorce was unheard of and children (both girls and boys) were married off into loveless relationships. They were more business arrangements than anything else. Escaping marriage was only achieved if your spouse died, or if you risked your reputation by turning to prostitution.
When Giulia was approximately 13, both of her parents died. It is believed that her mother murdered her abusive husband and was later executed for it.
After her parents died, the young, beautiful Giulia spent a lot of time in apothecaries, and was present when they were making their potions eventually developing her own poison; Aqua Tofana. It was a colorless, tasteless poison, and was mostly arsenic, lead and possibly belladonna.
Giulia made a business out of selling her poison to both men and women who wanted to escape their marriages. Giulia and her daughter; Girolama Spera, were both in the business together. Eventually moving their services to Naples and Rome. It is not known whether she was married, or if she had decided to escape her marriage at any time.
So how did she do it?
As Giulia’s clientele were mostly women, as she sympathized with them most, she disguised her poison as either a healing oil or an ordinary perfume. The poison was in plain sight on the dressing tables of these women and when their husbands annoyed them too much, they simply gave them a dose of the poison, whether in tea, soup, or simply as a medicine.
The poison was slow acting, and worked in multiple doses; first dose would produce cold like symptoms. The second dose compounded those symptoms and the victim would be extremely ill by the third dose. Symptoms included vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, burning sensations in the digestive system. The fourth dose would kill the victim. It allowed the victim time to repent and write a will.
And Giulia was a savvy woman. She instructed her clients to make the death look like it was caused by a simple disease. She coached them on how to act, what to do, what to say, and instructed them to demand a coroner’s exam to not draw suspicion.
As her business was by referral only, Giulia was known as a friend to the troubled wife and business was booming.
As is the norm, all good things come to an end. And Giulia and her business were finally revealed to Papal authorities by one of her customers. As she was so popular, authorities had a hard time finding her as the locals protected and hid her. She finally escaped to a church and was given sanctuary, but a dark rumor that she poisoned the water supply encouraged authorities to drag her from the church and in for questioning.
Under torture, she confessed to killing 600 men between 1633 and 1651. And in July of 1659, Giulia, her daughter Girolama, and three other employees were all executed.
What are your thoughts on this unusual case? Please share them in the comments, and thank you for reading about Guilia and Aqua Tofana.
Be strong, be beautiful, be you