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  • Matilda Thomann Studholme

The story of Giulia Tofana

Giulia Tofana may be one of the most successful serial killers in history, rumoured to have killed over 600 men through her thriving business. Despite this, Guilia is scarcely known and cannot even be traced with portraits. The woman is more of a legend, only known through diaries and newspaper reports during the 17th century.

Giulia was born 1620 to a woman named Thofania di Adamo, who was killed for being a poisoner. Her father is unknown. Thofania was said to have passed on the recipe for the infamous poison that Giulia was known for. “Aqua Tofana” was a poison that could kill within a few drops and contained lead, arsenic, and belladonna (foxglove). All these were not unusual in women's beauty products, meaning nobody glanced twice at the poison disguised as makeup, religious water, or Manna of St Nicolas of Bari. For example, belladonna was used as eyedrops, to give women dilated pupils. Lead was used for whitening powder to lighten the skin. Arsenic was also used for lightening the skin and was eaten as wafers. Aqua Tofana was odourless, colourless, and tasteless, meaning it was perfect for distributing over the course of a few days making a murder seem like a simple undiscovered common disease. After every dosage slipped into their wine, soup or water, the victims’ symptoms would gradually worsen.

Giulia’s plan was to help the women whose only option, out of their forced marriage, was death. The women would get specific instructions on how to go through with the murder, with tips like insisting on an autopsy after the death, confident that they would never find the cause. Her plan was seamless for almost 50 years until one of her clients could not follow through with the murder of her husband. When the soup had been made and his wife begged him not to eat it her husband got suspicious. The husband forced his wife to tell him why he should not eat the soup. She told him it was poisoned, but refused to tell him where it came from and with what she had poisoned him. Later, she was tortured into admitting that Giulia Tofana had given it to her. At this point, Giulia had already been notified and had fled to a church which gave her refuge, though she was thrown out after the rumour had spread that she had poisoned the water source of the town. She was then tortured and admitted her crimes, including the murder of 600 men.

One should keep in mind that this was a time of witch hunting and people looking for someone to blame for everything that went wrong. There is a chance that none of this happened, or at least not on such a huge scale and that Giulia may have been tortured into giving the people the answer they wanted, not necessarily the truth. Evidence for this having happened lies with the things written down by people at the time. There are no paintings of Giulia Tofana, even though there was one believed to be of her for a while. However, it was proven to be someone else, which speaks for Giulia Tofana not even being real. However it is a matter of a opinion.

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