The Terrifying Truth About Legendary Poisoner Giulia Tofana

There's a belief that poison is a woman's murder weapon of choice. No one exemplifies that more than Giulia Tofana, the legendary poisoner of the 17th century.

Not much is known about Tofana. No portrait of her exists. But one thing historians know about her is her invention of a deadly concoction called Aqua Tofana. Medium wrote Tofana owned a makeup business, bringing her into contact with hundreds of women, many of whom suffered in arranged marriages and couldn't secure a divorce to leave their husbands. It didn't matter if their husbands hit them, belittled them, or cheated on them; women during that time had no recourse to leave a terrible marriages and be free. Tofana offered them a solution.

According to The Lineup, Tofana was probably born in Palermo, Italy in the 1600s. She was a widow herself and worked with her daughter in an apothecary where they mixed makeup. Women, desperate to leave horrible marriages, sought her help. The Tofanas mixed deadly substances like belladonna, arsenic, and lead to create Aqua Tofana. They distributed the toxins in two ways: in powdered makeup and in small vials imprinted with the image of St. Nicholas of Bari. These two things looked inconspicuous enough to sit on a dressing table with no one the wiser. (According to legend, St. Nicholas, Blossom says, helped young girls pay for their marriage dowries.)

Look for St. Nicholas on the package

Tofana's business boomed. The Lineup reported Aqua Tofana was responsible for at least 600 deaths between 1633 to 1651. Aqua Tofana was so potent that when dropped onto food, the victim could neither smell or taste the poison. One drop weakened the victim, causing cold-like symptoms. They would get worse with the second and third doses. The fourth time they ingested Aqua Tofana, they died. It left no trace in the bloodstream, so women were free to act the grieving widow and get their life back.

Life was good until one of her clients got cold feet, explained Medium. She bought Aqua Tofana and put it in her husband's soup, but after a change of heart she begged her husband not to eat it. She told Roman authorities that she bought the poison from Tofana. Tofana fled Rome and hid in a church, where she was givenĀ  sanctuary. But rumors started circulating that Aqua Tofana made its way through Rome's water supply. A mob stormed the church and grabbed her. The authorities tortured Tofana until she confessed. On July 1659, Tofana, her daughter, and three employees were executed.

Aqua Tofana's fame spread far beyond Tofana's life. Mozart even claimed on his death bed it was poison that killed him. Tofana helped women trapped in marriages and in the end they turned on her and made her one of the most infamous poisoners in history.