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He did not have the notoriety of a Paul Bernardo, but the crimes for which Angelo Colalillo was accused were equally cruel and sordid.

And now, in an apparent suicide, Mr. Colalillo, 41, died yesterday just as he was to stand trial for the rape and killing of two teenaged girls and a young woman.

"If it's suicide, he was a coward," said Yves Grimard, whose daughter Jessica, 14, was raped and stabbed to death in a wooded lot in 2002.

"We're relieved. The justice system could have never given this to us. At least we'll never see him leave jail," said Lucie Speich, whose daughter Christine, 12, was found burned in her bedroom after being raped and killed.

"He got what he deserved," her husband, Hans, added.

Mr. Colalillo was taken to hospital on the weekend. His lawyer, Marc Labelle, was told there were no signs of violence and that his client might have poisoned himself.

"It could be he felt guilty and couldn't face the trial, it could be the pressure was too much," Mr. Labelle said. "Maybe he wanted to spare his family the shame."

For nearly a decade, two of the deaths were thought to be accidental until, in July, 2002, guards at the Port-Cartier penitentiary found child pornography in a letter sent to Nick Paccione, jailed indefinitely as a dangerous sex offender.

The letter came from Mr. Colalillo and described what the authorities said was a real, unsolved sexual-assault attempt. Mr. Colalillo complained that his victim escaped because he had forgotten his handcuffs. "She was a smart bitch," he wrote.

Police began reading the correspondence and placed Mr. Colalillo under surveillance.

He was arrested three years ago, and the sordid details of his story have never been made public. His trial was expected to be one of the most sensational court cases in Quebec this year.

"It was something worthy of The Silence of the Lambs. I've never seen a man like him," one retired detective said, referring to the 1991 film about a psychotic killer. He described Mr. Colalillo as an unrepentant predator obsessed with improving his criminal techniques.

The whole story may never be known, because the Crown will not release the letters, saying they are pornography. Madam Justice Carol Cohen of Quebec Superior Court agreed and ordered most of them sealed.

"I have never read in my life outrageous letters like that," said lawyer Christian Leblanc. He said the letters spoke of rape, torture, cannibalism and sexual enslavement.

The letters were not just fantasies. The Crown says they describe the modus operandi of three murders and several sexual assaults and arsons in the Montreal area.

Excerpts made public give a chilling peek into the mind of a man who his own lawyer described as being unable to control his sexual drive.

"I walk around looking at the girls and thinking to myself that I'm like a wolf amongst the lambs," he wrote in one letter.

"If they only knew who I am and what I'm capable of doing. I'm glad they can't read my mind. They'd lock me up and throw the key away."

Another letter talks about buying rope, chains, gloves and handcuffs for an attack and suggests plans to "torch the place, leave no evidence or finger prints or whatever. It'd look like they all died in the overnight fire."

Christine Speich and Anna Lisa Cefali, 20, were found dead in 1993 after fires at their homes. Police now say they were confined, sexually assaulted and murdered.

One letter describes getting into a young girl's home, assaulting her and making her wash away anything that could be used as DNA evidence. "Once finished, I asked her where her room was, brought her there and then did my thing . . . She wouldn't be talking to anyone."

Officials believe that Mr. Paccione met Mr. Colalillo while the latter was in jail for sexual assault.

His court records show that Mr. Colalillo was married and working for an insurance firm when he began in 1986 to abduct women at bus shelters and sexually assault them. His lawyer blamed marital troubles.

He got out on parole in 1991, but was charged with two more sexual assaults in 1993. These crimes were more violent than the first; one victim was slapped and another hit with a hammer.