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The salesman rapist

Matthew Coniglio's Georgia home held a trove of child pornography, more than 50,000 images and videos stored on laptops, external hard drives and thumb drives.

Among the stash, hidden in a bedside table turned around to conceal the doors, authorities made an even more horrifying discovery: 56 8-millimeter cassette tapes they say show him raping and molesting girls.

All were unconscious, apparently drugged, FBI Special Agent William Kirkconnell, who viewed the tapes, told The Associated Press. Some were so incapacitated they were snoring. The camera was always turned off before they awoke.

Many of the victims' faces cannot be clearly identified, so investigators don't know how many different girls were attacked. But each tape recorded at least one assault — some had more — in homes and hotels. The youngest victim appears to be about 10 years old.

As for the alleged perpetrator, a 46-year-old travelling salesman who worked and lived in cities across Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, "he often looks back at the camera and even speaks," Kirkconnell said. "There's no doubt it's Matthew Coniglio. None at all."

Who were these girls, and do they know what happened to them? Could there be other victims?

The FBI shared exclusive details of the case with AP in the hope that victims will step forward and can be offered help and counselling. The AP also uncovered other exclusive details of Coniglio's past and his previous encounters with the law.

Authorities' best chance for resolving the raft of unanswered questions vanished on April 20. Ten days after his arrest, Coniglio wrote goodbye letters to his parents, tied a cord to a vent above a sink in his jail cell and hanged himself.

Nearly a decade before his arrest, Coniglio sat in a South Carolina deputy sheriff's office and was asked point-blank if he was a pedophile.

"He said that he was not," Deputy Angela Olds wrote in her 2005 investigation into an incident involving Coniglio, according to records obtained by the AP.

At the time, Coniglio worked selling food products in Hilton Head, and at one diner he told an employee that he and a partner had started a modeling agency. He asked to take pictures of the woman's 11-year-old daughter at a mall. The girls' parents agreed. The AP is withholding the family's name because it does not generally identify possible victims of sexual abuse.

The girl and her father met Coniglio in the diner parking lot, the father told deputies. After the father agreed to meet them at the mall, the girl left in Coniglio's car. Records show Coniglio took her to a hotel room rigged with video cameras and offered her a soda. He asked her to flop down on a bed.

The girl, when questioned by authorities, never said she was assaulted but said she felt uncomfortable at the hotel and demanded that Coniglio take her home. At some point he did. She also said she thought she was at the hotel for no more than an hour, while her parents said she was missing for several hours.

In the deputy's report, the mother said that her daughter came home very upset and locked herself in her bedroom closet, prompting the mother to call authorities.

During a voluntary interview with deputies, Coniglio said the girl was the first he tried to photograph for his fledgling business. He denied taking any pictures, and said he had apologized to the girl's mother "because he knows that it looks bad," Olds wrote. He denied he was aroused by children, Olds wrote in her report. Now a master sergeant at the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Olds, who now uses the last name Viens, declined an interview.

Coniglio was never charged.

He grew up in a suburban home in Kingwood, Texas, with his mom, dad and sister, Coniglio's mother, Betty Coniglio, told the AP. He wanted to be a writer, penning poetry and plays. But after college, Coniglio followed his father into the food distribution industry.

Betty Coniglio described her son as outgoing, and she remembered friends calling him at all hours for advice or solace. She added that she does not believe her son was guilty.

"I guess if this was true he was leading a double life," she said.

The videos suggest the attacks on the girls started around the time of the 2000 arrest or earlier, investigators said. It wasn't until March, however, that a police officer in Pooler, Georgia, where Coniglio lived, identified him as a suspect in an online child pornography case. Investigators got a search warrant, and found the tapes.

Charged with possessing child pornography, Conigilio hadn't entered a plea before he died. Kirkconnell said authorities planned to bring federal charges but never got the chance.

Coniglio's death could make it impossible for authorities to find his victims and learn the scale of his alleged crimes.

So far, only a single victim has been identified.

Her mother, a friend of Coniglio's when he lived in Charleston, South Carolina, allowed the girl to spend unsupervised time with him. The mother saw a news report about Coniglio and brought her daughter to investigators along with old photos of her.

"She recalls that he would always give her ice cream and give her hot chocolate, and she recalled that ... those items at times tasted very bitter to her," said Kirkconnell, who believes Coniglio drugged the treats to knock her out.

The Canadian Press

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