A task force made up of investigators from state and local police and the state attorney's office has been established to probe the disappearance of three girls from the same area of eastern Connecticut decades ago.

Police and prosecutors announced Thursday the formation of the Tolland County Cold Case Task Force, made up of state and Vernon police, and the Chief State's Attorney's Office. Former state police Detective Michael Foley, who investigated one of the cases as a member of the Eastern District Crime Squad, has been hired as a consultant.

Thirteen-year-old Debra Spickler of Mystic disappeared in 1968, while walking to a swimming pool in Vernon. Janice Pockett was 7 when she was last seen riding her bicycle in nearby Tolland in July 1973. And, 13-year-old Lisa White was last seen walking near a Vernon park on Nov. 1, 1974.

Vernon Police Lt. William Meier said part of the task force's job will be to determine if the girls' disappearances are linked and if the investigation should be expanded to include other missing persons cases from the area.

"This is huge, because I truly believe that there is somebody out there who knows something," said Aprille Falletti of Ellington, who was 10 years old when her sister, Lisa White, disappeared.

The task force also will try to solve the mystery surrounding skeletal remains that were found in Vernon last year. The discovery sparked renewed interest in the missing girls before tests determined they belonged to a woman in her 40s or 50s.

"We have to care about our people; we especially have to care about little girls who are lost and their families," said Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane. "We owe it to them to do our best and take another crack at these cases."

The state is offering $150,000 in rewards for the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the girls' disappearance.

"Extensive investigations have been conducted already, which include thousands of pages of police reports and supporting documents," Meier said. "However, with modern advances in technology and police procedures, we are hoping that a fresh look at these cases will produce new leads."

Pockett's sister, 47-year-old Mary Engelbrecht of Manchester, said there have been many leads over the years, including the confession of a carnival worker, Charles Pierce, who was convicted of killing a 13-year-old girl in Massachusetts in 1969.

Pierce, who died in prison in 1999, claimed he had killed several children, including Pockett, but was never charged. A 1980 search of an area where he claimed to have dumped Pockett's body turned up nothing.

"A day doesn't go by when I don't think about my sister and it can be overwhelming sometimes," Engelbrecht said. "But I do have hope that her case can be solved and we can get some answers."