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DALLAS -- The work to solve three cold case murders in North Texas is the subject of a new novel released Wednesday.

Christi Meeks was a 5-year-old from Mesquite. Christie Proctor, from Dallas, was just nine years old. And Roxann Reyes, who lived in Garland, was days away from her fourth birthday.

All three girls were grabbed, assaulted and strangled by a stranger in the mid- and late-1980s in North Texas, followed by months-long searches for their bodies.

Their murderer was charged with the crimes almost 20 years later, thanks to determined detectives.

It reads like a plot line. So New York Times best-seller Steve Jackson turned the true story into his latest crime novel.

'I could see it as an author, that it fit all the requirements for a good story,' he said.

It focuses on the work of a team of officers who picked up the cases of the three missing girls after they'd gone cold, starting with Garland Police Detective Gary Sweet.

'Back then it was a closet -- we called it the 'murder closet.' It was files of unsolved cases,' Sweet said.

Back in 1996, years after the murders, he found the girls' files, and information on suspect David Elliott Penton.

'For some reason, out of all the stuff that was in those two boxes, I pulled out a file and started reading about him,' Det. Sweet said.

Penton was in jail in Ohio for killing a 9-year-old girl there. What followed was a series of twists -- from reviewing old tips, new interviews, and information shared by Penton's current cellmates.

By 2003, Detective Sweet and the team had enough to indict him. Penton pleaded guilty to the girls' murders in 2005.

So how does Sweet feel to see his story on paper?

'I know the ending, and I couldn't put it down,' he said. 'But I thought it was pretty good!'

It's a story the author feels proud to tell.

'For all the evil that's out there in the world, there are guys like Gary sweet, who wasn't going to let these little girls have somebody answer for them,' Jackson said.

Penton remains behind bars in Ohio. He is up for parole in 2027, but if it's granted, he would be extradited to Texas to serve time for the three murders.

Jackson lives in Denver, but he was in Dallas researching another crime story when he met Det. Sweet and was inspired to write this new novel.

The book, The Bogeyman, is available in stores and online now.

E-mail msaavedra@wfaa.com

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