Shanda Renee Sharer (June 6, 1979 – January 11, 1992) was an American girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana, by four teenage girls. She was 12 years old at the time of her death. The incident attracted international attention due to both the brutality of the murder and the young age of the perpetrators, who were aged between 15 and 17 years old. The case was covered on national programs such as Dr. Phil and has inspired a number of episodes on fictional crime shows.
Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1979, to Stephen Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught. After Sharer’s parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball and softball teams. When her mother divorced again, the family moved in June 1991 to New Albany, Indiana, and Sharer enrolled at Hazelwood Middle School. Early in the school year, she transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, a Catholic school in New Albany, where she joined the female basketball team.
Events prior to murder
In 1990, 14-year-old Melinda Loveless began dating another young girl named Amanda Heavrin. After Loveless’ father left the family and her mother remarried, Loveless behaved erratically. She got into fights at school, and she felt depressed. She received professional counseling. In March 1991, Loveless disclosed her lesbian orientation to her mother, who was initially furious but eventually accepted it. As the year progressed, though, Loveless’ relationship with Heavrin deteriorated.
Heavrin and Shanda Sharer had met early during the fall semester when they got into a fight; however, they became friends while in detention for the altercation. Loveless immediately grew jealous of Heavrin and Sharer’s relationship. In early October, Heavrin and Sharer attended a school dance, where Loveless found and confronted them. Although Heavrin and Loveless had never formally ended their relationship, Loveless started to date an older girl.
After Heavrin and Sharer attended a festival together in late October, Loveless began to discuss killing Sharer and threatened Sharer in public. Concerned about the effects of their daughter’s relationship with Heavrin, Sharer’s parents arranged for her to transfer to a Catholic school in late November, and the girls started drifting apart by December.
Girls involved in the murder
Melinda Loveless was born in New Albany, Indiana on October 28, 1975, the youngest of three daughters, to Marjorie and Larry Loveless. Larry was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and he was treated as a hero upon his return. His wife later described him as a pervert who would wear her and her daughters’ underwear and makeup, was incapable of staying monogamous, and had a mixture of jealousy and fascination with seeing her have sex with other men and women. They lived in or near New Albany throughout Melinda’s childhood.
Larry worked irregularly for the Southern Railroad after his military service; his profession allowed him to work whenever most convenient for him. In 1965, Larry became a probationary officer with the New Albany Police Department, but he was fired after eight months when he and his partner assaulted an African-American man whom Larry accused of sleeping with his wife. In 1988, Larry briefly worked as a mail carrier but quit after three months and did very little work, having brought most of his mail home to destroy it.
Marjorie had worked intermittently since 1974. When both parents were working, the family was financially well off, living in the upper-middle-class suburb of Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Larry did not usually share his income with the family and impulsively spent any money he earned on himself, especially firearms, motorcycles and cars. He filed for bankruptcy in 1980. Extended family members often described the Loveless daughters as visiting their houses hungry, apparently not getting food at home.
Through most of their relationship, Larry was unfaithful to his wife and they often had an open marriage. They would often visit bars in Louisville, where Loveless would pretend to be a doctor or a dentist and introduce Marjorie as his girlfriend. He would also “share” her with some of his friends from work, which she found disgusting. During an orgy with another couple at their house, Marjorie tried to commit suicide, an act she would repeat several times throughout her daughters’ childhoods. When Melinda was nine years old, Larry had Marjorie gang raped, after which she tried to drown herself. After that incident, she refused him sex for a month, until he violently raped her as their daughters watched. In the summer of 1986, after she would not let him go home with two women he met at a bar, Larry beat Marjorie so severely that she was hospitalized; he was convicted of battery.
The extent of Larry’s abuse of his daughters and other children is unclear. Various court testimonies claimed he fondled Michelle as an infant, molested Marjorie’s 13-year-old sister early in the marriage, and molested the girls’ cousin Teddy from age 10 to 14. Both older girls said he molested them, though Melinda did not admit this ever happened to her. She slept in bed with him until he abandoned his family when she was 14. In court, Teddy described an incident in which Larry tied all three sisters in a garage and raped them in succession; however the sisters did not confirm this account. Larry was verbally abusive to his daughters and fired a handgun in Michelle’s direction when she was seven, intentionally missing her. He would also embarrass his children by finding their underwear and smelling it in front of other family members.
For two years, beginning when Melinda was five, the family was deeply involved in the Graceland Baptist Church. Larry and Marjorie gave full confession and renounced drinking and swinging while they were members. Larry became a Baptist lay preacher and Marjorie became the school nurse. The church later arranged for Melinda to be taken to a motel room with a 50-year-old man for a five-hour exorcism. Larry became a marriage counselor with the church and acquired a reputation for being too forward with women, eventually attempting to rape one of them. After that incident, the Loveless parents left the church and returned to their former professions, drinking, and open marriage.
In November 1990, Larry was caught spying on Melinda and a friend, and Marjorie attacked him with a knife, sending him to the hospital after he attempted to grab it. She then attempted suicide again, and her daughters called authorities. After this incident Larry filed for divorce and moved to Avon Park, Florida. Melinda felt crushed, especially as Larry remarried. He sent letters to her for a while, playing on her emotions, but eventually severed all contact with her.
Mary Laurine “Laurie” Tackett was born in Madison, Indiana, on October 5, 1974. Her mother was a fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian and her father was a factory worker with two felony convictions in the 1960s. Tackett claimed that she was molested at least twice as a child at ages five and twelve. In May 1989, her mother discovered that Tackett was changing into jeans at school, and, after a confrontation that night, attempted to strangle her. Social workers became involved, and Tackett’s parents agreed to unannounced visits to ensure that child abuse was not occurring. Tackett and her mother came into periodic conflict; at one point, her mother went to Hope Rippey’s house after learning that Rippey’s father had purchased a Ouija board for the girls. She demanded that the board be burnt and that the Rippey house be exorcised.
Tackett became increasingly rebellious after her fifteenth birthday and also became fascinated with the occult. She would often attempt to impress her friends by pretending to be possessed by the spirit of “Deanna the Vampire”. She began to engage in self-harm, especially after early 1991 when she began dating a girl who was involved in the practice. Her parents discovered the self-mutilation and checked her into a hospital on March 19, 1991. She was prescribed an anti-depressant and released. Two days later, with her girlfriend and Toni Lawrence, she cut her wrists deeply and was returned to the hospital. After treatment of her wound, she was admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and confessed that she had experienced hallucinations since she was a young child. She was discharged on April 12. She dropped out of high school in September 1991.
Tackett stayed in Louisville in October 1991 to live with various friends. She met Melinda Loveless but the two did not become friends until late November. In December, Tackett moved back to Madison on the promise that her father would buy her a car. She still spent most of her time in Louisville and New Albany, and, by December, most of it with Melinda Loveless.
Hope Anna Rippey was born in Madison, in June 1976. Her father was an engineer at a power plant. Her parents divorced in February 1984, and she moved with her mother and siblings to Quincy, Michigan, for three years. She claimed that living with her family in Michigan was somewhat turbulent. Her parents resumed their relationship in Madison, Indiana, in 1987. She was reunited with friends Laurie Tackett and Toni Lawrence, whom she had known since childhood, although her parents saw Tackett as a bad influence. As with the other girls, Rippey began to self-harm at age fifteen.
Toni Lawrence was born in Madison, in February 1976. Her father was a boilermaker. She was close friends with Hope Rippey since childhood. She was abused by a relative at age nine and was raped by a teenage boy at age 14, although the police were only able to issue an order to keep the boy away from Lawrence. She went into counseling after the incident but did not follow through. She became promiscuous, began to self-harm, and attempted suicide in eighth grade.
Events of January 10–11, 1992
On the night of January 10, 1992, Toni Lawrence (age 15), Hope Rippey (age 15), and Laurie Tackett (age 17) drove in Tackett’s car from Madison to Melinda Loveless’ house in New Albany. Lawrence, while a friend of Tackett, had not previously met Loveless (age 16), though Rippey had met her once before and had gotten along with her; however, upon arrival, they borrowed some clothes from Loveless, and she showed them a knife, telling them she was going to scare Shanda Sharer with it. Only Loveless had ever met Sharer, although Tackett already knew of the plan to intimidate the 12-year-old girl. Loveless explained to the two other girls that she disliked Sharer for being a copycat and for stealing her girlfriend.
Tackett let Rippey drive the four girls to Jeffersonville, Indiana, where Sharer lived, stopping at a McDonald’s restaurant en route to ask for directions. They arrived at Sharer’s house shortly before dark. Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door and introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin (Loveless’ former and Sharer’s current girlfriend). They should invite Sharer to come with them to see Heavrin, who was waiting for them at “The Witch’s Castle”, a ruined stone house, also known as Mistletoe Falls, located on an isolated hill overlooking the Ohio River.
Sharer said that she could not go because her parents were awake, and she told the girls to come back around midnight. Loveless was angry at first, but Rippey and Lawrence assured her about returning for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville, Kentucky, and attended a punk rock show at the Audubon Skate Park near Interstate 65. Lawrence and Rippey quickly lost interest in the music and went to the parking lot outside the skate park, where they engaged in sexual activities with two boys in Tackett’s car.
Eventually, the four girls left for Sharer’s house. During the ride, Loveless said that she could not wait to kill Sharer; however, Loveless also said that she found Sharer attractive and would like to have sex with her and that she just intended to use the knife to frighten her. When they arrived at Sharer’s house at 12:30 a.m., Lawrence refused to retrieve Sharer, so Tackett and Rippey went to the door. Loveless hid under a blanket in the back seat of the car with a dull knife.
Sharer was waiting for the girls. Rippey told her that Heavrin was still at the Witch’s Castle. Sharer was reluctant to go with them yet agreed after changing her clothes. As they got in the car, Rippey began questioning Sharer about her relationship with Heavrin just to trigger off Loveless. Loveless, having heard enough, sprang out from the back seat and put the knife to Sharer’s throat and began interrogating her about her sexual relationship with Heavrin. They drove towards Utica, Indiana, and the Witch’s Castle. Tackett told the girls that legend said the house was once owned by nine witches and that townspeople burned the house to get rid of the witches.
At Witch’s Castle, they took a sobbing Sharer in and bound her arms and legs with rope. There, Loveless taunted that she had pretty hair and wondered how pretty she would look if they were to cut it off, which frightened Sharer even more. Loveless began taking off Sharer’s rings and handed each to the girls. At some point, Rippey had taken Sharer’s Mickey Mouse watch and danced to the tune it played. Tackett, sick of the childish games, started describing the dungeon to Sharer, claiming that it was filled with human remains and Sharer’s would be next. Subsequently, Tackett went back to the car where Lawrence followed her to retrieve her cherished smiley face sweater. She returned and lit it on fire but immediately feared that the fire would be spotted by bypassing cars, so they left. During the car ride, Sharer continued begging them to take her back home. Tackett turned on a boom box sitting on her lap that played opera and mimicked Sharer, acting like she was crying, and laughed what she called her “devil laugh”. Loveless ordered Sharer to slip off her bra, which she then handed over to Rippey, who slid off her own bra and replaced it with Sharer’s while steering the car. They became lost, so they stopped for directions at a gas station, where they covered Sharer in a blanket. While Tackett went inside to ask for directions, Lawrence called a boy she knew in Louisville and chatted for several minutes to ease her worries, but did not mention Sharer’s abduction. They returned to the car but became lost again and pulled up to another gas station. There, Lawrence and Rippey spotted a couple of boys and talked to them before once again getting back into the car and leaving, arriving some time later at the edge of some woods near Tackett’s home in Madison, Indiana.
Tackett led them to a garbage dump off a logging road in a densely forested area. Lawrence and Rippey were frightened and stayed in the car. Loveless and Tackett made Sharer strip naked; then, Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Next, Loveless repeatedly slammed Sharer’s face into her knee, which cut Sharer’s mouth on her own braces. Loveless tried to slash Sharer’s throat, but the knife was too dull. Rippey came out of the car to hold down Sharer. Loveless and Tackett took turns stabbing Sharer in the chest. They then strangled Sharer with a rope until she was unconscious, placed her in the trunk of the car, and told the other two girls that Sharer was dead.
The girls drove to Tackett’s nearby home and went inside to drink soda and clean themselves. When they realized Sharer was screaming in the trunk, Tackett went out with a paring knife and stabbed her several more times, coming back a few minutes later covered with blood. After she washed, Tackett told the girls’ futures with her “runestones”. At 2:30 a.m., Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind as Tackett and Loveless went “country cruising”, driving to the nearby town of Canaan. Sharer continued to make crying and gurgling noises, so Tackett stopped the car. When they opened the trunk, Sharer sat up, covered in blood with her eyes rolled back in her head, but unable to speak. Tackett beat her with a tire iron until she was silent.
Loveless and Tackett returned to Tackett’s house just before daybreak to clean up again. Rippey asked about Sharer, and Tackett laughingly described the torture. The conversation woke up Tackett’s mother, who yelled at her daughter for being out late and bringing home the girls, so Tackett agreed to take them home. She drove to the burn pile, where they opened the trunk to stare at Sharer. Lawrence refused. Rippey sprayed Sharer with Windex and taunted, “You’re not looking so hot now, are you? Now let’s take her pants off and get to it ladies!”
The girls drove to a gas station near Madison Consolidated High School, pumped some gasoline into the car, and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Tackett poured out the Pepsi and refilled the bottle with gasoline. They drove north of Madison, past Jefferson Proving Ground to Lemon Road off U.S. Route 421, a place known to Rippey. Lawrence remained in the car while Tackett and Rippey wrapped Sharer, who was still alive, in a blanket, and carried her to a field by the gravel country road. Tackett made Rippey pour the gasoline on Sharer, and then they set her on fire. Loveless was not convinced Sharer was dead, so they returned a few minutes later to pour the rest of the gasoline on her.
The girls went to a McDonald’s restaurant at 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, where they laughed about Sharer’s looking like one of the sausages they were eating. Lawrence, horrified, phoned a friend and told her about the murder. Tackett then dropped off Lawrence and Rippey at their homes and finally returned to her own home with Loveless. She told Heavrin that they had killed Sharer and arranged to pick up Heavrin later that day.
A friend of Loveless’, Crystal Wathen, came over to Loveless’ house, and they told her what had happened. Then, the three girls drove to pick up Heavrin and bring her back to Loveless’ house, where they told Heavrin the story; although she did not believe it was true, Heavrin comforted the hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen became convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk of the car with Sharer’s bloody handprints and socks still there. Heavrin was horrified and asked to be taken home. When they pulled up in front of her house, Loveless kissed Heavrin and told her she loved her and pleaded her not to tell anyone. Heavrin promised she would not before entering her house.
Later on the morning of January 11, 1992, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana, were driving toward Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed a body on the side of the road. They called the police at 10:55 a.m. and were asked to return to the corpse. David Camm, who was later acquitted of his own family’s murders, was one of the responding officers. Jefferson County Sheriff Buck Shippley and detectives began an investigation, collecting forensic evidence at the scene. They initially suspected a drug deal gone wrong and could not believe the crime had been committed by locals.
Stephen Sharer noticed his daughter missing early on January 11. After phoning neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda’s mother, at 1:45 p.m.; they met and filed a missing person report with the Clark County sheriff.
At 8:20 p.m., a hysterical Toni Lawrence went to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office with her parents. She gave a rambling statement, identifying the victim as “Shanda”, naming the three other girls involved as best she could, and describing the main events of the previous night. Shippley contacted the Clark County sheriff and was finally able to match the body to Shanda Sharer’s missing person report.
Detectives obtained dental records that positively identified Shanda Sharer as the victim. Loveless and Tackett were arrested on January 12. The bulk of the evidence for the arrest warrant was Lawrence’s statement. The prosecution immediately declared its intention to try both suspects as adults. For several months, the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not release any information about the case, giving the news media only the statement by Lawrence.
Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Indiana
January 11, 1992 Body of Shanda Sharer found in rural Jefferson County, Indiana
April 22, 1992 Lawrence accepts plea bargain
September 21, 1992 Loveless and Tackett accept plea bargains
January 4, 1993 Loveless sentenced to 60 years
December 14, 2000 Lawrence released on parole
November 3, 2004 A judge reduces Rippey’s sentence to 35 years
April 28, 2006 Rippey released on parole
All four girls were charged as adults. To avoid the death penalty, the girls accepted plea bargains.
All four girls had troubled backgrounds with claims of physical or sexual abuse committed by a parent or other adult. Hope Rippey, Toni Lawrence, and Laurie Tackett had histories of self-harming behavior. Tackett was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and suffering from hallucinations.
Melinda Loveless, often described as the ringleader in the attack, had the most extensive history of abuse and mental health issues.
In exchange for her cooperation, Lawrence was allowed to plead guilty to one count of Criminal Confinement and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years.
Tackett and Loveless were sentenced to 60 years in the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. With maximum time reduced for good behavior, they could be released in 2020.
Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten years suspended for mitigating circumstances, plus ten years of medium-supervision probation. On appeals, a judge reduced the sentence to 35 years.
In October 2007, Loveless’ attorney, Mark Small, requested a hearing to argue for his client’s release. He said that Loveless had been “profoundly retarded” by childhood abuse. Moreover, she had not been represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, which caused her to accept a plea bargain in the face of exaggerated claims about her chances of receiving the death penalty. Small also argued that Loveless, who was 16 years old when she signed the plea agreement, was too young to enter into a contract in the state of Indiana without consent from a parent or guardian, which had not been obtained. If the judge accepted these arguments, Loveless could have been retried or released outright.
On January 8, 2008, Loveless’ request was rejected by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd. Instead, Loveless will be eligible for parole in 15 years, thus maintaining the original guilty plea.
On November 14, 2008, Loveless’ appeal was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, upholding Judge Todd’s ruling. Small stated that he would seek to have jurisdiction over the case moved to the Supreme Court of Indiana.
Both Loveless and Tackett are currently serving their original sentences. Given Indiana’s policy of reducing sentences by a day for every day served with good behavior, both women could possibly be released from prison in 2022, when Loveless is 46 and Tackett is 47 years old.
Toni Lawrence was released on December 14, 2000, after serving 9 years. She remained on parole until December 2002.
On April 28, 2006, Hope Rippey was released from Indiana Women’s Prison on parole after serving 14 years of her original sentence. She remained on supervised parole for 5 years.
During Melinda Loveless’ sentencing hearing, extensive open court testimony revealed that her father, Larry Loveless, had abused his wife, his daughters, and other children. Consequently, he was arrested in February 1993 on charges of rape, sodomy, and sexual battery. Most of the crimes occurred from 1968 to 1977. Loveless remained in prison for over two years awaiting trial; however, a judge eventually ruled that all charges except one count of sexual battery had to be dropped due to the statute of limitations, which was five years in Indiana. Loveless pleaded guilty to the one count of sexual battery. He received a sentence of time served and was released in June 1995.
A few weeks following his release, Loveless unsuccessfully sued the Floyd County Jail for $39 million in federal court, alleging he had suffered cruel and unusual punishment during his two-year incarceration. Among his complaints—he was not allowed to sleep in his bed during the day and he was not allowed to read the newspaper.
Shanda Sharer’s father, Stephen Sharer, died of alcoholism in 2005 at the age of 53. He was extremely depressed following the death of his daughter, and so, according to his wife, “drank himself to death”.
The Shanda Sharer Scholarship Fund was established in January 2009. The fund plans to provide scholarships to two students per year from Prosser School of Technology in New Albany; one scholarship will go to a student who is continuing his or her education, and the other scholarship will go to a student who is beginning his or her career and must buy tools or other work equipment. According to the rules of the fund, the scholarship recipient will also be given a plaque or document of some type that tells Shanda Sharer’s story.
In 2012, Shanda Sharer’s mother, Jacque Vaught, made her first contact with Melinda Loveless since the trials, although indirectly. Vaught donated a dog for Loveless to train for the Indiana Canine Assistance Network program (ICAN), which provides service pets to people with disabilities. Loveless has trained dogs for the program for several years. Vaught reported that she has endured criticism over the decision, but defends it saying, “It’s my choice to make. [Shanda]’s my child. If you don’t let good things come from bad things, nothing gets better. And I know what my child would want. My child would want this.” Vaught stated that she hopes to donate a dog every year in honor of Shanda.