|Born||June 6, 1979
Pineville, Kentucky, USA
|Died||January 11, 1992 (aged 12)
Near Madison, Indiana, USA
|Parents||Steve Sharer and Jacque Vaught|
The murder of Shanda Renee Sharer (6 June 1979 – 11 January 1992) involved a young girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana, by four teenage girls, in a case which attracted nationwide attention.
Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky on June 6, 1979 to Steve Sharer and Jacque Vaught. Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball, and softball teams.
After her parents divorced, she moved with her father to New Albany, Indiana in July 1991, and Shanda 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 school's female basketball team.
Melinda Loveless was born in Louisville, Kentucky 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 daughter's 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, Indiana throughout Melinda's childhood.
Larry worked irregularly for the Southern Railroad after his military service, a profession that allowed him to work whenever most convenient for him. In 1972, Larry became a probationary officer with the New Albany Police Department, however was fired after eight months when he and his partner assaulted a black man whom Larry was convinced had slept with his wife. In 1988, Larry briefly worked as a mail carrier, quitting after three months and very little work, having brought most of his mail home and destroyed it.
Marjorie worked intermittently since 1974. When both parents were working the family was financially well, having lived in the upper-middle-class suburb of Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Larry did not usually share his income with the family, making the mortgage payments and impulsively spending any money he earned on himself, especially firearms, motorcycles, and cars. He filed for bankruptcy in 1980, and 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 forced Margie to participate in a gang bang, 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 wouldn't let him go home with two women he met at a bar, Larry beat Marjorie so severely she was hospitalized, and 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, molested the girls' cousin Teddy from age 10 to 14, and both older girls said he molested them, though Melinda denied this ever happened to her. She slept in bed with him until he abandoned his family when she was 14. In court, Teddy described a dramatic scene 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 the direction of Michelle when she was seven, intentionally missing her. He would also embarrass them 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 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 the 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, and eventually severed all contact with her.
Mary Laurine 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 she was molested at least twice as a child, at ages five and twelve. In May 1989, her mother discovered Tackett was changing into jeans at school, and after a confrontation that night, attempted to strangle her. Social workers became involved, and her parents agreed to unannounced visits to ensure child abuse was not occurring. She and her mother came into periodic conflict, at one point her mother went to Hope Rippey's house after learning Rippey's father had purchased a Ouija board for the girls, and demanded the board be burnt and the Rippey house exorcised.
Tackett became increasingly rebellious after her fifteenth birthday and 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 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 the Louisville area in October 1991 to live with various friends. She met Melinda Loveless immediately, however 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, Indiana in June 1976. Her father was an engineer at a power plant. Her parents divorced in February 1984, and she moved to Quincy, Michigan with her mother and siblings for three years. She claimed that living with her family in Michigan was somewhat turbulent. Her parents resumed their relationship in Madison 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, Indiana in February 1976. Her father was a boilermaker. She was close friends with Hope Rippey from childhood onward. She was abused by a relative at age nine and was raped by a teenaged 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, however did not follow through. She became promiscuous, began to self harm, and attempted suicide in eighth grade.
In 1990, Melinda Loveless met and began dating Amanda Heavrin. After her father left and her mother remarried, Loveless was erratic, depressed, in counseling, and getting into fights at school. In March 1991, Melinda came out of the closet to her mother, who was furious initially, however came to tolerate this. In fall 1990, her relationship with Heavrin deteriorated, and Loveless came to associate this deterioration with Sharer.
Heavrin and Sharer met early in the school year when they got into a fight, however they became friends while in detention for the altercation. Loveless immediately became jealous of their relationship. In early October, Sharer and Heavrin attended a school dance, where Loveless found them and confronted them. Although Heavrin and Loveless never formally ended their involvement, Loveless began dating an older girl.
Loveless became increasingly jealous when Heavrin and Sharer went to a festival together in late October, and she began to discuss killing Sharer, threatening her in public. Concerned about 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 in December. Loveless and Heavrin never reformed their relationship.
On January 10, Toni Lawrence, Hope Rippey and Laurie Tackett drove in Tackett's car from Madison, Indiana to Melinda Loveless' house in New Albany. Rippey and Lawrence, while friends of Tackett, had not yet met Loveless, however upon arrival they borrowed some clothes from Loveless, and she showed them a knife and told them she was going to scare Shanda Sharer with it. None of the girls except 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 she disliked Sharer for being a copycat and for stealing Loveless' girlfriend.
Tackett let Rippey drive them to Sharer's house in Jeffersonville, Indiana, stopping at a McDonald's restaurant for directions. They arrived at her house shortly before dark, and Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door, introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin, and invite Sharer to come with them to see her girlfriend, who was waiting for them at a place called "The Witch's Castle". Sharer said she couldn't go because her parents were awake, and told the girls to come back around midnight.
Loveless was angry at first, with Rippey and Lawrence assuring her that they could return for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville and went to a punk rock concert 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 girls left for Sharer's house. During the ride, Loveless said she couldn't wait to kill Sharer, however 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. Loveless, who had previously harassed Sharer many times, hid under a blanket in the backseat of the car with a dull knife.
Sharer was waiting for Tackett and Rippey. Rippey told her that Heavrin was waiting at the Witch's Castle. Sharer was reluctant yet agreed after changing her clothes. They got in the car and drove towards Utica, Indiana and the Witch's Castle. The Witch's Castle was a ruined stone house, also known as Mistletoe Falls, located on an isolated hill overlooking the Ohio River. It was an occasional hangout for local teenagers. Tackett told the girls that legend said the house was once owned by nine witches, and townspeople burned the house to get rid of the witches.
Loveless came out from hiding after a while, placed the knife against Sharer's throat, and kept it there for the rest of the ride while interrogating her about Heavrin. At the Witch's Castle, they took Sharer in and bound her arms and legs with rope. Sharer started to cry, and the girls were scared by the headlights of passing cars, so they left for a place near Tackett's house, stopping for gas, then getting lost for a while before finally making their way to 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 as Loveless and Tackett made Sharer strip, then Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Loveless tried to cut Sharer's throat but the knife was too dull, and Rippey came out of the car to hold Sharer down. Loveless and Tackett strangled Sharer with a rope until she was unconscious, then placed her in the trunk, telling the other two girls that Sharer was dead.
They went to Tackett's nearby home and went inside to drink soda and clean themselves. They realized Sharer was screaming in the trunk, so Tackett went out with a paring knife, coming in a few minutes later covered in blood. After she washed, Tackett got her "runestones" and told the girls' futures with them. Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind as Tackett and Loveless went "country cruising" at 2:30, driving to the nearby town of Canaan. Sharer continued making noise, so Tackett stopped the car and beat her with a tire iron until she was silent.
They returned to Tackett's house just before daybreak to clean up again. Rippey asked about what had happened to Sharer, and Tackett laughingly told them about the torture. The conversation woke up Tackett's mother, who yelled at her daughter for being out so late and bringing home the girls, so Laurie agreed to take them home. She drove to the burn pile near Tackett's house and showed the other girls Sharer. Lawrence refused to look, and Rippey sprayed Sharer with Windex and taunted "You're not looking so hot now, are you?"
The girls drove to a gas station near Madison Consolidated High School, pumped some gas into the car and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Tackett emptied the bottle and refilled it with gasoline. They drove north of Madison, past Jefferson Proving Ground to a place with which Rippey was familiar off US 421 on what was called Lemon Road. They placed Sharer, still alive, in a blanket and carried her into a field by the gravel country road. Tackett made Rippey pour the gasoline on her, 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 at 9:30 for breakfast. Lawrence, horrified, called a friend and told her about the murder. Tackett then dropped Lawrence and Rippey off at their homes and returned home with Loveless. They cleaned out the car, using a hose to wash the trunk. They then drove to Loveless' house around 3:00. Loveless found out Heavrin was at River Falls Mall and had her paged, claiming an emergency, then told her that they had killed Sharer and arranged to pick Heavrin up later that day.
Loveless' friend, Crystal Wathen, came over, and they told her about 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, who did not believe it was true, but comforted a hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen were convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk with Sharer's bloody handprints and socks still remaining.
Later on the morning of January 11th, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana were driving towards Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed something on the side of the road. They called police at 10:55 AM, and were asked to return to the corpse. The Jefferson County Sheriff, Buck Shippley, and detectives arrived and began an investigation, taking forensic evidence at the scene. They initially suspected a drug deal gone wrong, and couldn't believe the crime would have been committed by locals.
Steve Sharer noticed his daughter was missing early on January 11. After calling neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda's mother, at 1:45 PM and the two met and filed a missing person report with the sheriff.
At 8:20 PM that night, a hysterical Toni Lawrence went to the Jefferson County Sheriff's office with her parents. She gave a rambling statement, identifying the victim as just "Shanda," naming the three other girls involved as best she could, and describing the basic events of the previous night. Shippley contacted the Clark County sheriff and was finally able to match the victim to Shanda Sharer's missing persons report.
Detective Howard Henry went to the Sharer's house, then obtained dental records for Sharer, which positively identified her as the burnt 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 as adults. For several months, the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not release any information on the case, leaving the media only the statement by Lawrence, which was repeated in the arrest warrant and contained the general background of the crime.
All four girls were tried as adults. To avoid the death penalty, all four girls accepted plea bargains. Tackett and Loveless were sentenced to sixty years in the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. With maximum time reduced for good behavior, they could be released in 2020. Lawrence was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and with time reduced for good behavior, she was released in 2000. Hope Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten suspended for mitigating circumstances, and ten years of medium supervision probation. With time reduced for good behavior, Rippey was released in 2006.
In October 2007, Loveless' attorney, Mark Small, requested a hearing to argue for his client's release. He said Loveless had been "profoundly retarded" by childhood abuse, and was not represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, leading her to accept a plea only because of exaggerated claims about the chances of her being executed. Small also argued that Loveless, who was sixteen when she signed the plea bargain, was too young to enter into a contract in the state of Indiana without consent from a parent or guardian, neither of which had been obtained. If the judge accepted either argument, Loveless could have been retried or released outright. However, after Small was unable to see his client the night before the hearing, the hearing was delayed until December 6, 2007.
On January 8, 2008, a sentence reduction and request to overturn Loveless' guilty plea was rejected by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd. Instead, Loveless will be eligible for parole in fifteen years, thus maintaining the original guilty plea.
On November 14, 2008, Loveless's appeal was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, upholding Judge Todd's ruling. Her lawyer, Mark Small, stated he will seek to have jurisdiction over the case be moved to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The crime was documented in two true crime books, Little Lost Angel by Michael Quinlan and Cruel Sacrifice by Aphrodite Jones, which became a New York Times Bestseller. The story was turned into a play by Rob Urbinati called "Hazelwood Jr. High" which starred Chloë Sevigny as Tackett. The play, "Hazelwood Jr. High," was published by Samuel French, Inc. in September 2009.
Mean, an episode from the fifth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which aired on February 24, 2004, was based on the murder.
Sharer's father died of cancer in 2005, at the age of 53, and was buried next to his daughter. In an interview with Shanda Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, on the cable tv program "Deadly Women", she stated that Shanda's father was so destroyed by her murder that he "did everything he could to kill himself besides put a gun to his head", and that he "drank himself to death."
The Shanda Sharer Scholarship Fund was established in January 2009. It is written in the contract that the recipient will receive a plaque or document of some type that tells Shanda's story. The fund plans to provide two students a year from Prosser School of Technology, in New Albany, with scholarships; one will go to a student who is continuing their education, the other will go to a student who is beginning their career, to purchase tools and work equipment.
In the wake of his daughter's sentencing hearing, in which extensive open court testimony about Larry Loveless was given, he was arrested in February 1993 and brought back to Floyd County, Indiana to face charges of rape, sodomy and sexual battery. The majority of crimes he was accused of occurred from 1968 to 1977. Loveless remained in prison for over two years awaiting trial, however a judge eventually ruled all except one count, for a sexual battery incident in 1989, had to be dropped due to the statute of limitations, which was five years in Indiana. Loveless eventually accepted a guilty plea for sexual battery and a sentence of time served, and was released in June 1995.
A few weeks following his release in 1995, Larry Loveless was briefly in the news again, this for unsuccessfully suing 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 was that he was not allowed to sleep in his bed during the day and not allowed to read the newspaper.