Murder of Shanda Sharer
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2014)|
June 6, 1979|
Pineville, Kentucky, USA
|Died||January 11, 1992
Madison, Indiana, USA
|Parents||Steve Sharer and Jacque Vaught|
The murder of Shanda Renee Sharer (June 6, 1979 – January 11, 1992) involved a 12-year-old girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana, by four teenage girls. The incident attracted nationwide attention.
- 1 People involved in incident
- 2 Events prior to murder
- 3 Events of January 10–11, 1992
- 4 Investigation
- 5 Sentencing
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 References
- 9 External links
People involved in incident
Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1979, to Steve Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught. Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball, and softball teams.
After Sharer's parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Louisville. When her mother divorced again, the family moved to New Albany, Indiana, in June 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 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 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 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 1972, 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, 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 had Margie 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 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 antidepressant 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 the Louisville area 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 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 also born in Madison, 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 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 prior to murder
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 fighting at school. In March 1991, Loveless came out of the closet to her mother, who was initially furious but eventually accepted it. In the fall of 1991, Loveless' relationship with Heavrin deteriorated, and Loveless came to associate this deterioration with Shanda 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 Heavrin and Sharer's relationship. In early October, Sharer and Heavrin attended a school dance, where Loveless found 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 attended a festival together in late October, and she began to discuss killing Sharer and threatened Sharer 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 resumed their relationship.
Events of January 10–11, 1992
On 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 and Rippey, while friends of Tackett, had not yet met Loveless (age 16); 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. 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 them to Sharer's house in Jeffersonville, Indiana, stopping at a McDonald's restaurant for directions. They arrived at Sharer's house shortly before dark, and Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door, introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin (age 14), 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 that she could not go because her parents were awake, and told the girls to come back around midnight.
Loveless was angry at first, but Rippey and Lawrence assured her they could return for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville and attended 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 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. Loveless, who had previously harassed Sharer many times, hid under a blanket in the back seat 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 to go with them, after changing her clothes. Loveless was in the back seat hiding under a blanket with the knife. She put the knife to Sharer's throat as 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.
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 frightened 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 back to Madison.
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 naked, then Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Loveless then repeatedly slammed Sharer's face into her knee, cutting Sharer's mouth on her own braces. Loveless then tried to slash Sharer's throat but the knife was too dull, and Rippey came out of the car to hold Sharer down. 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, and told 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 and stabbed her several more times, 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 crying and gurgling noises, so Tackett stopped the car. Sharer sat up, covered in blood and her eyes rolled in the back of her head, but was unable to speak. Tackett then 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...... now lets take her pants off and get to it ladies!"
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 U.S. 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 a.m. for breakfast, where they laughed about Sharer's looking like one of the sausages they were eating. 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 p.m. Loveless discovered 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; while she did not believe it was true, she comforted the hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen were convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk with Sharer's bloody handprints and socks still there.
Later on the morning of January 11, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana, were driving toward Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed something on the side of the road. They called the police at 10:55 a.m. 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 could not believe the crime could be the work of locals.
Steve Sharer noticed his daughter missing early on January 11. After calling neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda's mother, at 1:45 p.m. and the two met and filed a missing person report with the 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 victim to Shanda Sharer's missing person's report.
Detective Howard Henry went to the Sharers' house, then obtained dental records that positively identified her 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 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. Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten suspended for mitigating circumstances, and ten years of medium-supervision probation.
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 and was not represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, which caused her to accept a plea only because of exaggerated claims about the chances of her being executed. Small also argued that Loveless, who was 16 years old 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 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. Mark Small stated that he would seek to have jurisdiction over the case moved to the Indiana Supreme Court.
On April 28, 2006, Hope Rippey was released from Indiana Women's Prison on parole, after serving 14 years of her original sentence. She will be on supervised parole for 5 years.
Toni Lawrence was released after serving 9 years, on December 14, 2000. She remained on parole until December 2002.
Both Loveless and Tackett are currently serving their original sentences. Whether or not Loveless will receive an early release is still unknown; however, because of Indiana's policy of reducing sentences by a day for every day served with good behavior, both women could possibly walk out of prison in 2022, when Loveless is 46 and Tackett is 47 years old.
Sharer's father died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 53. He was buried next to his daughter.
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 Sharer's story. 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 and work equipment.
In 2012, Shanda's mother, Jacque Vaught, made her first contact with Melinda Loveless, although indirectly. Vaught donated a dog for Loveless to train for the Indiana Canine Assistance Network program (ICAN). ICAN trains dogs to be service pets for those with disabilities. Loveless has trained dogs for the program for several years. She endured criticism over the decision, but defends it saying, "It's my choice to make. She'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 prison trained service dog every year in honor of Shanda.
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 time 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.
In popular culture
In literature and stageplays
The crime was documented in two true crime books, Little Lost Angel by Michael Quinlan and Cruel Sacrifice by Aphrodite Jones; Jones's book on the case 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 was published by Samuel French, Inc. in September 2009.
The Cold Case second season episode, "The Sleepover", is also loosely based on this case.
In an interview with Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, on the TV series Deadly Women, Vaught stated that Sharer's father was so destroyed by his daughter's 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 man definitely died from a broken heart".
- Jones, Aphrodite (1994). Cruel Sacrifice. Pinnacle. p. 46. ISBN 0-7860-1063-0.
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- Staff writer (2007-10-15). "Loveless hearing postponed until Dec. 6". The Courier-Journal.
- "Woman's torture-murder sentence stands". Associated Press. 2008-01-08.
- "Appeal denied in 1992 torture death." WLFI-TV. Thursday November 20, 2008. Retrieved on June 17, 2009.
- Dunn, Trisha. "New Albany memorial focuses on Shanda, not her murder." The News and Tribune. January 11, 2009. Retrieved on June 17, 2009.
- Ryder, Anne (May 21, 2012). "Shanda Sharer's mother and murderer form unlikely alliance". Wave 3.
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- Michael Quinlan (2012). Little Lost Angel. Gallery Books. ISBN 978-1451698794.
- Aphrodite Jones (1999). Cruel Sacrifice. Pinnacle Books. ISBN 9780786010639.
- Evans, Greg (1998-05-06). "Theatre Review: Hazelwood Jr. High". Variety.
- Rob Urbinati (2009). Hazelwood Jr. High. Samuel French, Inc. ASIN B008MR6DHW.
- Thorburn, Christopher (2008-10-09). "Thrill Killers". Deadly Women. Season 2. Episode 1. Discovery Channel.
- Dwyer, Kevin and Fiorillo, Jure (2007). True Stories of Law & Order. Berkley Books. pp. 32–36. ISBN 0-425-21735-3.
- "In Cold Blood: A Daughter's Brutal Murder". Dr. Phil. drphil.com. Retrieved 2011-05-22.