You know those cases that are just so awful and incomprehensible that they stay with you no matter what? For me, this is the story of Shanda Sharer. This is upsetting for me to write about and it will also be upsetting to read about. So please, proceed with caution. I have marked the start and end of particularly upsetting parts with a * if you’d rather skip over it.
Shanda Renee Sharer was born June 6th 1979 in Pineville, Kentucky. Her parents, Stephen Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught got divorced when Shanda was a child. Shanda was best friends with her mom, and close with her father and stepmother, Sharon.
Shanda was the kind of girl you wanted to be friends with; she was bubbly, outgoing and a lot of fun. At school, she was a cheerleader and played volleyball. She was smart and got good grades.
In June 1991, around Shanda’s 12th birthday, she and her mom moved to New Albany, Indiana, so that Shanda would see her dad more often.
New Beginnings, September 1991
Shanda started at Hazelwood Middle School in New Albany. Early on in the school year, she got into a fight with 14-year-old Amanda Heavrin. The two ended up in detention together, where they resolved their issues and became friends. Jackie, Shanda’s mother, was unsettled by the friendship. Since it began, Shanda’s grades were slipping and she was getting into trouble.
The friendship soon developed into more and the two girls began exchanging love letters. In October, they attended a school dance where they encountered Amanda’s ex-girlfriend, 16-year-old Melinda Loveless.
The sight of Shanda and Amanda together made Melinda furious. At the dance, Melinda tried to fight Shanda, but Amanda stopped her. In the weeks following, Melinda threatened Shanda in public and began to write letters to Amanda saying she wanted Shanda dead.
On discovering Amanda’s letters to Shanda, many of which were of a sexually explicit nature, Jackie and Stephen decided to have Shanda transferred to a different school. By the end of November, Shanda enrolled in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School.
Shanda and Amanda had not broken up when Shanda transferred schools. Amanda continued to write letters to Shanda and call her at home. Shanda, however, was distracted with her new school and not as responsive as Amanda would have liked.
Having been a teenage girl myself not that long ago, I do remember emotions such as jealousy, anger and sadness feeling ten times stronger than they do now. You might say you hate someone; maybe even go as far as to say you wish they were dead. You never really mean it though.
For most high school students, school life is their whole world. The people we met there played a central role in our lives at the time. For many, high school is where you experience your first relationship and make friends whom you think you’ll be close to forever. However, a lot of the time when we look back on our high school days, experiences that seemed like the end of the world at the time have faded away.
This is where this story takes a very dark turn. What appeared to be just a jealous lover’s spat in the last section spiraled into something much more sinister and malicious; it would result in an evil act that would massively alter the lives of 4 people and end the life of another.
The Original Mean Girls
Before I go into the events of January 10th 1992, I’m going to look a little into the backgrounds of the people involved. Aphrodite Jones, author of the 1994 true crime book Cruel Sacrifice, which takes an in depth look at the Shanda Sharer case, dubs the 4 girls ‘The Original Mean Girls’:
Melinda Loveless, 16
Melinda was originally from New Albany, IN. Her father, Larry Loveless, was a Vietnam veteran who had trouble holding down work. Any money he did earn went towards motorcycles and guns. He was violent, verbally abusive, a drunk and a pervert.
Larry and Melinda’s mother Marjorie had an ‘open relationship’ – or rather, Larry would let his friends ‘borrow’ Marjorie for sex. The two would regularly engage in orgies with men and women Larry picked up in bars. Larry violently raped Marjorie while their three daughters were in the home, able to hear everything. He once beat Marjorie so badly that she was hospitalized. The abuse drove Marjorie to attempt suicide multiple times.
Larry also likely subjected his daughters to sexual abuse, but the extent of this is unclear. There are reports that he molested his daughters and nieces when they were children. Melinda shared a bed with him up until she was 14.
Marjorie and Larry divorced when Melinda was 14. Larry moved to Florida and after that had very little contact with the family.
Melinda struggled with depression and would regularly get into fights, both of which were largely caused by her difficult home life. This affected her schoolwork and resulted in her having to repeat a year of school. Melinda was open about her lesbian orientation, which was rare for small town Indiana in the early 1990s.
Laurie Tackett, 17
Laurie was from Madison, IN, about 50 miles from New Albany. She came from a strict fundamentalist Christian household, mainly driven by her mother. Her father worked in a factory. Laurie’s parents were both abusive and child services visited the home several times.
Laurie was fascinated by paranormal activity and vampirism. Early in 1991 at the age of 16, Laurie began to self-harm, which landed her in hospital several times. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In September 1991, Laurie dropped out of high school.
While living in Louisville in October, Laurie met Melinda and they became friends. By the end of the year, Laurie was spending most of her time with Melinda in New Albany and Louisville and rarely went home to Madison.
Hope Rippey, 15
Hope was also from Madison and friends with Laurie, however, her parents didn’t like the Hope spending time with Laurie. Hope and Toni had been close since they were very young. Hope would also engage in self-harmed.
Toni Lawrence, 15
Toni was also born and raised in Madison. She was good friends with Hope, but did not know the other girls. Some reports state Toni was raped when she was 14 but I couldn’t find much information on this. Like Laurie and Hope, Toni also self-harmed.
June 10 – 11, 1992
On the evening of the 10th, Laurie, Hope and Toni, piled into Laurie’s car, planning to go to a rock concert. This would be the first time Toni would meet Laurie. Laurie didn’t look or act like a regular 90s teenage girl; she had a harsh, white blonde, boyish haircut and wore black from head to toe. She had a sinister and unapproachable exterior and showed little emotion. Toni got unsettling vibes from Laurie right away.
Laurie asked Hope, “Did you tell her yet?” to which Hope replied, “Tell her what?”
“We’re going to kill a girl tonight.”
Toni didn’t know what to think; she thought it was some kind of twisted joke.
Before heading to the concert, Laurie drove to New Albany to pick up Melinda. Hope didn’t know Melinda well and Toni had never met her. Melinda was beautiful and glamorous and excited to see the girls. Carrying a large kitchen knife with her, she got in the car and told Hope and Toni about how she wanted to “scare” this girl, Shanda, because she was trying to be like her and had stolen her girlfriend. Laurie, Hope and Toni had never met Shanda before.
The four arrived around 8pm at Shanda’s house and Melinda hid on the floor of the car. She knew that if Shanda saw her she would get scared and not come with them. Laurie and Melinda told Hope and Toni to knock on Shanda’s door and ask her to come with them to see Amanda.
Shanda had never seen these girls before, but wanted to see Amanda. She told them to come back at midnight once her parents were asleep.
Hope and Toni returned to the car and they drove to the rock concert. At around 12am they drove back to Shanda’s house. On the way, Melinda expressed how excited she was to kill Shanda, but also said she just wanted to scare her. Hope and Toni didn’t believe that Melinda planned to kill the girl, but Toni was becoming increasingly concerned. She refused to go to the door with Hope and get Shanda to come with them.
Hope returned with Shanda and they got in car and started chatting about Amanda. Hope explained that Amanda was waiting for them at the Witch’s Castle in Utica, IN. Melinda then jumped up behind Shanda, grabbed her hair and put the blunt end of the knife to her throat. Shanda screamed and pleaded with Melinda not to hurt her. Melinda yelled, ‘Shut up, bitch!’ and proceeded to question Shanda about her sexual relationship with Amanda.
The Murder - June 11th 1992
At the Witch’s Castle, Melinda and Laurie tied Shanda up. Laurie scared Shanda by telling her about how the place was full of dead people. Shanda was terrified and begged to go home. Laurie lit a T-shirt with a smiley face on fire with her lighter and taunted Shanda, saying soon that would be her.
They then left the Witch’s Castle with Shanda, looking for an open gas station. Shanda told them about one near her house. They went there, but Laurie knew that if Shanda was near her home she might try to get away or call for help, so she covered her with a blanket. They then drove around some more and ended up in the woods not far from Laurie’s house.
* Here the torture began. Laurie and Melinda punched and kicked Shanda and tried to cut her throat with the knife, but it wasn’t sharp enough. They used it to stab her chest and abdomen. Hope and Toni stayed in the car, although Hope got out of the car briefly to help restrain Shanda. Melinda and Laurie strangled Shanda with a rope until she passed out. They then put her in the trunk and drove back to Laurie’s house. They told Hope and Toni that Shanda was dead.
When Laurie realized Shanda was making noise, she went back out to the car and stabbed her until she was quiet. Melinda and Laurie then went driving in the countryside, leaving Hope and Toni at Laurie’s house.
Whenever Shanda made noise, Laurie would go round to the trunk, where she would stab her with a knife and beat her with a tire iron. It is unclear how long they were out driving for.
They returned to Laurie’s house and picked up Hope and Toni and then drove back to the woods. Laurie and Melinda wanted to show Hope and Toni what they had done to Shanda, but Toni refused to look. The three girls looked, and Hope sprayed Shanda with Windex. She said, “You’re not looking so hot now, are you?”
At a gas station, Toni bought a large bottle of Pepsi to drink, but Laurie grabbed it, emptied it and proceeded to fill it with gasoline.
They drove north and ended up on Lemon Road, a country road surrounded by fields. Laurie and Hope wrapped Shanda, who was still alive, in a blanket and carried her to the edge of the fields, still in view from the road. Laurie poured the gas from the Pepsi bottle on Shanda and set her alight. *
The 4 girls left and went to eat at McDonalds. Toni was hysterical and used a payphone to call a friend and tell her about the murder. Melinda and Laurie decided Toni needed to go home.
After dropping Toni and Hope off at their homes, Melinda got in touch with Amanda and told her Shanda was dead. Amanda didn’t believe it and agreed to meet later. Laurie and Melinda went to pick up Amanda and then returned to Melinda’s house. Once in the house, Melinda cried hysterically, telling Amanda what they had done to Shanda. Amanda still didn’t believe it, but this changed when they showed her the trunk of Laurie’s car. Inside there was a lot of blood, including bloody handprints, hair and one of Shanda’s socks. Amanda was horrified and demanded to be taken home.
Around the time that the girls were at McDonald’s, brothers Donn and Ralph Foley went out hunting for quail. They made their way past Jefferson Proving Ground, driving for about 8 miles on a country road. There they spotted a large, dark colored object on the side of the road. As they got closer, Donn thought it was a blow-up doll. They took a closer look and only then did they realize it was the burned body of a young woman. It reminded Donn of his time in Vietnam. They went back home and called the police, who told them to go back to the location of the body until the sheriff arrived.
At about 12pm, deputy sheriff Randle Spry arrived, closely followed by Jefferson County Sherriff Buck Shippley. Detective Steve Henry and forensic expert Sergeant Curtis Wells arrived around 1pm.
* The four men couldn’t believe the horrifying sight. The girl’s body had been burned beyond recognition, ‘posed’ in a sexual manner and Wells was convinced she had likely been sodomized. *
In the meantime, Steve, Shanda’s father, woke up. He noticed that Shanda was not in her room but didn’t think much of it; he assumed she was sleeping in the family room in the basement. When he realized she wasn’t there, he began to worry. He called Shanda’s friends first, then his ex-wife, Jackie, telling her he couldn’t find Shanda. Jackie came over and they filed a missing person’s report. After that, Jackie, Steve and Steve’s wife, Sharon, searched the area for Shanda.
At around 8:20pm, a hysterical Toni entered the police station with her father. She was bursting to tell Detective Henry everything as fast as she could. She told Henry about the plan to go to the rock concert with Laurie and Hope, that they ended up going to New Albany, that they picked up Laurie’s friend Melinda. She knew the girl’s name was Shanda and she was 12 or 13. She couldn’t remember exact timings, but she did remember locations, like the Witch’s Castle, the woods, Laurie’s house, Laurie and Melinda beating Shanda in the trunk, going to the gas station…filling the Pepsi bottle with gasoline.
Toni did remember Shanda’s address. Henry contacted Wells to find out whether a missing person’s report had been filed at that address; there had been one, for 12 year old Shanda Sharer. The description of Shanda in the missing person’s report matched the body found earlier that day. Dental records were then used to positively identify the body as Shanda’s.
On January 12th 1992, Laurie and Melinda were arrested.
All four girls were charged as adults. They each accepted plea bargains to avoid the death penalty.
Laurie and Melinda were both sentenced to 60 years in Indiana Women’s Prison.
On appeal in 2004, Hope’s sentence was reduced from 60 to 35 years.
Toni pled guilty to one charge of criminal confinement and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years.
Completely heartbroken by the murder of his daughter, Steve Sharer couldn’t go on. He found his only escape in drinking and died of alcohol abuse in 2005. He was 53.
During Melinda’s sentencing hearing, the horrific abuse her father, Larry Loveless, subjected her family to came to light. In February 1993, he was charged with rape, sodomy and sexual battery and arrested. He spent 2 years in prison awaiting trial. However, due to the statue of limitations (5 years in Indiana) and given that the majority of these particular crimes occurred up to 25 years before, the judge had all charges dropped apart from one charge of sexual battery, which Larry pleaded guilty to. He received a sentence of time served and was released in June 1995. Sorry, but justice was not done, in my humble opinion.
While in prison, Melinda has become involved in training service dogs. She has is renowned for her training for the ICAN (Indiana Canine Assistance Dogs) program and is often sought out for help with dogs that are harder to train. Charlie Petrizzo, a burn victim who breeds service dogs for ICAN, got in touch with Shanda’s mother about Melinda. Together they watched footage of Melinda training a dog in prison. On watching the video, Jackie said:
"She (Melinda) was sincere. She was compassionate. I think the ICAN program allows her to have something in her life that she can show love back to and there's never betrayal on either side."
In 2012, Jackie made the unexpected decision to donate a puppy, Angel, in honor of Shanda for Melinda to train for ICAN.
Toni was released on parole in 2000, after serving 8 years.
Hope was released on parole in 2006, having served 14 years.
On the 26th anniversary of Shanda’s death, January 11 2018, Laurie was released on parole.
Melinda is to be released in September 2019.
Researching this case in depth, watching interviews, documentaries, reading Aphrodite Jones’s Cruel Sacrifices and reports online has meant I’ve done a fair bit of my own reflection on the case. I’m not saying that these ideas are original and have never been thought of before, they definitely have, but I just wanted to sum up in my own words what I feel like the main drivers were for this horrible crime. Also, I’m not saying here that any of these things I discuss did or would ever justify what happened to Shanda.
Melinda was the Alpha female in this case. But would Melinda have abducted, tortured and murdered Shanda on her own? Almost definitely not. She needed back up from others to rationalize her actions to herself. Enter Laurie, who to my knowledge, never put up any resistance or told Melinda she should not kill Shanda. She even encouraged Melinda, saying she would help. Laurie was the most violent of all four girls. Melinda and Laurie both had what the other ‘needed’; Melinda was so jealous that she wanted Shanda dead, but couldn’t kill her on her own. Laurie didn’t even know Shanda; she just had a blood lust and wanted to know what it would feel like to kill someone. A match made in hell, no?
It’s quite possible that without Hope and Toni, Melinda and Laurie still could have gone forward with killing Shanda. Hope never hurt Shanda on her own, but was involved in taunting Shanda early on and did attempt to ‘assist’ Laurie and Melinda by restraining her. She also originally lured Shanda into the car. I think Hope wanted to impress Laurie, but was probably more scared of her than anything else.
Toni was the least culpable in the murder; her crime was that she never tried to do anything to stop the others. However, Toni had never met Laurie or Melinda before and both girls were older and intimidating. She saw Laurie and Melinda torturing Shanda and maybe even thought, ‘If I try and stop this, could something happen to me too?’
Domination and Control
Melinda didn’t really have any control over her life; her father was abusive and the family lived in fear of him. She was flunking school and had to be held back a year. Then her ex-girlfriend, whom she clearly still had feelings for, got together with a much younger girl. It could be said that having power over Shanda, even just for a short time, made Melinda feel in control when everything else in her life was falling apart.
But on the other hand, the torture and hell they put Shanda through suggests a complete loss of control and any consideration for human life.
Nature vs. Nurture
I don’t want to delve deeply into the nature vs. nurture debate because I’m not a psychologist and haven’t studied the phenomenon outside of my research into murder cases. But Melinda in particular had a horrible upbringing. She experienced verbal and emotional abuse from her father probably on a daily basis, and I’m sure the abuse went further than that still. Her father was sexually and physically violent towards her mother and did nothing to hide it.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: would things have been different had the girls had more stable home lives? Or would Laurie and Melinda have had a predisposition to violence regardless?
I also know well enough to say here that the vast majority of people who grow up regularly enduring sexual, physical and emotional do not end up as murderers. I know it’s possible to completely turn experiences of abuse around and make them into something positive. For example, people who have suffered abuse often help others who are going though similar situations because they can better understand where they’re coming from.
But I’ve got to cover all the bases, right?
I think I’ve covered everything I planned to in this case. I knew this was going to be hard to write about (there’s no such thing as easy in true crime!) but honestly, this seriously drained me emotionally. I’m kind of lost for how to end this. I hope that I did justice to Shanda’s story and that when people read this, they see Shanda for the shining star that she was (and still is). I’m also pretty overcome with admiration for Jackie, Shanda’s mother, who lost her daughter in the absolute worst way imaginable but managed to stay strong and see the light despite everything that happened. On donating the puppy to Melinda to train in prison, she said:
"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."
Cruel Sacrifices by Aphrodite Jones