The Murder of Shanda Sharer

Shanda Sharer
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Few crimes in modern times caused more public horror than the grisly torture and murder of 12-year-old Shanda Sharer at the hands of four teenage girls on Jan. 11, 1992 in Madison, Indiana. The callousness and brutality exhibited by the four teenage girls, ages 15 to 17, shocked the public then, and it continues to be a source of fascination and revulsion as the subject of dozens of books, magazine articles, television programs, and psychiatric papers. 

The Events Leading to the Murder

At the time of her murder, Shanda Renee Sharer was the 12-year old daughter of divorced parents, attending school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic school in New Albany, Indiana, after transferring the previous year from Hazelwood Middle School. While at Hazelwood, Shanda had met Amanda Heavrin. Initially the two girls fought, but eventually became friends and then became entered into a youthful romance. 

In October of 1991, Amanda and Shanda were attending a school dance together when they were angrily confronted by Melinda Loveless, an older girl that Amanda Heavrin had also been dating since 1990. As Shanda Sharer and Amanda Heavrin continued to socialize through October, the jealous Melinda Loveless began to discuss killing Shanda and was observed threatening her in public. It was at this point, concerned about their daughter's safety, that Shanda's parents transferred her to a Catholic school and away from Amanda.

The Abduction, Torture, and Murder

Despite the fact that Shanda Sharer was no longer in the same school as Amanda Heavrin, Melinda Loveless' jealousy continued to fester over the next few months, and on the night of Jan. 10, 1992, Melinda, along with three friends—Toni Lawrence (age 15), Hope Rippey (age 15), and Laurie Tackett (age 17)—drove to where Shanda was spending the weekend with her father. Just after midnight, the older girls convinced Shanda that her friend Amanda Heavrin was waiting for her at a teenage hangout spot known as the Witch's Castle, a ruined stone home in a remote area overlooking the Ohio River.

Once in the car, Melinda Loveless began to threaten Shanda with a knife, and once they arrived at Witch's Castle, the threats escalated into an hours-long torture session. It was the details of the savagery that followed, all of which came out later in testimony from one of the girls, that so horrified the public. Over a period of more than six hours, Shanda Sharer was subject to beatings with fists, strangling with a rope, repeated stabbings, and battery and sodomy with a tire iron. Finally, the still living girl was doused with gasoline and set ablaze in the early morning hours of Jan. 11, 1992, in a field alongside a gravel county road. 

Immediately after the murder, the four girls had breakfast at McDonald's, where it is reported that they laughingly compared the look of the sausage to that of the corpse they had just abandoned. 

The Investigation

Uncovering the truth of this crime thankfully did not take long. Shanda Sharer's body was discovered later that same morning by hunters driving along the road. When Shanda's parents reported her missing in early afternoon, the connection to the discovered body was quickly suspected. That evening, a distraught Toni Lawrence accompanied by her parents arrived at the Jefferson County Sheriff's office and began to confess the details of the crime. Dental records quickly confirmed that the remains discovered by the hunters were those of Shanda Sharer. By the next day, all the involved girls had been arrested. 

The Criminal Proceedings

With compelling evidence provided by Toni Lawrence's testimony, the four girls involved were all charged as adults. With a strong likelihood of death penalty sentences, they all accepted guilty pleas in order to avoid such an outcome. 

In preparation for sentencing, defense attorneys spent considerable effort assembling arguments of mitigating circumstances for some of the girls, arguing that these facts reduced their culpability. These facts were presented to the judge during the sentencing hearing.

Melinda Loveless, the ringleader, had by far the most extensive history of abuse. At the legal hearing, two of her sisters and two cousins testified that her father, Larry Loveless, had forced them to have sex with him, although they could not testify that Melinda, too, had been so abused. His history of physical abuse to his wife and children was well documented, as well as a pattern of sexual misconduct. (Later, Larry Loveless would be charged with 11 counts of child sex abuse.)

Laurie Tackett was raised in a strictly religious household where rock music, movies and most other trappings of normal teenage life were strictly forbidden. In rebellion, she shaved her head and engaged in occult practices. It was not entirely surprising to others that she could have participated in such a crime. 

Toni Lawrence and Hope Rippey had no such troubled reputations, and experts and public onlookers were somewhat baffled at how relatively normal girls could have participated in such a crime. In the end, it was chalked up to simple peer pressure and a thirst for acceptance, but the case continues to be a source of analysis and discussion to this day. 

The Sentences

In exchange for her extensive testimony, Toni Lawrence received the lightest sentence—she pleaded guilty to one count of Criminal Confinement and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years. She was released on December 14, 2000, after serving nine years. She remained on parole until December, 2002.

Hope Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten years suspended for mitigating circumstances. Upon later appeal, her sentence was reduced to 35 years. She was released early on April 28, 2002 from Indiana Women's Prison after serving 14 years of her original sentence. 

Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett were sentenced to 60 years in the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. Tacket was released on Jan. 11, 2018, exactly 26 years to the day after the murder. 

Melinda Loveless, the ringleader of one of the most brutal murders in recent time, is due to be released in 2019. 

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Montaldo, Charles. "The Murder of Shanda Sharer." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, July 31). The Murder of Shanda Sharer. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Murder of Shanda Sharer." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).