Warning: This story is about the torture and murder of a 12-year-old child by a group of friends. It is not for the faint of heart, and is disturbing even for the biggest true crime fanatics among us.
WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
Shanda Sharer was a sweet 12-year-old girl who was brutally tortured and murdered in Madison, Indiana on January 11, 1992. She was murdered by 4 girls between the ages of 15 and 17. The brutality of the crime, and the young age of the killers, attracted international media attention.
EVERYONE INVOLVED (1)
Shanda Sharer was the victim of murder at the hands of the 4 girls below. She was born on June 6, 1979 in Pineville, Kentucky. Her parents divorced, and her mother and her new husband relocated to Louisville. She attended 5th and 6th grade in Louisville, where she played volleyball, softball and was a cheerleader. Her mom's second divorce lead the family to New Albany, Indiana, where Shanda was enrolled in Catholic school. She played basketball. She was, by all accounts, a normal, sweet 12-year-old kid.
Melinda Loveless was born on October 28, 1975 and was the youngest of 3 daughters. Her father, Larry, fought in the Vietnam War, hailed a hero upon his return, but according to Melinda's mother, Marjorie, he was a sexual deviant who was a serial cheater, liked watching her have sex with other men and women, and often wore their daughters' makeup and underwear.
Larry was not great at keeping jobs. He lost his probationary officer job after assaulting an African American man after accusing him of sleeping with his wife, and lost his mail carrier job after bringing the mail home and destroying it. Marjorie worked on and off, and when both parents were working, they were financially well-off. But Larry ended up spending all of his money on guns and cars, filing for bankruptcy in 1980, leaving his family without food.
Larry was also a really terrible husband and human in general. He used to take his wife to bars where he would pretend to be a doctor or dentist, and would introduce Marjorie as his girlfriend. Then, he'd "share" her with friends from work. She tried to commit suicide after he organized an orgy at their home, which was not the last time she tried to end her life. She tried to drown herself when Larry had her gang raped, when Melinda was 9. After that, she refused sex until he raped her loudly as the daughters listened. He eventually beat her so severely that she was hospitalized and he was convicted.
Larry was a dumpster fire father, as well. Though the extent of his physical abuse towards his daughters is unclear, testimonies indicate he fondled Melinda as a baby, molested his wife's young sister after they got married, and molested their cousin for years. He was verbally abusive to all 3 daughters, fired guns at them (intentionally missing), and used to embarrass the kids by smelling their underwear in front of family members.
In November of 1990, Larry was caught spying on Melinda and her friend. Marjorie attacked him with a knife and he was sent to the hospital, and Marjorie attempted suicide again. Finally, Larry filed for divorce and moved away. Despite how terrible her father was, Melinda was crushed that her father left them. He sent letters to her for awhile, but eventually severed contact.
Other notable quips from the Loveless household: Melinda was subject to a 5-hour exorcism at the hands of a 50-year-old man, and Larry randomly became a marriage counselor but had to leave the church after being too forward with the women and attempting to rape one of them.
You might feel bad for Melinda now, given the absolute trash fire she grew up in, but that'll go away quickly after reading the rest of the story.
Laurie Tackett was born on October 5, 1974 to a felon father and a fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian mother. She claimed her father molested her at ages 5 and 12, and her mother attempted to strangle her when she found out she was changing into jeans once she got to school. Social services got involved and the parents agreed to announced visits to ensure Laurie wasn't being abused. Another fight broke out between mother and daughter when she found out that her friend Hope Rippey's father bought a Oujia board for the girls to play with. She demanded the Rippey house be exorcised.
Probably tied to that, Laurie became fascinated with the occult as she grew up, becoming increasingly rebellious at the age of 15. She pretended to be possessed by spirits, started to self-harm and began dating a girl. Her parents checked her into a hospital for self-harm, and was released and re-hospitalized a few times after a series of dangerous self-mutilations. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and revealed she had experienced hallucinations since she was a kid. She dropped out of high school in September of 1991.
She lived with friends and became close with Melinda Loveless, spending most of their time together. She continued dating her girlfriend, Toni Lawrence.
Hope Rippey was the girl with the Ouiji board. She lived with her mother in Michigan after her engineer father and she divorced, but when they got back together in 1987, she moved back to Indiana where she reunited with friends Laurie and Toni. She began to self-harm at the age of 15, but besides citing a "somewhat turbulent" situation while living in Michigan, there are not many details about Hope's background.
Toni Lawrence was friends with Hope from childhood and began a relationship with Laurie. She was sexually abused by a family member at the age of 9, and was raped by a teenage boy at the age of 14. She went to counseling for the trauma, but eventually stopped going. She began to self-harm, attempting suicide as an 8th grader.
So, all 4 of these girls suffered rough childhoods, from divorce to a creepy ass sex-obsessed pedophile father. And through what can only be described as a terrible fate, they all connected with one another.
When Melinda was 14, she began dating a young girl named Amanda Heavrin. She told her mom she was a lesbian, who was initially upset but eventually accepted it. But, as the year progressed, Melinda and Amanda began to grow apart.
Amanda met Shanda at Hazelwood Junior High when they got into a fight, but when in detention for the fight, they became friends. They exchanged romantic letters, making Melinda jealous of their budding relationship. Melinda confronted them at a school dance, but soon began dating another girl.
After Shanda and Amanda continued their relationship together, attending a festival together, Melinda discussed killing Shanda. Shanda's mom became worried and transferred her to Catholic school to get away from the whole mess. Amanda stated that letters containing death threats against Shanda were sent to a youth prosecutor, but nothing happened.
THE ABDUCTION, TORTURE, AND MURDER OF SHANDA SHARER (1)
On January 10, 1992, Toni (15), Hope (15), Laurie (17) and Melinda (16) all met up together. It was the first time Toni and Melinda had met. Melinda showed the girls a knife and said she planned to use it to scare and intimidate Shanda. As no one else had even met Shanda, Melinda had to explain to the group that she hated Shanda for stealing her girlfriend. (Remember: Melinda is 16, Shanda is 12.)
The girls arrived at Shanda's house before dark, and Melinda told Hope and Toni to go to the door and introduce themselves as friends of Amanda, and convince Shanda to come with them to see Amanda who was waiting for her at "The Witch's Castle", a stone house near the Ohio River. Shanda said she couldn't come while her parents were awake, but to come back at midnight. They went to a punk rock show, found some guys to have sex with, and then went back to Shanda's house.
On their way back, Melinda kept talking about being so excited to kill Shanda, but everyone was still under the impression that she was just going to scare her. Toni refused to go back up to the door, so Hope and Laurie went to the door while Melinda hid in the back seat with a knife. Shanda wasn't so sure about going, but relented and got in the car with the girls. While Hope questioned Shanda about her relationship with Amanda, Melinda sprung out from the trunk and held a knife to Shanda's throat while questioning her about her sexual relationship with Amanda.
Shanda was bound by her arms and legs with rope, sobbing. Melinda told her she had beautiful hair and wanted to cut it off. They were inside of the Witch's Castle where Melinda claimed dead bodies laid, and she would be next. Hope took off Shanda's Mickey Mouse watch and danced to the tune it played as Melinda terrified Shanda. Laurie set a shirt on fire to further set the terrifying mood, but they feared cars would see it, so they drove off with Shanda.
Shanda was sobbing, terrified, asking to go back home. They forced her to take her bra off and Hope replaced her bra with Shanda's. They stopped and asked for directions a few times before arriving at the edge of the woods near Shanda's house.
Shanda was ordered to strip naked by Melinda and Laurie while she beat Shanda up with her fists and knees. She tried to slash her throat, but was unable to because the knife was dull. Hope got out of the car and helped hold Shanda down while Laurie and Melinda took turns stabbing her. Then they strangled her with a rope until she was unconscious. Melinda told Hope and Toni that she was dead.
They went back to Laurie's house to clean up and drink some soda. They heard Shanda screaming in the trunk, so they came out and stabbed her a few more times with a paring knife. Toni and Hope stayed behind as the other 2 girls drove around with Shanda in the trunk, but she continued to cry and make gurgling noises, so Laurie hit her over the head with a tire iron. They went back home to clean up and laughingly described the torture to the other girls.
The next morning, they wrapped Sharer in a blanket and carried her to a remote field. Laurie and Melinda poured gasoline on her and set her on fire, where she burned alive. The 4 went to breakfast at McDonald's and laughed about Shanda's body looking like the sausages they were eating.
Toni called a friend to tell her about the murder once Toni and Hope were dropped off at their homes. Laurie told Amanda that they killed Shanda. Another friend of Melinda's, Crystal, came over and they told hr what they did. They showed Crystal and Amanda the bloody trunk, and Amanda was horrified. Melinda kissed Amanda and told her how much she loved her and asked her not to tell anyone.
The body was found on January 11, 1992, by 2 brothers. Around the same time, Shanda was reported missing by her family. Later that evening, Toni and Hope, hysterical from the night before, went to the police with their parents, giving extremely rambling statements about the murders. Shanda was identified as the body, and Laurie and Melinda were arrested, and planned to be tried as adults.
SENTENCING, RELEASES AND AFTERMATH
All 4 girls were tried as adults, and accepted plea bargains to avoid the death penalty. The troubled backgrounds of all of the girls, and history of sexual abuse, were considered in the sentencing. (1)
Ultimately, Melinda and Laurie, the 2 who were most involved and actually murdered Shanda, were sentenced to 60 years in the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. Despite their 60 year sentences, Laurie was released on January 11, 2018, serving only 26 years, and Melinda was released on September 5, 2019, serving only 27 years. (1)
Hope was sentenced to 60 years, with 10 years suspended for mitigating circumstances, and 10 years of medium-supervision probation. She eventually had her sentenced reduced to 35 years. Hope was released on April 28, 2006, 14 years ago today, only serving 14 years. Toni's cooperation got her only one count of criminal confinement and she was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years, and was released first on December 14, 2000, serving only 8 years. (1)
Though Amanda was not involved in the murder, Shanda's family believes she is culpable, as well. Shanda's sister discovered letters in Shanda's room about their relationship where Shanda claimed she wasn't interest in girls, but Amanda kept pursuing her. Shanda's sister blames Amanda for continuing to pursue Shanda even after she made it clear she wasn't interested. (2)
Shanda's mom believes that Amanda, who said she is sorry for everything that happened, is insincere and only concerned with herself. She said that Amanda knew Melinda wanted to kill Shanda, and even after she was shown the bloody trunk, didn't do anything. (2)
Because of the extensive testimony against Larry Loveless, Melinda's creep-o dad, he was arrested for rape, sodomy and sexual battery, but because of the statute of limitations, he was sentenced to time served, which was the 2 years he spent in jail awaiting trial. (1)
Shanda's father died of alcoholism in 2005. Her mother claimed that he did "everything he could to kill himself besides put a gun to his head". He drank himself to death because of his broken heart that he never recovered from after his 12-year-old daughter was brutally murdered. Shanda's mother made her first contact with Melinda in 2012 when she donated a dog in Shanda's name to Melinda. In jail, Melinda had trained dogs as service pets for people with disabilities, and Shanda's mother donated a pup named Angel in her daughter's name to her daughter's murderer. It was her way of trying to make good out of bad. (1)
Melinda was shocked that Shanda's mother donated a dog in her daughter's honor, but thanked her for doing so. She said that the puppy, and the compassion shown by her victim's mother ,helped her heal, forgive and grow. (3)
Laurie, who appeared on a 2011 episode of Dr. Phil from prison, with Shanda's mom and sister in the audience, said she wishes she could go back and if she could, she would do everything in her power to stop it. She claimed she was peer pressured and everything spiraled out of control quickly. (4)
Hope also appeared on Dr. Phil in 2011. She claimed that she was a weak person, and that allowed her to be manipulated into helping. She took full responsibility and expressed extreme remorse and guilt. Shanda's mom and sister were outraged at her release from prison and said she was a monster, but expressed hope that she'd learn from her mistakes and never do something like it again. (5)
Toni still lives in the Indianapolis area with 2 kids of her own, keeping a low profile. She has gone on the record saying she wished she had done more that night to stop the murder, but was terrified of Melinda. (6)
It is absolutely crazy to me that all 4 of these girls are now out of prison. While Laurie and Melinda are still out on parole, Hope and Toni are both done with all of their punishments related to the brutal murder of a 12-year-old kid, both living under new names with partners and families of their own. While Toni's involvement was more limited, the girls all helped to torture, strangle, stab and burn a child alive. It wasn't just going along with it: She was tied up, held down, stabbed. She screamed for help and was ignored. They all laughed when her burnt body was compared to their breakfast. And now, 28 years later, 16 years longer than Shanda Sharer even got to live, all 4 of them are free.
I wrote a story a few days ago about a 12-year-old who, with her 23-year-old boyfriend, killed her parents, and ended it by saying I wasn't sure if a 12-year-old should be given life in prison for a crime she committed as a child. I feel a little more sure here.
These 4 girls helped murder a 12-year-old. Though murdering anyone is a horrific crime, murdering a child is somehow even worse. Additionally, they weren't 12. They were between 15-17, 2 of them able to drive and 2 of them following close behind. They also weren't under the influence of a boyfriend twice their age, the murder was their plan and their plan alone. This doesn't seem like the situation of a young, impressionable kid murdering someone in an impulse decision. This was a group of teens who tortured a child for 10 hours before setting her on fire.
I think Toni should have served the shortest sentence, as from the reports, besides going to Shanda's door the first time, she wasn't actively involved. She didn't get out of the car. Her involvement seemed to be purely witnessing, and not doing anything to stop it. I think her 20 year sentence was fair, but I don't believe she would have been released after only 8 of those years. I also feel that Hope's sentence was fair: 35 years. She was more involved when she still believed it to just be a prank, and she did hold her down while she was stabbed, but she didn't kill her. I don't think she should have only served 14 years.
But Laurie and Melinda? I think they should be in prison for life. They were 16 and 17 years old. They laughed as they tortured a 12-year-old. They stabbed her, strangled her and beat her with their bare hands. They laughed as they recounted the torture. They hit her with a tire iron. They drove around with a dying child in their trunk. They poured gasoline on a helpless, dying kid and set her on fire. They should never see a free day again, yet they are all free, one released 14 years ago today.