The Disturbing Story Of Melinda Loveless, The Teen Who Orchestrated The Brutal Killing Of Shanda Sharer

Published March 23, 2024

In 1992, 16-year-old Melinda Loveless recruited three friends to help her kidnap, torture, and murder 12-year-old Shanda Sharer — all because Shanda was dating Melinda’s ex-girlfriend.

Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.

Melinda Loveless

Jefferson County SheriffMelinda Loveless was jealous that Shanda Sharer was dating her ex — so she tortured and killed her.

Shanda Sharer was a bubbly 12-year-old girl in the early stages of a new romance. She had recently begun dating her classmate Amanda Heavrin, and life was good — until Amanda’s ex, 16-year-old Melinda Loveless, grew jealous.

In October 1991, Melinda publicly threatened Shanda at a school dance, saying she was going to kill Shanda. Then, she actually followed through with it.

On Jan. 10, 1992, Melinda and three friends kidnapped Shanda, took her to a remote location in the woods, and brutally tortured her for seven hours. They stripped her naked, beat her, strangled her, stabbed her, sexually assaulted her, and ultimately set her on fire, burning her alive.

Then, they reportedly grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s and laughed about how Shanda’s burnt body resembled their sausage.

Shockingly, Melinda Loveless is now a free woman, having been given early release from prison in 2019. Today, she appears to be a changed person who has shown great remorse for her crimes.

But one question still remains: How could such a trivial childhood jealousy turn into one of the most savage crimes in Indiana’s history?

Larry Loveless, The Abusive Patriarch Who Molested His Daughters

Melinda Loveless’ home life was anything but idyllic.

Melinda was born in New Albany, Indiana on Oct. 28, 1975 to Marjorie and Larry Loveless. She was the youngest of three daughters. Larry Loveless was a Vietnam War veteran and reportedly bore the emotional scars of the conflict.

He also struggled to keep a job. He did some work here and there for Southern Railroad, and worked as a probationary officer — only to be fired after he and his partner assaulted a Black man whom Larry accused of sleeping with his wife.

Marjorie described her husband Larry as a sexual deviant. He wore his daughters’ makeup and cheated on Marjorie frequently. He was simultaneously violently jealous and deeply fascinated with watching his wife have sex with other people.

Loveless

HandoutA photograph of Melinda Loveless.

Specifically, Larry enjoyed hosting orgies and “sharing” Marjorie with his friends from work. Marjorie found these parties degrading, and it wreaked havoc on her mental health. She attempted suicide multiple times when the children were young.

But Larry Loveless’ debauchery didn’t begin or end with his wife. He frequently snuck into his daughters’ rooms at night and molested them. He also reportedly abused their cousin, Teddy, until she was 14 years old, taking her into the woods to sexually assault her whenever she visited the Loveless’ home.

One day, Larry Loveless flew into a rage against Teddy. His daughter Michelle recalled the horror of it.

“He burned her head. He caught her hair on fire,” she said, as reported in Aphrodite Jones’ book Cruel Sacrifice. “He caught her hair on fire and then he said, ‘oh, don’t worry about it, I’ll cut it and fix it for you.’ He cut her bald. And the next thing I know, Teddy is out of our house, out of our home.”

Even when Larry Loveless eventually turned to the church — confessing everything and, ironically, becoming a marriage counselor — it did nothing to change him. He reportedly attempted to rape a woman he was counseling, then left the church altogether.

In November 1990, Marjorie caught Larry spying on Melinda and a cousin while they were changing. Furious, Marjorie chased after him with a knife and ended up sending him to the hospital with minor stab wounds. She was so distraught over the incident that she once again attempted suicide.

Shortly after, Melinda’s parents were divorced. Larry left his family behind and remarried, which hurt Melinda deeply. As the youngest, he had shown Melinda the most affection, and she adored her father. But her memory of what life was really like in their home was skewed. She didn’t remember the sexual abuse.

These tumultuous years wreaked havoc on the entire Loveless family. And in Melinda’s case, they helped shape her into a ruthless killer.

Melinda Loveless Meets Shanda Sharer

Shanda Sharer

Wikimedia CommonsShanda Sharer, Melinda Loveless’ 12-year-old victim.

In 1990, Melinda Loveless started dating a classmate by the name of Amanda Heavrin. The relationship gradually fell apart, but Melinda still harbored strong feelings for Amanda.

So when Amanda began showing an interest in a younger classmate named Shanda Sharer, Melinda became jealous.

Things came to a head in October, when Shanda and Amanda attended a school dance together. Melinda, enraged at seeing the two together, publicly threatened Shanda, accusing her of stealing Amanda away — even though Melinda herself had started dating another girl as well.

Meanwhile, Melinda’s behavior had grown increasingly erratic since her father’s abandonment. She was getting into fights at school and had become horribly depressed. She received professional counseling, but it didn’t seem to have much effect.

After threatening Shanda, Melinda continued to brazenly talk about how she was going to kill the 12-year-old. Things at school got so bad that Shanda’s mother, hoping to separate Shanda and Amanda, pulled Shanda out of Hazelwood Middle School and enrolled her at a nearby Catholic school.

But Melinda’s hatred lingered. And in January 1992, she decided to get what she perceived as revenge.

The Abduction Of Shanda Sharer

On the night of Jan. 10, 1992, Melinda Loveless enlisted the help of her friend, 17-year-old Laurie Tackett, and Laurie’s friends Hope Rippey (15) and Toni Lawrence (15), to kidnap Shanda Sharer.

Under the guise of taking Shanda to meet Amanda, the four girls drove to Shanda’s father’s house, where she was spending the weekend. After making sure her father and stepmother were in bed, Shanda snuck out and got into the girls’ car.

But they did not take her to Amanda.

Instead, Melinda, who had been hiding under a blanket in the back seat, leapt up, brandishing a knife. She pressed the knife against Shanda’s neck and demanded to know about her relationship with Amanda, threatening to slice her throat if she didn’t tell “the truth.” Terrified, Shanda promised Melinda she would stop seeing Amanda and begged them not to hurt her.

Melinda And Marjorie Loveless

HandoutMelinda and Marjorie Loveless.

It was around then that the girls arrived at a remote spot in the woods known as the Witches’ Castle. Here, the torture began.

The Torture Begins

The girls took a sobbing Shanda Sharer out of the car and bound her legs and arms with rope. All the while, Melinda taunted Shanda, threatening to cut off her long hair and removing her rings and Mickey Mouse watch. The other girls partook in this, gleefully pressing a button on the watch that played a tune.

Then, Melinda told Shanda that the Witches’ Castle contained numerous dead bodies — and that Shanda’s would be next.

Realizing they were too exposed at the Witches’ Castle, the teens loaded Shanda back into the car and drove to a more secluded spot in the woods near Laurie’s home.

This time, Toni and Hope, now scared themselves, remained in the car while Laurie and Melinda carried Shanda out of the vehicle and into the woods.

There, they made Shanda strip down to her underwear — and brutally beat her, punching her hard in the stomach and repeatedly slamming Shanda’s face into their knees. Melinda also tried to cut Shanda’s throat open, but her knife was too dull.

Instead, Melinda and Laurie took out a rope and put it around Shanda’s neck, strangling her until she passed out. Assuming she was dead, they put her back in the trunk.

They returned to Laurie’s house for some celebratory sodas — until they eventually heard Shanda screaming from the trunk. Laurie went back outside and stabbed Shanda several more times to silence her.

Covered in blood, she came back inside to do a fortune-telling session with her friends.

Reading Melinda’s fortune, Laurie said: “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Shanda Sharer’s Grisly Murder

Shortly after, Laurie Tackett and Melinda Loveless decided to go for a drive. Hope and Toni stayed behind. They had seen enough.

As the Laurie and Melinda drove, they could hear Shanda crying and screaming from the trunk, asking for her mother and making gurgling sounds.

Melinda and Laurie pulled over again to continue the torture. This time, Laurie beat Shanda so brutally with a tire iron that she could feel her head cave in. At some point during these beatings, the girls also sexually assaulted Shanda with the tire iron.

When they returned to Laurie’s house, they woke Hope and Toni, and the four traveled to a gas station. They bought and emptied a two-liter Pepsi bottle and filled it with gasoline.

Then, the teens drove Shanda to a remote field — and doused her in gasoline, setting her on fire and burning her alive.

“I’m glad she’s dead,” Melinda Loveless reportedly said when it was all over. “I’m glad she’s out of me and Amanda’s life!”

Shanda Sharer Memorial

Wikimedia CommonsA memorial to Shanda Sharer in the field where she was brutally killed.

On the morning of Jan. 11, two hunters came across Shanda Sharer’s scorched body in a field near Madison, Indiana, and an investigation quickly followed. One day later, Melinda and Laurie were arrested. Toni, wracked by guilt, had told investigators what had happened.

In the end, Laurie Tacket and Melinda Loveless were each sentenced to 60 years in prison, Hope Rippey to 35 years (reduced from 50 on appeal), and Toni Lawrence to 20. All were released early.

And Melinda today is reportedly a very different person than she was as a teenager.

Where Is Melinda Loveless Today?

In prison, Melinda Loveless enrolled in a program known as the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN), in which she trained dogs to help people with disabilities.

Program representatives touted Loveless as one of their best trainers, saying that she could handle even their most troublesome dogs. In turn, the program helped Melinda learn to value life and gave her a way to give back to the community.

Her efforts managed to impress even Jacque Vaught, Shanda Sharer’s mother, who learned about Loveless’ role in the program through an ICAN breeder — who just so happened to be a burn victim like Shanda.

“I had many times said that if you want to see as close to a person that has absolutely nothing inside of them, look in Melinda’s eyes because there’s nothing there,” Vaught said in a 2012 WTHR interview. But when she saw a video of Loveless in the program, she was “taken aback,” saying that Loveless looked like “someone who was almost reborn.”

As a way of honoring her daughter, Vaught donated a dog to the program named Angel — a dog that Loveless would later train.

“She helped me to actually heal, forgive and grow, whether she wanted that or not,” Loveless said of the gesture. “She did a good thing. I would thank her. I couldn’t thank her enough.

“Angel is in good hands. And I’m doing it for Shanda. And I’m doing it for her.”

In 2019, Melinda Loveless was released from prison on parole — the last of Shanda Sharer’s killers to be set free.


After reading about Melinda Loveless, learn about Herbert Mullin, the man who killed 13 people because he believed it could prevent an earthquake. Or, read about Skylar Neese, the teen killed by her friends because they didn’t like her anymore.

author
Austin Harvey
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
editor
Maggie Donahue
editor
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.