Shanda Sharer was an ordinary Indiana teenager in 1992 — until four girls tortured her for hours before finally killing her.
In 1991, Shanda Sharer was a bubbly 12-year-old attending Hazelwood Middle School in New Albany, Ind. She was, by all accounts, a normal girl who made friends easily and had fun at school dances.
But it was one such dance that set in motion a chain of events that would soon bring Shanda Sharer’s life to a gruesome, torturous end at the hands of four teenage girls.
The Events Leading Up To Shanda Sharer’s Abduction
Shanda Sharer met classmate Amanda Heavrin at Hazelwood in 1991, soon after moving to the area with her recently divorced mother from Kentucky. Sharer and Heavrin became fast friends and then romantic partners.
In October of that year, the pair attended a school dance together. There, Sharer and Heavrin were confronted by 16-year-old Melinda Loveless, who had previously been dating Heavrin for more than a year and was now extremely jealous of this new pairing.
Loveless then threatened Sharer in public and soon even talked about killing the 12-year-old. At this point, Sharer’s mother transferred her to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in order to protect her.
Unfortunately, that did nothing to stop the horrific events that would soon unfold.
On the cold winter night of Jan. 10, 1992, Loveless enlisted three friends — Laurie Tackett (17), Hope Rippey (15), and Toni Lawrence (15) — to help her take her revenge on Shanda Sharer.
The foursome drove to where Sharer was spending the weekend with her father. The girls used the pretense that they were taking Sharer to see Heavrin as the excuse for their visit.
Sharer told the girls to return after her parents were asleep, which they did. The girls then took Sharer into their car and told her they were going to drive her to the meeting place at the Witch’s Castle, an isolated and abandoned house that served as a local teen hangout. In the back seat, Melinda Loveless was hiding under a blanket with a knife.
The ringleader and jealous lover soon leapt out from under the blanket and threatened to slit Sharer’s throat if she didn’t confess to stealing Heavrin away from her.
In tears and fearful for her life, Sharer tried to respond but to no avail. Loveless then convinced the other girls to take Sharer to a remote location where there would be no one else around for miles. The three other girls assumed Loveless was simply going to scare Sharer into breaking up with Heavrin.
They were dead wrong.
The Grisly Torture And Murder Of Shanda Sharer
For seven hours, the four girls brutally tortured Shanda Sharer before ultimately killing her.
First, they took Sharer to a remote trash dump near a logging road in a densely forested area.
Loveless and Tackett stripped off Sharer’s clothes and proceeded to punch her repeatedly. Loveless hit the victim’s face with her knee until she bled profusely from her mouth. Meanwhile, Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind in Tackett’s car.
That torture wasn’t enough to satiate the older girls. They then tried to slit Sharer’s throat, but the knife was too dull. Instead, they stabbed her in the chest and strangled her with a rope before throwing her in the trunk of the car, thinking she was dead. They then went to Tackett’s house to clean up and drink sodas before realizing that their victim, now screaming in the trunk, was still alive.
Tackett proceeded to stab Sharer several more times before driving off once more with Loveless to beat and sodomize Sharer with a tire iron. When they returned to Tackett’s house, she laughingly described what had just happened to Rippey.
Finally, in the early morning hours, the torturers stopped at a gas station and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi, which they quickly emptied and refilled with gasoline.
Again driving to a remote location, the girls hauled their still-alive victim — now only able to whimper “mommy” — out of the trunk, wrapped her in a blanket, and poured the gasoline on her. Then they lit Shanda Sharer on fire and drove off. Just to be sure their work was finished, Loveless had them return a few minutes later to pour some more gasoline on her, watch her writhe in agony, and finally confirm that she was dead.
The Capture Of Sharer’s Killers
As the four girls ate breakfast at McDonald’s just after the killing, the four girls laughed as they compared their sausage breakfast to Shanda Sharer’s burnt corpse. Later that morning, two hunters found the body.
That same day, the girls started talking. Loveless told Heavrin and another friend the whole story but had them promise to keep their mouths shut. But, that night, Lawrence and Rippey went straight to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office with their parents and spilled the whole story. By the next day, all four girls were in custody.
All four girls were tried as adults and accepted plea bargains in order to avoid the death penalty. Lawrence and Rippey — younger, less involved in the torture, and more forthcoming with authorities — received lighter sentences, with Lawrence getting 20 years and Rippey getting 50 (shortened to 35 on appeal). The former was released in 2000 after serving nine years while the latter served 14 and got out in 2006.
Meanwhile, Tackett and Loveless both received 60-year sentences. Loveless, the one angry with Sharer and the ringleader behind the murder, naturally received a longer sentence than the two younger girls, but why would Tackett take so much to the killing and earn herself the longer sentence as well?
Tackett grew up in a strict religious household where normal teenager things were not welcome behaviors. As a way of rebelling against her parents, the youngster shaved her head and started to engage in occult practices.
Tackett told people in one interview that, “I didn’t know Shanda at all. I didn’t go into that evening knowing anything was gonna happen, wanting anything to happen … I didn’t. Peer pressure. That’s all it was. It spiraled out of control way too fast. It’s something that should have never happened.”
Furthermore, in an interview on Dr. Phil, the convicted killer explained why she thinks people kill. “My opinion is that they [kill] to feel superior, or high on the victim’s fear, and they’re thirsty for the spill of blood.”
Dr. Phil asked Laurie’s mother and sister if they agreed with that statement, and they said yes. Her mom said that her daughter believed it was her destiny that she would murder someone in cold blood and spend the rest of her life in prison.
Her prediction was partly true. While Tackett did have a hand in killing Shanda Sharer, she was released from prison in January 2018.
The Story Of Ringleader Melinda Loveless After The Murder
Tackett’s motives aside, what would drive 16-year-old Loveless to mastermind such a brutal murder?
As Shanda Sharer’s mother, Jacque Vaught, said in a 2012 interview, “I had many times said if you want to see as close to a person who has absolutely nothing inside of them, look into Melinda’s eyes because there’s nothing there.”
That said, Loveless did have a difficult childhood. Her father, a Vietnam veteran, sexually abused her and her siblings when they were younger and experts have attributed her anger to that abuse (for which he was later arrested and convicted).
But in prison, it seems as though Loveless has found some measure of escape from the cycle of violence and abuse.
An Indiana program called ICAN, or Indiana Canine Assistant Network, has been helping Loveless. Behind bars, she trains puppies to be assistance dogs for disabled people. One of the dog breeders who supplies Indiana with pups is a burn victim, much like Shanda Sharer was.
The breeder convinced Vaught to watch a video of Loveless grown up and see what she does in prison for the program.
“I was really taken aback,” Vaught said after watching. “I saw someone almost reborn. She 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.”
Vaught did something remarkable after seeing her daughter’s killer at work. She donated a puppy named Angel for Loveless to train in prison. The grieving mother said she did it to honor her little girl, who she still thinks about every day.
“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.”
Loveless, for her part, feels as if Vaught is helping her to overcome her past. “She helped me to heal, forgive and grow, whether she wanted that or not. 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.”