Junior high school is typically filled with drama among teenage girls, but what makes drama turn in to violent rage? How does teenage jealousy turn into murder? On the morning of January 11th, 1992, authorities in Madison, Indiana responded to the scene of a grisly murder. On a remote county road, two hunters found the charred remains of a young woman burnt beyond recognition. It wouldn’t take long to solve the murder, but the story of Shanda Sharer would make international headlines as it highlighted the brutality that teenage girls are capable of.
Shanda Renee Sharer was born June 6th, 1979, to Stephen Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught in Kentucky. Her parents would later divorce and Shanda lived with her mother in Louisville. She was a cheerleader and played volleyball and softball. Shanda was a well-adjusted middle-schooler when she and her mother moved to New Albany, Indiana to be closer to her father. She started school at Hazelwood Middle School in the fall of 1991.
Just a few days after starting school, Shanda was in a fight with another girl at school named Amanda Heavrin. Amanda was fourteen and Shanda was twelve. The fight landed both girls in detention, where they got to know one another. Shanda and Amanda decided they actually enjoyed each other’s company and became friends. Shanda’s mother was immediately hesitant about the friendship since Amanda had punched Shanda just a few days before and was older than Shanda, but Shanda assured her Amanda was a good person.
Shanda and Amanda began to hang out frequently and Amanda started to write Shanda notes. Passing notes was the way of communicating before text messages and something teenage girls did frequently in the 1990’s. The content of these notes, however, was not necessarily what you would expect. Amanda asked Shanda if she liked girls, complimented her clothes, and told her she was very pretty. Amanda and Shanda began to have a romantic relationship. They even went to the fall school dance together.
At the dance, Shanda met sixteen-year-old Melinda Loveless. Melinda had been dating Amanda Heavrin for about a year. Despite Shanda being four years younger than her, Melinda was enraged that Amanda was spending time with Shanda. She threatened Amanda and Shanda at the dance that night. She then started writing Amanda letters expressing her hatred for Shanda and her unhappiness with Amanda spending time with her.
Melinda Loveless was born in New Albany, Indiana, on October 28th, 1975. She was the youngest of three girls. Her parents did not provide a very stable environment for her. Larry Loveless was a Vietnam veteran who was by all accounts a sexual predator. He frequently forced his wife to have sex with other men and women while he watched, had inappropriately touched a young girl in the family, had raped his own wife, and sexually abused all three of his daughters. In fact, he apparently fondled Melinda when she was just an infant and slept in bed with her until she was fourteen. At that point, he left his family and moved to Florida. Melinda was devastated when her father moved to Florida and felt abandoned.
Melinda and her older sisters all came out as lesbians as young teenagers. Melinda was a gorgeous girl with long curly brown hair and looked like Julia Roberts. Melinda, likely from a history of abuse, was very controlling and possessive of Amanda. She would become enraged any time Amanda would talk to anyone else, especially Shanda.
In November of 1991, Shanda’s mother found notes that Amanda and Shanda had exchanged that made it clear the two were having a physical relationship. Shanda had also started failing in school. Jacque demanded that Shanda stop spending time with Amanda. Despite her mother’s wishes, Shanda kept seeing Amanda. Jacque had Shanda transferred to a private school in an effort to keep her away from Amanda. Jacque later said “If she was a lesbian, so what? I don’t care. The issue for me was that she had this older person pressuring her into doing things. Shanda was twelve. She was a baby” (The 1990s: The Deadliest Decade).
Within a month, Shanda was doing much better at her new school. She was passing her classes and trying out for cheerleading. However, Amanda didn’t like Shanda breaking things off and continued to write notes and call Shanda frequently. Shanda even complained to a friend about Amanda continuing to pursue her. Meanwhile, Melinda continued to write notes too. Melinda wrote several notes to Amanda explaining how she hated Shanda and wishes she was dead. Amanda claims her father turned these letters into a youth prosecutor, but nothing was ever followed up on.
On the evening of January 10th, 1992, seventeen-year-old Laurie Tackett from Madison, Indiana, was getting ready to go out for the night with friends. First, she picked up her friend Hope Rippey, who was fifteen, and Hope’s best friend Toni Lawrence, who was also fifteen. As the girls piled into Lori’s car, Lori asked Hope “Did you tell her yet?”. Hope said no and Toni asked what they were talking about. Lori smiled and said, “We’re going to kill a little girl tonight” (Jones).
Laurie Tackett was born in Madison, Indiana on October 5th, 1974. Her parents, especially her mother, were somewhat religious extremists. Laurie can remember several times people from the church were praying over her and trying to perform exorcisms. Laurie became very rebellious and started to experiment with the occult as a teenager. She left her home but returned when her father offered to buy her a car. Laurie had been hospitalized in Spring of 1991 for mental health issues. She claimed to hear voices and was self-mutilating. She dropped out of high school in September of 1991. She had become obsessed with hurting people. In fact, she told someone that “her destiny was to murder someone and spend the rest of her life in prison” (The 1990s: The Deadliest Decade).
Hope Rippey was born in Madison on June 9th, 1976. Her family life was better than that of Melinda and Laurie, despite her parents being divorced but later reuniting. She was impressionable and her father felt Laurie Tackett was a bad influence. Hope seemed to be a follower who suffered from low self-esteem, making her susceptible to peer pressure. Peer pressure is perhaps the reason Hope started self-mutilating behavior, like her friend Laurie.
Toni Lawrence was born in Madison on February 14th, 1976. Her family life was stable, but Toni had previously been raped. After the rape, police issued a no contact order against the boy but there were no charges pressed. After the assault, Toni also began self-mutilation behavior and became sexually promiscuous. She had a history of suicide attempts following the rape as well.
Laurie stopped to pick up another friend, one Hope and Toni had never met. That friend was sixteen-year-old Melinda Loveless. Once the four girls were together in Lori’s car, Hope Rippey was told to drive. Hope was fifteen years old and had her learner’s permit only. She drove the care to Jeffersonville, as directed by Laurie and Melinda. When they pulled up to a house in Jeffersonville, Melinda told Hope and Toni to go to the door and ask for Shanda. She told them to tell Shanda that Amanda wanted to see her.
Hope and Toni went to the door and asked for Shanda. The twelve-year-old explained that she was Shanda. They told Shanda that Amanda wanted to see her, and Shanda seemed to be excited. She told the girls to come back around midnight and she would go with them. She explained she had to wait until her father and stepmother went to sleep. The girls went to a punk rock concert in Louisville, Kentucky. On the way home, they stopped once more at Shanda’s father’s house.
Toni told the girls she wasn’t going to go up to the door, but Hope and Laurie went up to get her without hesitation. Hope went inside to help Shanda pick out an outfit, while Laurie returned to the car. Laurie told Melinda that Hope was brining Shanda and helped Melinda to hide in the backseat under a blanket. Melinda had a large butcher knife in her hand, ready to take her revenge on Shanda Sharer. Hope and Shanda got in Lori’s car and headed towards a place known as The Witch’s Castle, a burned-out stone building in Madison.
Just minutes after leaving Shanda’s father’s home, Melinda jumped up from the backseat. She pulled Shanda’s hair back and put the knife to her neck. She taunted Shanda, telling her she should have listened and stayed away from Amanda. The girls drove to The Witch’s Castle where they pulled Shanda from the vehicle and made her strip off all of her clothing. Melinda punched Shanda and slammed Shanda’s head into her knee, causing massive bleeding. Shanda had just recently had braces placed, which made the assault particularly painful.
Hope, Laurie, and Melinda taunted Shanda saying things like “You don’t look so hot now do you?” and “I bet you’ll leave Amanda alone now” (Dr. Phil). They beat her, tied her up, and Melinda tried to slit her throat. The knife was too dull, so Melinda and Laurie tried to strangle Shanda. She was unconscious when they put Shanda in the trunk, but the girls believed her to be dead. The drove around for a while, and then they heard Shanda screaming in the trunk.
Laurie pulled over the car, opened the trunk, and beat Shanda with a tire iron over her head. The girls then returned to Laurie’s house. While they were inside, they heard the dogs barking and realized Shanda was making noise from the trunk. Laurie and Melinda left again with Shanda, but Hope and Toni stayed at Laurie’s house and took a nap. Over the next several hours, Melinda and Laurie drove around, stopping intermittently to torture Shanda some more. She was beat, stabbed with a paring knife, and sodomized with a tire iron. When Laurie and Melinda returned to Laurie’s in the morning, they believed Shanda was finally dead.
As the sun rose on Saturday January 11th, 1992, all four girls piled back in the car and went to get gasoline. They bought a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and emptied it out. They filled the bottle with gasoline and drove out to a rural area along Lemon Road. Shanda was badly hurt and bleeding profusely but was still alive. When the car stopped, Toni refused to get out of the car. Hope got out and poured the gasoline on Shanda. Laurie then lit a match and set Shanda on fire. Melinda then took her turn pouring more gasoline on Shanda, ensuring she would die. The girls left, believing that her body would be disintegrated (Dr. Phil). They all four went to McDonalds and had breakfast, commenting how the fried bacon matched Shanda's appearance now.
Meanwhile, Shanda’s father Steve realized that Shanda was missing. Jacque arrived at Steve’s home and both parents filed the missing person’s report for Shanda. Later that evening, Toni Lawrence and her parents walked into the police department to tell a horrific story. Toni explained the events of January 10th and 11th to police and confirmed that the person found dead on Lemon Road was a girl named Shanda.
Meanwhile, Melinda Loveless had already told Amanda Heavrin what happened and showed Amanda the bloody trunk. She also told another friend of hers, neither of which reported it to authorities. Before the day was over, Laurie Tackett and Melinda Loveless were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Toni Lawrence and Hope Rippey were charged shortly after. Dental records later confirmed the identity of the body as Shanda Sharer. Shanda’s autopsy revealed her cause of death as smoke inhalation, meaning she was burned alive.
Hope and Toni were only fifteen years old and were not eligible for the death penalty, but Melinda and Laurie were. The prosecutor announced he planned to seek the death penalty for Melinda and Laurie. Toni Lawrence, who came forward the day Shanda died, was given a plea deal in exchange for being the star witness against the other three girls. She pled guilty to one count of criminal confinement and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. On September 21st, 1992, with the death penalty looming over them, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett accepted plea bargains. They were each sentenced to sixty years in prison. Hope Rippey than accepted a deal and also received sixty years in prison.
On December 14th, 2000, Toni Lawrence was released from prison after serving nine years. Hope Rippey appealed her sentence, which was then reduced to thirty-five years. Hope was released on April 28th, 2006. Laurie Tackett was released January 11th, 2018, on the 26th anniversary of Shanda’s murder. Melinda Loveless was released September 5th, 2019, after serving twenty-seven years.
(Pictured: Toni above, Hope below)
Before her release, Melinda Loveless, the ringleader, spent several years training dogs for handicapped people through the prison’s ICAN program. Shanda’s mother agreed to donate a dog each year in Shanda’s memory to the program and Melinda was assigned to train those dogs. For Shanda’s mother, this was a chance for something good to come out of the evil that took her daughter.
Pictured (Right: Laurie)
Due to the sexual abuse allegations that came to light during the trial, Larry Loveless was arrested and charged with rape, sodomy, and sexual battery. He awaited trial for two years before most of the charges were dismissed due to being past the statute of limitations. Larry killed himself in 1998 by jumping into traffic in St. Louis, Missouri.
(Pictured above: Melinda Loveless)
Steve Sharer suffered from alcoholism after Shanda was killed. He died of his addiction in 2005 at the age of fifty-three. Shanda’s mother and stepmother believe that Steve died of a broken heart after losing his daughter.
Jacque and Shanda’s sister confronted Hope Rippey on the Dr. Phil Show in 2011. Jacque said the only thing Hope could have done for her is to serve her sentence, but none of the girls actually served the entire sentence they were given. Amanda Heavrin also appeared on the show, defending herself against Jacque’s allegations that she molested Shanda. Jacque stated on the show that she believes Amanda is also responsible for Shanda’s death.
Four teenage girls, three of which did not even know Shanda, kidnapped, beat, strangled, stabbed, sodomized, and tortured the twelve-year-old girl. Toni and Hope were away from Laurie and Melinda for hours but did not seek help for Shanda. Hope then poured gasoline on her so that Laurie could light her on fire. Only after the brutal murder did Toni come forward. Laurie was deeply disturbed and obsessed with the occult and killing someone. Melinda was so enraged with jealousy and anger that she targeted a young girl. Somehow, they are all walking free today to live their lives.
Shanda’s mother has shown true strength through it all. She has made several television appearances to tell her story. She explains that she understands Melinda had a horrific childhood and believes that abuse and violence in the home molded Melinda into the monster she became. She advocates against child abuse and seeks to see the positive in life, which she believes Shanda would have wanted. Shanda Sharer was a child taken too soon by a group of mean girls.
Dr. Phil (2011) In Cold Blood: A Daughter’s Brutal Murder. In Cold Blood: A Daughter's Brutal Murder | Dr. Phil (drphil.com)
The 1990s: The Deadliest Decade (2018) The New Girl. Season 1 Episode 2. Available on Hulu.
Jones, A. (1994) Cruel Sacrifice. Kensington Publishing Corp.
Wikipedia (n.d) Murder of Shanda Sharer. Murder of Shanda Sharer - Wikipedia