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The murder of Shanda Sharer
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Torture - Jealousy
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 11, 1992
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: October 18, 1975
Victim profile: Shanda Renee Sharer, 12
Method of murder: Burned alive
Location: Madison, Indiana, USA
Status: Plead guilty. Sentenced to sixty years in prison on October 6, 1992. Projected date of released: February 8, 2021
 
 

 
 

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana

 

Melissa Loveless v. State of Indiana

 
 

 
 

The murder of Shanda Renee Sharer (June 6, 1979 Ė January 11, 1992) involved a 12-year-old girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana by four teenage girls. The incident attracted nationwide attention.

People involved in incident

Shanda Sharer

Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky on June 6, 1979 to Steve Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught. Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball, and softball teams.

After Sharer's parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Louisville. When her mother divorced again, the family moved to New Albany, Indiana in June 1991, and Shanda enrolled at Hazelwood Middle School. Early in the school year, she transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, a Catholic school in New Albany, where she joined the school's female basketball team.

Melinda Loveless

Melinda Loveless was born in New Albany, Indiana on October 28, 1975, the youngest of three daughters, to Marjorie and Larry Loveless. Larry was drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War, and he was treated as a hero upon his return. His wife later described him as a pervert who would wear her and her daughter's underwear and makeup, was incapable of staying monogamous, and had a mixture of jealousy and fascination with seeing her have sex with other men and women. They lived in or near New Albany, Indiana throughout Melinda's childhood.

Larry worked irregularly for the Southern Railroad after his military service; his profession allowed him to work whenever most convenient for him. In 1972, Larry became a probationary officer with the New Albany Police Department, but he was fired after eight months when he and his partner assaulted a black man whom Larry accused of sleeping with his wife. In 1988, Larry briefly worked as a mail carrier but quit after three months and very little work, having brought most of his mail home to destroy it.

Marjorie had worked intermittently since 1974. When both parents were working, the family was financially well, living in the upper-middle-class suburb of Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Larry did not usually share his income with the family, making the mortgage payments and impulsively spending any money he earned on himself, especially firearms, motorcycles, and cars. He filed for bankruptcy in 1980, and extended family members often described the Loveless daughters as visiting their houses hungry, apparently not getting food at home.

Through most of their relationship, Larry was unfaithful to his wife and they often had an open marriage. They would often visit bars in Louisville, where Loveless would pretend to be a doctor or a dentist and introduce Marjorie as his girlfriend. He would also "share" her with some of his friends from work, which she found disgusting. During an orgy with another couple at their house, Marjorie tried to commit suicide, an act she would repeat several times throughout her daughters' childhoods. When Melinda was nine years old, Larry forced Margie to participate in a gang bang, after which she tried to drown herself. After that incident, she refused him sex for a month, until he violently raped her as their daughters watched. In the summer of 1986, after she would not let him go home with two women he met at a bar, Larry beat Marjorie so severely that she was hospitalized. He was convicted of battery.

The extent of Larry's abuse of his daughters and other children is unclear. Various court testimonies claimed he fondled Michelle as an infant, molested Marjorie's 13-year-old sister early in the marriage, molested the girls' cousin Teddy from age 10 to 14, and both older girls said he molested them, though Melinda didn't admit that this ever happened to her. She slept in bed with him until he abandoned his family when she was 14. In court, Teddy described an incident in which Larry tied all three sisters in a garage and raped them in succession; however the sisters did not confirm this account. Larry was verbally abusive to his daughters and fired a handgun in Michelle's direction when she was seven, intentionally missing her. He would also embarrass his children by finding their underwear and smelling it in front of other family members.

For two years, beginning when Melinda was five, the family was deeply involved in the Graceland Baptist Church. Larry and Marjorie gave full confession and renounced drinking and swinging while they were members. Larry became a Baptist lay preacher and Marjorie became the school nurse. The church later arranged for Melinda to be taken to a motel room with a 50-year-old man for a five-hour exorcism. Larry became a marriage counselor with the church and acquired a reputation for being too forward with women, eventually attempting to rape one of them. After that incident, the Loveless parents left the church and returned to their former professions, drinking, and open marriage.

In November 1990, Larry was caught spying on Melinda and a friend, and Marjorie attacked him with a knife, sending him to the hospital after he attempted to grab it. She then attempted suicide again and her daughters called authorities. After this incident Larry filed for divorce and moved to Avon Park, Florida. Melinda felt crushed, especially as Larry remarried. He sent letters to her for a while, playing on her emotions, but eventually severed all contact with her.

Laurie Tackett

Mary Laurine Tackett was born in Madison, Indiana on October 5, 1974. Her mother was a fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian and her father was a factory worker with two felony convictions in the 1960s. Tackett claimed that she was molested at least twice as a child at ages five and twelve. In May 1989, her mother discovered that Tackett was changing into jeans at school, and, after a confrontation that night, attempted to strangle her. Social workers became involved, and Tackett's parents agreed to unannounced visits to ensure that child abuse was not occurring. Tackett and her mother came into periodic conflict; at one point, her mother went to Hope Rippey's house after learning that Rippey's father had purchased a Ouija board for the girls. She demanded that the board be burnt and that the Rippey house be exorcised.

Tackett became increasingly rebellious after her fifteenth birthday and also became fascinated with the occult. She would often attempt to impress her friends by pretending to be possessed by the spirit of "Deanna the Vampire". She began to engage in self harm, especially after early 1991 when she began dating a girl who was involved in the practice. Her parents discovered the self-mutilation and checked her into a hospital on March 19, 1991. She was prescribed an anti-depressant and released. Two days later, with her girlfriend and Toni Lawrence, she cut her wrists deeply and was returned to the hospital. After treatment of her wound, she was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder and confessed that she had experienced hallucinations since she was a young child. She was discharged on April 12. She dropped out of high school in September 1991.

Tackett stayed in the Louisville area in October 1991 to live with various friends. She met Melinda Loveless but the two did not become friends until late November. In December, Tackett moved back to Madison on the promise that her father would buy her a car. She still spent most of her time in Louisville and New Albany, and, by December, most of it with Melinda Loveless.

Hope Rippey

Hope Anna Rippey was born in Madison, Indiana in June 1976. Her father was an engineer at a power plant. Her parents divorced in February 1984, and she moved to Quincy, Michigan with her mother and siblings for three years. She claimed that living with her family in Michigan was somewhat turbulent. Her parents resumed their relationship in Madison in 1987. She was reunited with friends Laurie Tackett and Toni Lawrence whom she had known since childhood, although her parents saw Tackett as a bad influence. As with the other girls, Rippey began to self harm at age fifteen.

Toni Lawrence

Toni Lawrence was born in Madison, Indiana in February 1976. Her father was a boilermaker. She was close friends with Hope Rippey from childhood onward. She was abused by a relative at age nine and was raped by a teenage boy at age 14, although the police were only able to issue an order to keep the boy away from Lawrence. She went into counseling after the incident but did not follow through. She became promiscuous, began to self harm, and attempted suicide in eighth grade.

Events prior to murder

In 1990, Melinda Loveless met and began dating Amanda Heavrin. After her father left and her mother remarried, Loveless was erratic, depressed, in counseling, and fighting at school. In March 1991, Loveless came out of the closet to her mother, who was initially furious but eventually accepted it. In the fall of 1990, Loveless's relationship with Heavrin deteriorated, and Loveless came to associate this deterioration with Shanda Sharer.

Heavrin and Sharer met early in the school year when they got into a fight; however, they became friends while in detention for the altercation. Loveless immediately became jealous of Heavrin and Sharer's relationship. In early October, Sharer and Heavrin attended a school dance where Loveless found them and confronted them. Although Heavrin and Loveless never formally ended their involvement, Loveless began dating an older girl.

Loveless became increasingly jealous when Heavrin and Sharer went to a festival together in late October, and she began to discuss killing Sharer and threatened Sharer in public. Concerned about their daughter's relationship with Heavrin, Sharer's parents arranged for her to transfer to a Catholic school in late November, and the girls started drifting apart in December. Loveless and Heavrin never reformed their relationship.

Events of January 10-11, 1992

Pre-abduction

On January 10, Toni Lawrence, Hope Rippey, and Laurie Tackett drove in Tackett's car from Madison, Indiana to Melinda Loveless' house in New Albany. Rippey and Lawrence, while friends of Tackett, had not yet met Loveless; however, upon arrival they borrowed some clothes from Loveless, and she showed them a knife and told them she was going to scare Shanda Sharer with it. None of the girls except for Loveless had ever met Sharer, although Tackett already knew of the plan to intimidate the 12-year-old girl. Loveless explained to the two other girls that she disliked Sharer for being a copycat and for stealing her girlfriend.

Tackett let Rippey drive them to Sharer's house in Jeffersonville, Indiana, stopping at a McDonald's restaurant for directions. They arrived at Sharer's house shortly before dark, and Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door, introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin, and invite Sharer to come with them to see her girlfriend, who was waiting for them at a place called "The Witch's Castle". Sharer said that she could not go because her parents were awake, and told the girls to come back around midnight.

Loveless was angry at first, but Rippey and Lawrence assured her that they could return for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville and went to a punk rock concert at the Audubon Skate Park near Interstate 65. Lawrence and Rippey quickly lost interest in the music and went to the parking lot outside the skate park where they engaged in sexual activities with two boys in Tackett's car.

Eventually the girls left for Sharer's house. During the ride, Loveless said that she could not wait to kill Sharer; however, Loveless also said that she found Sharer attractive and would like to have sex with her and that she just intended to use the knife to frighten her. When they arrived at Sharer's house at 12:30a.m., Lawrence refused to retrieve Sharer, so Tackett and Rippey went. Loveless, who had previously harassed Sharer many times, hid under a blanket in the back seat of the car with a dull knife.

Abduction

Sharer was waiting for Tackett and Rippey. Rippey told her that Heavrin was waiting at the Witch's Castle. Sharer was reluctant yet agreed after changing her clothes. Loveless was in the back seat hiding under a blanket with the knife. She put the knife to Sharer's throat as they got in the car and drove towards Utica, Indiana and the Witch's Castle. The Witch's Castle was a ruined stone house, also known as Mistletoe Falls, located on an isolated hill overlooking the Ohio River. It was an occasional hangout for local teenagers. Tackett told the girls that legend said the house was once owned by nine witches, and townspeople burned the house to get rid of the witches.

At the Witch's Castle, they took Sharer in and bound her arms and legs with rope. Sharer started to cry, and the girls were scared by the headlights of passing cars, so they left for a place near Tackett's house, stopping for gas, then getting lost for a while before finally making their way to Madison, Indiana.

Torture

Tackett led them to a garbage dump off a logging road in a densely forested area. Lawrence and Rippey were frightened and stayed in the car as Loveless and Tackett made Sharer strip, then Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Loveless then repeatedly slammed Sharer's face into her knee, cutting Sharer's mouth on her own braces. Loveless then tried to slash Sharer's throat but the knife was too dull, and Rippey came out of the car to hold Sharer down. Loveless and Tackett took turns stabbing Sharer in the chest; they then strangled Sharer with a rope until she was unconscious, placed her in the trunk, and told the other two girls that Sharer was dead.

They went to Tackett's nearby home and went inside to drink soda and clean themselves. They realized Sharer was screaming in the trunk, so Tackett went out with a paring knife and stabbed her several more times, coming in a few minutes later covered in blood. After she washed, Tackett got her "runestones" and told the girls' futures with them. Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind as Tackett and Loveless went "country cruising" at 2:30, driving to the nearby town of Canaan. Sharer continued making crying and gurgling noises, so Tackett stopped the car; Sharer sat up, covered in blood and her eyes rolled in the back of her head, but was unable to speak; Tackett then beat her with a tire iron until she was silent.

They returned to Tackett's house just before daybreak to clean up again. Rippey asked about what had happened to Sharer, and Tackett laughingly told them about the torture. The conversation woke up Tackett's mother, who yelled at her daughter for being out so late and bringing home the girls, so Laurie agreed to take them home. She drove to the burn pile near Tackett's house and showed the other girls Sharer. Lawrence refused to look, and Rippey sprayed Sharer with Windex and taunted "You're not looking so hot now, are you?"

Burned alive

The girls drove to a gas station near Madison Consolidated High School, pumped some gas into the car and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Tackett emptied the bottle and refilled it with gasoline. They drove north of Madison, past Jefferson Proving Ground to a place with which Rippey was familiar off US 421 on what was called Lemon Road. They placed Sharer, still alive, in a blanket and carried her into a field by the gravel country road. Tackett made Rippey pour the gasoline on her, and then they set her on fire. Loveless was not convinced Sharer was dead, so they returned a few minutes later to pour the rest of the gasoline on her.

The girls went to a McDonald's at 9:30 am for breakfast. The girls laughed about Sharer looking like one of the sausages they were eating. Lawrence, horrified, called a friend and told her about the murder. Tackett then dropped Lawrence and Rippey off at their homes and returned home with Loveless. They cleaned out the car, using a hose to wash the trunk. They then drove to Loveless' house around 3:00 pm. Loveless found out Heavrin was at River Falls Mall and had her paged, claiming an emergency, then told her that they had killed Sharer and arranged to pick Heavrin up later that day.

Loveless's friend, Crystal Wathen, came over, and they told her about what had happened. Then the three girls drove to pick up Heavrin and bring her back to Loveless's house, where they told Heavrin the story; while she did not believe it was true, she comforted the hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen were convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk with Sharer's bloody handprints and socks still there.

Investigation

Later on the morning of January 11, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana, were driving toward Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed something on the side of the road. They called the police at 10:55 am. and were asked to return to the corpse. The Jefferson County Sheriff, Buck Shippley, and detectives arrived and began an investigation, taking forensic evidence at the scene. They initially suspected a drug deal gone wrong, and could not believe the crime could be the work of locals.

Steve Sharer noticed his daughter missing early on January 11. After calling neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda's mother, at 1:45 pm and the two met and filed a missing person report with the sheriff.

At 8:20 pm, an hysterical Toni Lawrence went to the Jefferson County Sheriff's office with her parents. She gave a rambling statement, identifying the victim as "Shanda", naming the three other girls involved as best she could, and describing the main events of the previous night. Shippley contacted the Clark County sheriff and was finally able to match the victim to Shanda Sharer's missing person's report.

Detective Howard Henry went to the Sharer's house, then obtained dental records that positively identified her as the victim. Loveless and Tackett were arrested on January 12. The bulk of the evidence for the arrest warrant was Lawrence's statement. The prosecution immediately declared its intention to try both as adults. For several months, the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not release any information on the case, leaving the media only the statement by Lawrence, which was repeated in the arrest warrant and contained the general background of the crime.

Sentencing

All four girls were tried as adults. To avoid the death penalty, all four girls accepted plea bargains. Tackett and Loveless were sentenced to sixty years in the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. With maximum time reduced for good behavior, they could be released in 2020. Lawrence was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and with time reduced for good behavior, she was released in 2000. Hope Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten suspended for mitigating circumstances, and ten years of medium supervision probation. With time reduced for good behavior, Rippey was released in 2006.

Sentencing reductions

In October 2007, Loveless's attorney Mark Small requested a hearing to argue for his client's release. He said that Loveless had been "profoundly retarded" by childhood abuse and was not represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, which caused her to accept a plea only because of exaggerated claims about the chances of her being executed. Small also argued that Loveless, who was 16 when she signed the plea bargain, was too young to enter into a contract in the state of Indiana without consent from a parent or guardian, neither of which had been obtained. If the judge accepted either argument, Loveless could have been retried or released outright. However, after Small was unable to see his client the night before the hearing, the hearing was delayed until December 6, 2007.

On January 8, 2008, a sentence reduction and request to overturn Loveless's guilty plea was rejected by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd. Instead, Loveless will be eligible for parole in 15 years, thus maintaining the original guilty plea.

On November 14, 2008, Loveless's appeal was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, upholding Judge Todd's ruling. Mark Small stated that he will seek to have jurisdiction over the case moved to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Aftermath

The crime was documented in two true crime books, Little Lost Angel by Michael Quinlan and Cruel Sacrifice by Aphrodite Jones; Jones's book on the case became a New York Times Bestseller. The story was turned into a play by Rob Urbinati called "Hazelwood Jr. High," which starred ChloŽ Sevigny as Tackett. The play was published by Samuel French, Inc. in September 2009.

Mean, an episode from the fifth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that aired on February 24, 2004, was based on the murder. Cold Case second season episode "The Sleepover" is also based on this case.

Sharer's father died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 53. He was buried next to his daughter. In an interview with Sharer's mother Jacque Vaught on the TV series Deadly Women, Vaught stated that Sharer's father was so destroyed by his daughter's murder that he "...did everything he could to kill himself besides put a gun to his head," and that he "...drank himself to death. The man definitely died from a broken heart."

The Shanda Sharer Scholarship Fund was established in January 2009. It is written in the contract that the recipient will receive a plaque or document of some type that tells Sharer's story. The fund plans to provide scholarships to two students per year from Prosser School of Technology in New Albany; one scholarship will go to a student who is continuing his or her education, and the other scholarship will go to a student who is beginning his or her career and must buy tools and work equipment.

In 2011, the Dr. Phil show aired a 2-part series on the crime, which featured interviews with Shanda's mother and sister, who also confronted Hope Rippey on the show.

In August 2011, Episode XI Studios interviewed and filmed both Melinda Loveless at the Indiana Women's Prison and Jacque Vaught at her office for a documentary they are producing titled "Charlie's Scars" Both Loveless and Vaught are closely featured in the documentary, which was submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in September 2011 for the 2012 Festival.

Molestation prosecution

In the wake of his daughter's sentencing hearing, in which extensive open court testimony about Larry Loveless was given, he was arrested in February 1993 and brought back to Floyd County, Indiana to face charges of rape, sodomy and sexual battery. The majority of crimes he was accused of occurred from 1968 to 1977. Loveless remained in prison for over two years awaiting trial, however a judge eventually ruled all except one count, for a sexual battery incident in 1989, had to be dropped due to the statute of limitations, which was five years in Indiana. Loveless eventually accepted a guilty plea for sexual battery and a sentence of time served, and was released in June 1995.

A few weeks following his release in 1995, Larry Loveless was briefly in the news again, this time for unsuccessfully suing the Floyd County Jail for $39 million in federal court, alleging he had suffered cruel and unusual punishment during his two-year incarceration. Among his complaints was that he was not allowed to sleep in his bed during the day and not allowed to read the newspaper.

Wikipedia.org


2 Teen-Age Girls Plead Guilty in Torture Slaying

Los Angeles Times

September 27, 1992

MADISON, Ind. ó Two teen-age girls charged in the torture slaying of a 12-year-old playmate agreed last week to plead guilty to murder in return for the prosecutor's promise not to seek the death penalty, according to court papers.

Mary Laurine (Laurie) Tackett and Melinda D. Loveless, both 17, signed plea agreements that were filed in Jefferson Circuit Court. A formal plea hearing was scheduled for Oct. 6.

The two are among four girls arrested in the January slaying of Shanda Rene Sharer of Jeffersonville. She had been molested, beaten and burned alive. Investigators believe jealousy was the motive.

Toni Lawrence, 16, pleaded guilty over the summer to one count of criminal confinement resulting in serious bodily injury, and was expected to be the state's star witness against her friends.

Hope A. Rippey, also 16, has not entered into any plea agreement. She faces many felony charges, including murder and child molestation.

Under the agreement reached Monday, Tackett and Loveless would plead guilty to charges of murder, arson and criminal confinement resulting in serious bodily injury.


Indiana community is shaken by torture murder of young girl

By Frank D. Roylance - BaltimoreSun.com

June 21, 1992

MADISON, Ind. -- The two bird hunters who found the body of 12-year-old Shanda Renee Sharer on that cold, sunny morning in January, said it looked at first like a department store mannequin, dumped off near some woods beside an isolated gravel road.

But as Donn and Ralph Foley walked up to the charred figure, just a few hundred yards from their home north of Madison in Jefferson County, they quickly realized that it was not.

Shanda's burned and tortured body was all too real. The chilling details of her death would leave the 12,000 residents of this picture-postcard Ohio River town deeply shaken and searching for answers.

Some in Madison have laid the blame on evils that seeped in from outside their town. But for others, Shanda's death has opened the shutters on a darker place in their own community, a place that stands in stark contrast to the nostalgic image they present to the tourists.

"We have policemen and firemen who get cats out of trees," said Sharon Steinhardt, 34, who works on Main Street for the Chamber of Commerce. "This is Mayberry."

The police had more serious work on that January weekend.

Within hours, Indiana State Police had arrested two girls, ages 16 and 17, and charged them with Shanda's murder. One of the suspects was from Madison. The second was from New Albany, Ind., a suburb of Louisville, Ky. 45 miles away.

That two young girls could be suspected of such a thing became more astonishing when the dimensions of the crime were sketched by Dr. George R. Nichols. The hard-bitten chief medical examiner from nearby Kentucky was called in by Indiana police to conduct the autopsy. Even he called the findings gruesome.

Shanda's wrists and ankles had been bound, he said. Her legs had been slashed, and she had been beaten repeatedly on the head with a blunt object. She was also brutally sodomized with a foreign object.

Finally, she was doused with gasoline and burned beyond recognition, Dr. Nichols said. He listed the official cause of death as burns and smoke inhalation. She had been burned alive.

There was more. The transcript of a late-night probable-cause hearing prior to the arrests revealed that two other Madison girls, both 15, were also suspected of involvement. One had turned herself in to police and was talking.

Shanda was killed, police quoted the 15-year-old as saying, because one of the other girls believed Shanda was "trying to steal her girlfriend."

By March, all four girls would be charged as adults with murder.

Madison was now reeling.

Parents recoiled at the thought of their children's past contacts with the accused girls. For a time, they demanded that their children take precautions never before thought necessary in Madison -- calling when they got to a friend's house or waiting inside the theater lobby until their ride came

The county prosecutor, Guy Mannering Townsend, 49, clamped a lid on all official information about the crime. He and defense lawyers refuse to comment publicly.

The rumors spread

Despite the scarcity of facts, or perhaps because of it, rumors and whispers about another dimension to the crime soon began to drift across the town, like some cold fog off the Ohio.

Today, virtually anyone you ask in Madison has heard the talk -- none of it officially confirmed -- that the dead girl and one of her killers were involved in a lesbian lovers' triangle or Satanism. Or both.

"That's what my granddaughter brought home from junior high school," said Fauna Mihalko, 62, who works in the town library's genealogy section.

The teens who hang out behind the fast food store on Michigan Road claim they know of lesbian and Satanic circles among other Madison teens, so many of them believe the talk about Shanda's killing.

Even Madison Police Chief Bill Tingle, whose department has had no official role in the investigation, said he knew that "there possibly was a 90 percent chance" that lesbian jealousy touched off the crime.

As for Satanism, he knew of only one concrete incident. At Christmastime several years ago, a group of 14- or 15-year-olds stole the baby Jesus doll from the courthouse creche, wrote "666" on it -- the "number of the Beast" from Revelations -- and burned it.

Anticipation that the worst of the rumors might be proved true in court has only increased Madisonians' dread of the three scheduled trials. The first one is set for Aug. 17.

Madison doesn't deserve the notoriety, they say.

A model town

During World War II, it was cast in an Army training film as the hometown the GIs were fighting to protect. In 1958, it was the town picked by Hollywood for "Some Came Running," a film about postwar malaise, starring Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine.

It was a prosperous river and rail center in the 19th century. Its riverfront district is crammed with Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival homes and stores.

Today, 133 blocks in the riverfront district are on the National Register of Historic Places. House and garden tours, river races and arts festivals draw tourists by the busload.

A recent Saturday night's police blotter listed three "possible" domestic disturbances, a dog fight, fireworks, a drunk, a crying woman, several noise complaints and one break-in at a card shop.

Mr. Townsend, the prosecutor, is a former newspaper reporter with a doctorate in British history. He has been on the job only 18 months, and this is his first murder. The county of 30,000 has had four in 12 years.

But none like Shanda Sharer's.

Ten hours after the body was discovered, police got their first big break in the case.

It was 9 p.m., and Toni Lawrence, a 15-year-old sophomore at Madison High School, had appeared at the city police station with her parents. She was in hysterics, and she wanted to talk about a murder.

Detective Stephen Thomas Henry, a 20-year veteran of the Indiana State Police, was assigned to interview her. His testimony at a probable-cause hearing at Judge Todd's house at 1 a.m. that night has provided the only detailed account so far of the crime.

Toni said the night of horror began Friday when she and another Madison High sophomore, Hope Rippey, 15, were picked up after school by Mary Laurine "Laurie" Tackett.

Madison Junior High Principal Larry Cummins said that Laurie, 17, had been "a fine elementary student" with "good values." A classmate recalled that Laurie had once been very religious, like her Christian fundamentalist parents.

But then she changed, her classmates said. In the eighth grade, she cut short her long blond hair and began to dress in black. She joined a small clique of perhaps a dozen like-minded kids at Madison High who were known as the "Alternatives."

Last fall, after her 17th birthday, Laurie dropped out of school. Her attorney would say in court that she had a history of mental problems.

Senior High Principal Roger Gallatin described Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence -- both also 10th-graders -- as "above-average students, not discipline problems." A classmate said Toni and Hope had been spending time with the black-clothes group but had not changed their appearance.

Continuing with Toni's story, Detective Henry testified that the three girls drove down to New Albany, where they picked up Melinda Loveless, 16, a friend of Laurie's who was unknown to Toni and Hope.

Together, they drove into Louisville, where they attended a concert that Detective Henry described as a "punk rock type."

Afterward, as the girls left Louisville, Detective Henry said, Melinda Loveless began talking about Shanda Sharer, and "how . . . Shanda was trying to steal her girlfriend named Amanda, how . . . she would like to kill Shanda."

A Catholic school seventh-grader, Shanda Sharer was described looking closer to 16 than to 12.

Police said that she was unknown to Toni and Hope. The four girls drove to Shanda's father's home near Louisville. With Melinda hiding under a blanket on the floor of the back seat, they persuaded Shanda to join them in the car.

As they drove off, with Shanda in the front seat, the conversation eventually turned to Shanda's new relationship with Melinda's former girlfriend, Amanda.

A knife to the throat

That, Detective Henry said, was when "Melinda . . . came up out of the back seat and put a knife to Shanda's throat, and pulled her hair back."

As the girls drove back toward Madison, Toni Lawrence told Detective Henry, they made several stops for torture. At various times, Shanda was tied up, threatened with death, cut on the legs, choked, and beaten with a metal rod, perhaps a tire tool.

Sometime after daybreak, with Shanda bleeding but still alive in the trunk, the girls went to a Madison gas station, where they filled a 2-liter soda bottle with gasoline. Detective Henry testified that Laurie Tackett and Melinda Loveless told Toni they "planned to burn Shanda's body." But Toni said she was dropped off at home before Shanda was killed.

The body was discovered an hour after Toni got home.

In a plea bargain reached in April, Toni Lawrence agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a guilty plea on a

single count of criminal confinement. There is no agreement on her sentence.

All four girls are being held without bail in separate prisons.

Whom to blame

Since the killing, Madison residents have been trying to make sense of this spasm of violence in their town. There is no shortage of villains, many perceived as lurking outside Madison's borders.

"We're not as protected as we like to think we are from outside influences," said Karen H. Follett, executive vice president of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. "Where did those kinds of thoughts come from?"

Although the girls' guilt has not been proved, many in town believe that the Madison girls came under the sinister influence of Melinda Loveless, the outsider.

For others in Madison, it is an easy leap from the rumored homosexual relationships to the violence. One of those is Chief Tingle, who assured a visitor that, in a jealous triangle, there is "nothing meaner than a [homosexual] or lesbian."

But Dr. Jerry A. Thaden, superintendent of the Madison State Hospital, who consulted informally with the prosecutor and the suspects' families after the killing, called such thinking a symptom of a "backwoods, country" side of Madison's character.

The rumors of Satanism provide some in Madison with yet another ready explanation for the violence.

Dr. Thaden, however, sees no sinister influence: "I know the kids' families, and there's no question it was an aberration. It [the violence] just got started and escalated."

But Dr. David Curtis, a minister at the First Christian Church in Madison, believes that Madisonians may be letting themselves off the hook too easily.

"As small and idyllic a community as this is, it is also a place where people are real," he said. "The pressures of peer cultures on teen-agers are as strong here as anywhere else . . . and evil and suffering happen right here in River City."

"This [killing] may have opened our eyes," he said.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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