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 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
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 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.
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
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 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 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Hope A. Rippey, also 16, has not entered into any
plea agreement. She faces many felony charges, including murder and
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
prosecutor, Guy Mannering Townsend, 49, clamped a lid on all official
information about the crime. He and defense lawyers refuse to comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
drove into Louisville, where they attended a concert that Detective
Henry described as a "punk rock type."
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
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
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
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.
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
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?"
girls' guilt has not been proved, many in town believe that the
Madison girls came under the sinister influence of Melinda Loveless,
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.
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."
may have opened our eyes," he said.