Melinda Loveless, Mary “Laurie” Tackett, Hope Anna Rippey And Toni Lawrence
Disclaimer: This is a story so shocking in its brutality that I’m surprised nobody ever submitted it to PYSIH. It is a crime that I cannot believe, even after extensive research that anyone with the most infinitesimal, minute, minuscule, primal sliver of simple morality would ever think of committing. If graphic, horrific violence against innocent children makes you faint-hearted, please do not continue reading.
Now, anyone can kill. Most of us who have consciences and would like to sleep well at night decide against it. A minority that unfortunately gives the rest of humanity a bad rap does choose to take another’s life, whether it be out of passion, psychopathy, or any other excuse that defense attorneys throw around in court like the hot potato. They’ve earned themselves their spots in hell.
But it takes a special kind of inhuman specimen – who seems to have skipped a step or two in the evolutionary process – to threaten, humiliate, frighten, beat, strangle, mutilate, torture, burn alive, and abandon the mangled corpse of someone who you’ve never even met, all because your friend wants to teach her a lesson.
If this is starting to sound a little bit like a Stephen King novel, I am truly sorry that I have to enlighten you otherwise. My faith in four billion years of human evolution has greatly diminished with the knowledge that subhuman creatures like this do exist, breathing our air and taking up space – ones who have the gall to call themselves people and look others in the eye.
I’d like to introduce you to four charming young ladies: seventeen-year-old Laurie Tackett, sixteen-year-old Melinda Loveless, and fifteen-year-olds Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence. On January 12, 1992, the nation of America received a horrible shock when they were arrested for the brutal ten-hour torture and subsequent burning of twelve-year-old Shanda Sharer.
Starting to sound familiar? In the following weeks, media all of the U.S. went wild over how four teenage girls from a small county in Indiana could possibly have gotten it into their heads to so viciously tear someone apart. Unfortunately, there was, has always been, and will always be no completely honest answer. Because the thing is, I’m not really even sure the murderers themselves have one. After all, three of them gave some sort of excuse as to why, in Shanda’s last ten hours of suffering, they were unable or unwilling to seek help for her.
Melinda, Laurie, Hope, and Toni had not had easy lives. Melinda’s father had sexually abused and humiliated her, her sisters, and her mother. Laurie came from a fanatically religious household and frequently fought with her mother. Hope’s parents were divorced and her family life was “turbulent.” Toni was abused and raped at a young age and had attempted suicide. All four girls self-harmed. And when this unstable TNT cocktail came into contact with Shanda, who had never known anything but love from her family, it quickly became a recipe for destruction.
But for this story to really hit you emotionally, we need to go back to the beginning. Not the beginning of the last night of Shanda’s young life, but the beginning of what should have been a long, happy, and successful existence.
Shanda Renee Sharer was born on June 6, 1979 to Steve Sharer and Jacqueline “Jacque” Vaught. She had one older sister, Paije, who was seven years her senior. Shanda was the light of her parents’ lives; friends often described her as “bubbly.” Just by looking at her picture with its cloud of curly blond hair and rosy-cheeked grin, you can tell that it would’ve been hard not to like her.
In middle school Shanda was athletic and on the cheerleading, softball, and volleyball teams. When her parents divorced she and her mother moved first to Louisville, then to New Albany in Indiana. It was there that Shanda was enrolled in Hazelwood Middle School. Like all twelve-year-olds she sought to belong, and when Shanda met fourteen-year-old Amanda Heavrin, it seemed that her fears of being left out would be history. The two girls struck up a relationship that quickly became intimate, and eventually sexual.
Shanda’s parents didn’t like Amanda – she was considered to be a bad influence on their normally compliant daughter. Not long after, Shanda was pulled out of Hazelwood and enrolled in a Catholic school where she joined the basketball team. There she began to date boys, further exploring, as many adolescents do, the many mysteries of sexuality. But her problems were only just beginning.
It turned out that Amanda had an ex-girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Melinda Loveless, who was bitterly, poisonously, and irreparably jealous of the cherub-faced darling from Kentucky. Melinda expressed her loathing for Shanda in letters to Amanda, even going so far as to threaten Shanda’s life. She also harassed Shanda to her face. But the twelve-year-old just wouldn’t stay away, and Melinda knew that she had to do something before Amanda was gone to her forever.
Let’s pause for a second and assess Melinda’s options at this point. There were several things that she could have done to ensure that Shanda knew her place. She could have challenged her to a fight, with Amanda as the coveted prize. It definitely wasn’t the best idea, but would hopefully have been a one-time showdown. Melinda, being four whole years older than Shanda – thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen – could have played the adult role in this scenario and requested to speak to Shanda about her feelings towards Shanda’s relationship with Amanda Heavrin. The two, after talking it out, could have reached a peaceful compromise. It goes without saying that Melinda Loveless chose neither of these options. There would be no talking and no fighting.
Instead, Amanda called on her friend Laurie Tackett, knowing very well that Laurie had a history of violence. Laurie drank other people’s blood at parties and had previously expressed a “need to kill”, just to know what it felt like. Melinda had a problem that needed fixing, and Laurie would be more than happy to take Shanda out of her friend’s life – permanently – and get a high while doing so.
On the night of January 10, 1992, Shanda was staying at her father’s house. She’d had an argument with him earlier when he wouldn’t allow a friend to sleep over and went to her room afterwards. At the same time, Melinda and Laurie were making preparations to fix their vendetta against Shanda. They got into Laurie’s car and drove to Shanda’s house, intending to lure her out with a promise to take her to Amanda. Along for the ride were two of Laurie’s friends, Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence, who had not met Melinda before but were filled in on her plan to make Shanda “pay.”
On the way Melinda showed the other girls a butcher knife that she planned to use to scare Shanda, and continued to talk about how much she wanted her dead. Because Shanda had already had run-ins with Melinda and would refuse to come with her, Hope and Toni were sent to Steve Sharer’s door with the message that they would take Shanda to see Amanda Heavrin. Shanda answered the door and, excited at the girls’ promises, asked them to come back after her dad fell asleep. To pass the time, the four girls went to a punk-rock concert and came back to Shanda’s house around midnight. Toni, who at this point had lost some faith in the plan, refused to go back to the door so Hope and Laurie went. Melinda, knowing her presence would scare Shanda off, hid under a blanket in the backseat, holding the knife.
Shanda was waiting for them outside, bubbling over with the excitement of seeing Amanda. When Hope told her that Amanda was waiting for them at the Witch’s Castle, an isolated house with a dark history, Shanda quavered a bit in her resolve, but steeled herself by imagining her joyous reunion with her old girlfriend. Blonde curls bouncing, she hopped into Laurie’s car and as they drove off answered Hope’s falsely casual questions about her relationship with Amanda. When Melinda heard something that she didn’t like, she hopped up out of the backseat and put the knife against Shanda’s throat, snarling threats against her life. Shanda began pleading and sobbing for Melinda not to hurt her, but Melinda called her a bitch and continued with the harassment.
At the Witch’s Castle, Shanda’s hands and feet were bound with rope and she was made to walk. Frightened beyond words, all that the poor girl could do was sob as Hope, Toni, and Melinda took her jewelry for themselves. Laurie lit an old t-shirt for light and, devil’s face illuminated by the flames, pointed to it and told Shanda that that was what she would look like before the night was over. When lights from passing cars made the girls nervous about being caught, they forced Shanda back into the car and drove to an area by Laurie’s house. They stopped at a gas station on the way, where Shanda was put behind the backseat and guarded by Melinda. Laurie, Hope, and Toni expressed no sign of discomfort that they had another human being held captive in their car.
When they pulled onto a side road by Laurie’s house more than an hour later, Shanda was jerked out of the backseat and the ropes – which had been on her since they entered the castle – were untied. Immediately, she tumbled into Laurie’s arms, hugging her tightly and begging for help. Imagine how desperate she must’ve been to plead for mercy from someone who had threatened to set her on fire.
But Laurie ignored her and Melinda ordered Shanda to strip down – in the middle of nowhere, in Indiana, in January. Shanda did so, shivering in her panties as Melinda took her clothes for souvenirs. Then, as Laurie restrained her, Melinda began to hit Shanda. When Shanda begged for her life again, swearing that Melinda could have Amanda, she was told to “shut up” and punched in the stomach so hard that she fell to the ground. But Melinda wasn’t done yet. She kicked Shanda in the mouth, jamming her braces into her lip and causing her mouth to bleed.
Sometime around the time that Shanda lay on the cold ground, nearly naked, bleeding from Melinda’s abuse and still pleading with her captors, the girls realized that they had reached the point of no return. They could not risk Shanda’s recovery and possible blabbing about the night’s events. To save their own worthless asses from getting in trouble – oh no, arrest and maybe a night in jail – they decided that Shanda would never get the chance to tell.
Melinda tried to slit Shanda’s throat with the knife, but the blade was too dull. Hope got out of the car and pinned Shanda down while Melinda tried using her foot to force the knife, but to no avail. Getting a little scared that Shanda was proving such a tough piece of work, Melinda and Laurie passed the knife back and forth like a bottle of alcohol, each taking their turn at stabbing Shanda in the chest.
Bleeding from the wounds but still very much alive, Shanda continued to plead for mercy as Laurie retrieved a length of rope from her car. She sat on Shanda’s chest, wrapped the rope around her neck, and pulled hard enough to render Shanda unconscious. Her body was tossed into the trunk and the monsters – for lack of a more descriptive term – drove to Laurie’s house, where Laurie read their fortunes like nothing was out of the ordinary. If Mr. and Mrs. Tackett noticed something “off” about the situation, they said nothing.
Suddenly, Laurie’s dog began barking hysterically, and Shanda began screaming in the trunk. Annoyed, Laurie assured the other witches – ahem, girls – that she would take care of it and grabbed a paring knife from her mother’s kitchen on the way out. She opened the trunk and stabbed the screaming Shanda several times, hoping to silence her for good. She then told the other three that a ride was in order.
Hope and Toni, having had their sadistic fun, decided to take a nap instead. Don’t ask me how they could possibly fall asleep while knowing that someone was dying less than a hundred feet away.
Melinda and Laurie left together, and after driving in circles for a while, they opened the trunk again to see if Shanda was dead. To their horror, she sat up and looked right at them – at least, they think she did, because all that was showing were the whites of her eyes. Shanda tried to speak, probably – even in her state – to beg, one more time, for her young life. Instead, all that came out was one gurgling word.
The last word that was heard from Shanda Sharer was a little girl’s plea, seeking the person who had cherished her and protected her from harm for twelve years. I wonder if, in her horrific pain, she imagined that it was her mother who stood before her with wide arms, promising to fix all of her problems with a kiss.
Shanda would never see her mommy again. Instead, it was Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett who stood before her, and they weren’t touched in the least. Shanda was being an inconvenience, holding up their escape.
Laurie reached into the trunk, grabbed a tire iron, and brought it against Shanda’s head so hard that it made a dent. Shanda fell, and the trunk was slammed over her limp body. The car stopped several more times and the ritual with the tire iron was repeated because Shanda was still, after everything, conscious. CSI wouldn’t be able to invent a scene gory enough for what Melinda and Laurie had created.
On one occasion when the trunk was opened, Shanda was covered head-to-toe in her own blood. Her hair, blonde and flirty when the night had started, was crimson. The stab wounds in her chest gurgled as she, no doubt, tried for mercy one last time. In response, Laurie delivered a blow with the tire iron so severe that a chunk of Shanda’s skull flew off. She then enthused to Melinda about how “cool” it was.
They then headed back to Laurie’s house to retrieve Hope and Toni, because it was imperative that they cover their tracks. Never mind that, in a few short hours, a father would discover that his daughter wasn’t in her bed and make frantic phone calls before facing the truth that she was missing. Never mind that they had just mutilated a human being in the way that normal people wouldn’t wish upon rabid dogs. Until they got rid of Shanda, they were in just as much trouble as she was.
Hope Rippey came up with the genius plan to burn Shanda, because someone had told her once that burning a body was the best way to get rid of it. What did they expect – that, poof! Shanda wouuld magically disappear in the flames? But you’ve probably realized by now that these four weren’t exactly the sharpest crayons in the box. Some gloating needed to take place first, courtesy of Laurie, who showed Hope what she considered to be her handiwork. Toni revved the car’s engine so that no one would hear Shanda screaming, but was too frightened to look for herself. Cue the world’s tiniest violin, please. Let’s all take a moment to feel sorry for poor little Toni, who spent all night in full knowledge of Shanda’s torture and didn’t once attempt to help her. I’m sorry. A writer’s emotions shouldn’t get in the way of her work. Let’s continue.
Hope decided that Shanda – who was, after all, covered in blood – needed to be cleaned up a little. Luckily, there was a bottle of Windex in the trunk that seemed able to do the trick. Hope sprayed the cleaning agent into Shanda’s open wounds, and somehow, despite everything she had endured, Shanda sat up and swayed. Laurie spoke to her, probably getting in enough taunts before she was dead, and one of the girls sodomized her with the tire iron. Normally, treatment like that would get my blood boiling. Don’t get me wrong – it still does, but after the four’s demonstrations about the demonic natures that they kept hidden behind their young faces, I can’t say that it surprises me. Sometime during the night, this had stopped being about Amanda Heavrin. Now, four teenagers – three of which who didn’t even know Amanda – took a sick pleasure in rewriting Shanda’s fate as brutally as possible.
They went on the road again, stopping at a gas station for a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. After passing it between themselves and draining most of it, they filled it with gasoline. Hope was familiar with an area that they drove by and decided that it would be a good place to get rid of their little liability. Laurie, Melinda, and Hope rolled their victim onto a blanket and carried her out in front of the car. She then poured most of the gasoline on Shanda. Laurie lit the match and threw it onto Shanda’s unrecognizable body. The three of them stood there for a moment, wordlessly and soullessly, watching the fire spread. Toni, who had not wanted to see, stayed in the car and didn’t look. Then they got back in the car and drove away.
Before long, Melinda grew scared that they hadn’t doused Shanda enough and that she might live to tell the tale and – gasp – get them in trouble. Laurie turned the car around and drove back to the scene. Melinda hopped out, poured the rest of the gasoline on Shanda – who was now curled in the fetal position, typical of burn victims – and stood for a moment longer, admiring the result of her brilliant plan, before getting back into the car. This time, they left Shanda behind for good.
Such an accomplishment calls for celebration, and these four weren’t ones to deny it. They strolled into a McDonald’s and ordered breakfast as the sun was rising. During the meal, Melinda and Laurie joked that the sausages on their tray looked like Shanda in her final moments. After breakfast, Hope and Toni were driven home and Laurie went to Melinda’s house. Melinda made phone calls, to Amanda Heavrin – whom the whole plan had been based upon – and bragged that she and her friends had killed Shanda, and hadn’t gotten caught. To prove it, she showed Amanda the bloody trunk of Laurie’s car and one of Shanda’s bloody socks. Unsure whether to believe Melinda, Amanda chose not to say anything because she didn’t want to get her friends in trouble.
Are we seeing a pattern here?
Meanwhile, back in the field where Shanda took her last breaths, brothers Ralph and Donn Foley were out on their morning quail hunt. They saw something in the distance that looked like a body and walked closer to investigate. The brothers’ first thought was that someone had burned a rubber doll and discarded it, perhaps as a teenage prank.
But the horrifying reality became apparent as the got up close. It was a human, gender indeterminable because of how badly the chest was burned. The victim’s panties were pulled to the side, suggesting that she had been molested. The eyes were empty, the teeth clenched tightly on the tongue – a last cry for help.
The case was out of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s hands – the Indiana State Police were called in. Forensics experts located the discarded bottle of gasoline and deduced that it had been used to render the victim unrecognizable. None of them were able to positively identify her as Shanda Sharer, as she carried no ID and was a far cry from the beautiful child that she had been less than twenty-four hours ago.
At around 9 p.m. on the night of January 11, a hysterical Toni Lawrence burst into the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, babbling about a murder that she had witnessed that morning. She identified the perpetrators as her friends Laurie Tackett, Hope Rippey, and Melinda Loveless. After listening to Toni’s confession, police believed that they had enough evidence to get a warrant for Laurie and Melinda’s arrest.
As Toni and her parents were leaving, the office received news of a missing person’s report filed earlier in the day by Shanda’s parents. The description was too close to the unidentified body found in the field to be a coincidence. Sheriff Richard Shipley called the Sharers with a heavy heart.
No parents should ever have to hear that their child is never coming home. It can’t be any easier to be the one to tell them the true details behind the tragedy. Sheriff Shipley tried to break it to them gently, but Jacque Vaught became hysterical when she learned that her baby was gone. The worst news, though, was yet to come.
Shanda’s autopsy revealed many horrific details about the way she was beaten, stabbed, and strangled during her last ten hours. Perhaps the most heartbreaking conclusion reached was that Shanda had died from breathing the smoke coming off of her own body. She’d been alive when Hope Rippey poured the gasoline and Laurie Tackett lit the match. And, up until that moment, had any of the four girls demonstrated even the slightest hint of compassion towards a little girl begging for her mommy, Shanda would have survived the ordeal.
With all four girls in custody, the death penalty seemed merciful. However, even then, they couldn’t show the tiniest morsel of respect for Shanda’s grieving family. Instead, they accepted plea bargains that would save their pathetic lives. While waiting for trial, reporters swarmed the case. Laurie Tackett was interviewed by a TV station and said that she blamed Melinda for Shanda’s death, saying that there was “nothing she could do.”
Oh, really, Laurie? There was nothing you could do? Who lured Shanda into the car? Who kneeled on her chest and strangled her while she pleaded for mercy? Who stabbed her when she wouldn’t die and beat her head in with a tire iron? Who lit the match that ended her short life? You had the power to save her at any time during those ten hours, and instead you chose to prolong her suffering for your own sick mind.
On December 14, 1992, Jacque Vaught spoke at Melinda Loveless’s trial. She expressed her unhealing sorrow at losing such a beautiful daughter and ended with the sentiment for Melinda Loveless to “rot in hell.” Melinda’s defense attorneys combated the charges against her by bringing up her abusive childhood, but the jury was not swayed. Laurie Tackett’s similar trial began on December 28, 1992. On January 4, 1993, both girls were sentenced to 60 years in prison. They will be eligible for parole in 2022.
Toni Lawrence was sentenced to 20 years in prison on January 21, 1993. Out of all four girls, she was the only one who did not directly participate in Shanda’s torture. Her cooperation with the investigators weighed in her credit, and Toni apologized directly to Shanda’s family for all the pain that they had suffered. Jacque denied her any sympathy because of her failure to seek help for Shanda.
Hope Rippey’s trial began on June 1, 1993. Psychologists called to testify on her behalf insisted that, because of her age and immaturity, she should not face such heavy charges. She was simply pressured into her actions by Melinda and Laurie.
I say to that: BULLSHIT. Don’t even try to tell me that someone who has been on this earth for fifteen years doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. I myself am a few months shy of how old Hope was on that terrible night, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that no one under the sky could “pressure” me into taking the life of another human being. Had I been there with Shanda, I would have thrown myself in front of her without a second thought and faced Melinda and Laurie to spare her life. In a way, what Hope Rippey did to Shanda was even more appalling than the crimes of Melinda and Laurie. Melinda, in her own twisted world, saw murder as the only way to right a wrong committed against her. Laurie had always thirsted for someone else’s blood. But what did Hope have against Shanda? She hadn’t even met the girl before she walked up to her door on the night of January 10, knowing what she was luring Shanda into. She had no reason to participate in the torture, even less to add insult to injury by spraying Windex in Shanda’s wounds, and absolutely none to pour gasoline all over her broken body. But she did, because she has less human in her than a chimpanzee.
Hope was sentenced to 60 years, reduced to 50 with the possibility of parole.
The only time any of these girls cried was then they learned that they would be spending the years of their prime behind bars. May I be the first to say that the years they sacrifice are not worth one one-thousandth of what Shanda could have given to the world. We’ll never know what she could have been capable of. Melinda Loveless, Laurie Tackett, Hope Rippey, and Toni Lawrence may have taken from us the next Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, or Albert Einstein. For sure, they took a happy child who lived with love and saw the world through fresh eyes, who was a beautiful daughter and sister and could one day have made a great mother.
In actuality, Melinda, Laurie, Hope, and Toni should be charged with two murders. Following his beloved daughter’s death, Steve Sharer sank into a deep depression and began drinking heavily to forget. He died of a broken heart in 2005.
These girls still feel no regret. In fact, two of them are already out of jail. Toni Lawrence was released on December 14, 2000 at the age of 24, after less than eight years behind bars. She now has two children. Hope Rippey was released in 2006, after a measly 13 of her 50 years, and now goes by her middle name, Anna. To the anger of many, she works at Sleepy Hollow Pet Ranch, caring for other people’s animals. You would fear for the animals, wouldn’t you, knowing what Hope is capable of doing to a human. But this world must have some justice in it, for she has no children. Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett are serving out the remainder of their sixty years, though Melinda has appealed against her sentence. Luckily, she was denied. As of date Laurie is the only one of the four who has opted to serve out her entire sentence.
Although she is incensed that two of her daughter’s murderers are now walking free, Jacque Vaught accepts that she cannot dwell forever on Shanda’s death, although she will always hold her in her heart. After Hope Rippey’s sentencing in 1993, Jacque said, “I don’t know what normal is anymore. I’m not the person I was when Shanda was here. I’m going home to my new grandbaby who was just born. You have to go on. Shanda’s with God.”
Author’s Note: My deepest, sincerest condolences go out to Shanda’s loved ones, in particular her mother Jacque. I wrote this article because, after hearing about Shanda, I just couldn’t forget about her beautiful, smiling face. It was like I, in some way, had also lost someone dear to me. I felt that it was necessary, in whatever way I could, to show my compassion and sympathy for everything that you have endured. Shanda was truly lucky to have been raised in such a wonderful family, just as you are lucky to have had her for twelve years. I hope that whenever you think of her, you remember how happy and loving she was in life. I know without a doubt that she is now clasped safely in God’s arms, where she will never know pain again, and that she is always smiling upon you.
Your family will forever be in my thoughts and prayers. There are no words I can say to make your burden any easier, nor is there anything within my poor human power that will take back that horrible night. I can only pray and hope with everything I have that the entire world learns something from Shanda about forever loving with an open heart.
And, Shanda dear, fly with angels.
This story was written and submitted by Kitty Xie, probably the youngest person to ever submit a story to PYSIH. It was hard for me to believe that the young lady who wrote such a well written, heartfelt story is only 16-years-old. She possesses an abundance of both talent and character – so much so that I can only admire her and the job her parents did raising her.
Do Melinda Loveless, Laurie Tackett, Hope Rippey And Toni Lawrence Deserve Hell?
- Yes, they all do. (89%, 1,014 Votes)
- Yes, but only Melinda Loveless, Laurie Tackett and Hope Rippey. (8%, 96 Votes)
- Yes, but only Melinda Loveless & Laurie Tackett. (3%, 34 Votes)
- No, none of them do. (0%, 15 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,136
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