On the eleventh of January 1992, twelve year old Shanda Sharer was tortured, beaten, raped, and finally killed by a group of four teenage girls. The case shattered a small Indiana town as well as the lives of Shanda’s family. The horror of that day started long before young Shanda met her killers, though. That horror began years before, before her murderers met each other, before they started school, and long before they reached the age where a court would sentence at least one of them to sixty years in a woman’s correctional facility. I would like you to look back with me to what led up to such a violent, chaotic event. Together we can look behind this terrible crime and perhaps learn more about the people involved.
Please be warned that this case is very dark. It involves the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children as well as spousal abuse. In short, this case covers the spectrum of human cruelty. If at any time you feel overwhelmed by the events described, please stop reading. If you are the victim of domestic assault or if you suspect someone you know is a victim, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or at www.thehotline.org. You can reach their victim advocates at either location. And finally, any opinions expressed here are mine and do not reflect the opinions of the Minds of Madness podcast.
As horrible as the crime against Shanda was, this story is not about that. If you’d like to listen to Shanda’s heartbreaking story, I suggest True Crime All The Time episode 62 “The Murder of Shanda Sharer”. Keep a box of tissues nearby. You will need them. This case is about Melinda Loveless and her father, the man that taught her how to approach the world, Larry Loveless.
The year after she was arrested for the murder of Shanda, Melinda Loveless pled guilty to murder, arson, and criminal confinement. At the young age of seventeen, Melinda was sentenced to sixty years in prison. During her sentencing hearing, Melinda’s sisters and a cousin testified that Melinda’s father, Larry Eugene Loveless, had molested them all at a young age. It’s important to note here that Melinda herself never accused her father of any wrongdoing. Melinda was very close to her father, and heartbroken herself when Larry left the family. She was fourteen when Larry left. Until that time, Melinda was often known to sleep in the same bed as the father she adored. His departure from the family left her angry, confused, and prone to violent outbursts.
Larry Loveless was a man of many faces. As a young man, he was drafted into the Viet Nam war and recognized as a hero when he returned home. He worked for the Southern Railroad. He became a probation officer with the New Albany police department in Indiana. That career ended early, though, when he was fired for assaulting an African-American man that Larry had accused of sleeping with his wife. His career as a mail carrier ended quickly, as well, once it was found out that he would take most of his mail route’s envelopes home and burn them.
None of that is as odd as Larry’s stint as a lay preacher at Graceland Baptist Church, though. While at the church, Larry worked as a marriage counselor. Only, the women he counseled often complained that Larry was much too free with them. It was also during this period that a young Melinda Loveless was taken to a motel room with a fifty year old man for a five hour exorcism. For two years, starting when Melinda was only five years old, Larry and Marjorie Loveless raised their children in this confusing environment where they weren’t safe at home or at the church.
Not only were Melinda and her sisters raised in an environment that wasn’t safe, they were also raised without the basic necessities. The three sisters were known to visit their extended relatives hungry whenever there wasn’t enough food at home. And then there were the times that Larry would humiliate his daughters by finding their underwear and sniffing them in front of company.
Larry’s abuse wasn’t limited to his young daughters. He was also so abusive towards his wife that she attempted suicide in multiple occasions. The abuse Marjorie suffered was multi-layered. She was physically abused, sometimes beaten so badly that hospitalization was required. In 1986, Larry sent her to the hospital after she told him she didn’t want him to go home with two women he’d met in a bar. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence for Marjorie. She would often go out with Larry, who would then find someone that he wanted to watch Marjorie have sex with. Larry and Marjorie had a reputation as swingers. Larry would even invite people home that he worked with to “share” Marjorie. It was during several of these orgies that Marjorie would try to kill herself. One suicide attempt happened after Larry had invited another couple to their house. Another happened after Larry had forced Marjorie into having sex with multiple partners, effectively gang raping her.
It was after that incident that Marjorie tried to stand up for herself. She refused Larry’s advances for a month, until her violent husband had decided he’d had enough. Larry raped Marjorie in front of her three daughters, making them listen to the entire event. Finally, in 1990, Marjorie had had enough. She attempted to attack Larry with a kitchen knife after finding him spying on one of their daughters and a friend. When the attack failed, she attempted suicide again. Her children called the authorities and Larry filed for divorce.
Melinda’s parents’ divorce left Melinda without any male role model at all. Larry moved to Florida shortly thereafter, and though he did attempt to write a few letters to his youngest daughter, it wasn’t long before he stopped all contact. Melinda was left feeling alone and betrayed. So when her girlfriend started showing interest in the new girl at school, it was no big surprise that Melinda reacted violently.
According to the Domestic Violence Roundtable, a community based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting safe and healthy relationships, children who are exposed to domestic violence can express themselves through violence and increased aggression. Children often repeat the violence they see as they grow. Melinda Loveless took the lessons taught to her by her father and led a horrendous and exceptionally violent attack on a twelve year old little girl who’d had the bad luck of attracting the attention of Melinda’s girlfriend. Floyd county prosecutor Stan Faith said of Larry Loveless, “I think we have a duty to bring this particular person to justice. He is part of the cause and effect of all these events.”
Faith charged Larry Loveless with three counts of rape, six counts of sodomy, and two counts of sexual battery. All charges were against children and, because Loveless had used threats of physical violence against his victims in order to keep them quiet, the prosecutor’s office said the crimes had no statute of limitations. However, in June of 1995 a judge ruled that all crimes were past the allowed time allotment and dropped all counts but one count of sexual battery. Larry was released with a sentence of time served.
Melinda Loveless, on the other hand, is still in prison. She attempted to get a reduction in her sentence in 2008, but that appeal was denied. She’s used her time in prison to make some sort of amends, though. Melinda is one of the most called for trainers in the ICAN program, or the Indiana Canine Assistance Network. She helps raise and train dogs for the program. And after Jacque Sharer, Shanda’s mother, saw an interview with Melinda, she agreed to help. In 2012, Jacque donated a dog name Angel to the program to be trained by Melinda.
Not all crimes have a clear and delineated path. The murder of Shanda Sharer didn’t begin with Melinda Loveless and it didn’t end with Shanda’s death. Countless people had their lives destroyed in the saga that led up to and followed Shanda’s murder. Larry Loveless died on December 16, 1998 at the age of fifty-two.
If you would like to know more about the Domestic Violence Roundtable, you can find them at www.domesticviolenceroundtable.org. You can find the ICAN program at www.icandog.org. And you can find me at www.mindsofmadnesspodcast.com/behind-the-crime/ or at www.behindthecrime.com. You can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter by searching @behindcrimeblog. Please feel free to contact me with any feedback or suggestions! If you haven’t already, please make sure you subscribe to the Minds of Madness podcast on your favorite podcatcher and join us on the closed Facebook discussion group. Thank you again to Bek and Tyler for everything they’ve done, and thank you for joining me in this look Behind the Crime!